The South Asian Times

23 March 2019 01:00 AM

RapeRoko: Join the fight or risk being reduced to a statistic

By Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Delhi Commission of Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal is carrying on a silent satyagraha in her office to protest the rape of an 8-month baby in Delhi. 

It is over five years since the brutal Nirbhaya/Jyoti rape incident in a Delhi bus caused extreme outrage among Indians back home and abroad, but her helpless parents still await justice. In January this year, an 8-month-old baby too became a statistic and would have probably remained so but for the young, dynamic, and proactive head of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), Swati Maliwal.       

"The eyes of the baby haunted me, her painful cries from damaged  internal organs reverberated throughout the hospital when I paid her a visit, and to think that this baby was left to die in a pool of blood after being raped by her own 27-year-old uncle made me very angry. I baulked at the  prospect of her fighting a court battle for the next 16 years of her life, internalized my anger and channelized it into getting her speedy justice instead", says Swati.

While Indian politicians and local media are consumed by Hindu-Muslim debates and

‘nationalism’, besides the latest scam, Swati Maliwal has chosen to scream in the deafening silence that followed the rape by launching an online and on-ground movement called RapeRoko starting from January 31. She has also undertaken a quiet satyagraha, where she has decided not to return home from work until March 8, International Women's Day. Catching some sleep in the office itself during work, where both the victims and volunteers/supporters need her time and attention, she says, "My demands are three - ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes on children are given the death sentence, that a fast track court is appointed to deal with these cases which are disposed of within six months of the crime". 

Joining her in the struggle are thousands across the country. NRIs in USA and Canada too have joined in, by  recording their protests and sharing it on social media, and signing the petition listing her three demands to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in Delhi.

It is an issue that affects everybody, irrespective of their political or communal bearing. NRI volunteers have been calling MPs pressing them to take up the issue in parliament. Though most of the MPs, irrespective of the gender or party, were insensitive and unresponsive, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, MP from Jammu and Kashmir, expressed his support  and promised to raise the issue in parliament, as he too was troubled by the rape of an eight-year-old girl in his home state, according to Rajendra Lodha, a volunteer from Texas. "I am shocked that media coverage back home on the issue was so poor that nobody had even heard of the rape, until they saw our campaign here", says Lodha.

California based Prabhat Sharma, who is disturbed by rising rape incidents, believes that the remedy is educating the masses, or introducing stringent punishment. "Since education is a slow process, we have to press for a severe deterrent instead". He too had some success with Dr Subramanian Swamy, MP from Tamil Nadu, who promised to look into the matter if details are sent to him.

Responding to the smear that NRIs sometimes bring a bad name to India, Roopsi Narula, based in  New Jersey, says, "Bringing the issue of rapes in India to international spotlight is not being 'anti-national', but is an attempt to wake up the Indian government to protect women and children, and punish the rapists". 

The situation in Delhi, which has over the years came to be known as the rape capital of the world (witnessing some six rapes and 13 instances of molestation every single day), has deteriorated because the entire machinery to protect women and children is in a state of near collapse. Crimes against women and children between 2012 and 2014 alone stood at 31,446 with only 150 convictions. 

The Nirbhaya rape outrage had spooked the then UPA government to release a sum of Rs 1,000 crore, referred to as the Nirbhaya fund, which has since then multiplied, but not been utilized for  women and children empowerment and safety. The tokenism has since been discarded by the current NDA government which has failed to effectively put the funds to use.

"The complexity of the problem is often the reason stated for further lethargy, but I refuse to stay quiet. I will summon every ounce of power vested in the Women's Commission, instituted under the Delhi Commission for Women act of 1994, to ensure that all the stakeholders in the women's and children issues come together to break down the problem into bits and pieces and take responsibility for addressing it", states Swati.

One of the first steps she took was to get a high court order to re-energise the special task force, set up after the Nirbhaya episode, which was to meet twice a month to look into issues related to crimes against women and children. The task force until then had met only 11 times in three years without offering any suggestions.

DCW was a toothless tiger before her. Not any more. Says Swati, "When I was appointed, I read the Act, and was amazed at the powers at my disposal. In one year alone, we have overseen 11,696 cases, attended to 316 lakh distress calls on the 181 helpline, conducted 7500 grass roots visit, attended 5500 court cases, counseled 1869 sexual assault victims and have made 55 recommendations for women’s safety to the government.”

Update: 07 March, 2018