Open Windows

The police
are complicit in crimes.

In Conversation


Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women, IN

November 1st, 2018


Activist and politician, Swati Maliwal is the Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women. Through her drive and action, Ms Maliwal displays exceptional humanitarian spirit. In January 2018, the rape reports of an 8-month-old baby saw Ms Maliwal launch the RapeRoko campaign; she tirelessly lent herself to an indefinite hunger strike. Ms Maliwal’s demands to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, included awarding the death penalty to rapists convicted of raping girls under the age of 12 years and accountability of the Indian police.


You say: “I have nothing to hide. I have nothing to lose either. I have no baggage.” Is your framework of contentment and conscience essential to do your best?

In India, if you raise your voice against the system, question the status quo, or/and take up a fight against governments for the truth, you are often intimidated and attacked, and your integrity is questioned; the same happens to me.

The previous Chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women [DCW] handled one case for eight years. Whereas, as a Chairperson of DCW, I have managed over fifty-five thousand cases, heard over three lakh calls on our 181 helplines, visited over seventy-five thousand grassroots programs, assisted over approximately thirty-five thousand sexual assault survivors court cases, and have counselled over eleven thousand sexual assault survivors. Moreover, the DCW is the only commission in the entire country that functions voluntarily on Saturdays and Sundays. For my involvement, I am repaid with intimidating threats and two criminal cases against me. The maximum people can do is to put me in jail [Prison]. There are 500 to 600 women in Delhi jails; I will help them.

The DCW exposed the liquor mafia and the illegal drug trade in the capital, as a result of which 200 people beat one of our girls; she was paraded naked for one and a half kilometres on Delhi streets. And while they were beating this girl, the mob screamed they would do the same to me. One has to take a tough stand when dealing with criminals and the mafia. If you have baggage or hidden skeletons in this unsafe and threatening scenario, people will probably kill you. The fact that I don’t have any baggage and have nothing to lose enables me to devote my life to the service of my country and humanity.


How do you define authentic power, and how do you apply this power to Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women?

I interact with a large number of people in power: politicians and judges, and sometimes I feel that though they are at the top of the machinery, they are helpless. I also used to think that the Prime Minister and the Police Commissioner are powerful, but then I questioned: “Why is it that they never function?”

As the statuary chairperson of the commission, when I asked the people in positions of power to pass stringent laws against rapists in our country [India], they refused. That’s when I sat on an indefinite hunger strike, seeking the death penalty for child rapists, and within ten days, the government had to bend, passing a law [Death penalty for child rapists].

Despite not having many powers, if you have the right intent, and are fighting for the truth, you can feel powerful. Power is a state of mind.


I couldn’t agree more with you [of power being a state of mind].

When I became the DCW chief, I was warned about going to a place that is like a toothless tiger—where I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything. When I read the law under which the DCW is set up, I learnt it gives me the power to issue arrest warrants. So I started writing to the Police Commissioner, requesting him to provide me with the data on crimes against women in the capital, which he refused, for six months. At that point, I summoned the Police Commissioner, who wrote back saying that if he released the data, it would create a law and order problem in the capital (which is ridiculous). I warned the Police Commissioner that if he failed to appear in front of me with the data, I would issue an arrest warrant. And sure enough, the entire crime data arrived. My action was significant—no commission before me had dared to take on the police with authority.

You are as powerful as you feel.  You are as powerful as the risks you take.

You are as powerful as the sacrifice you make.

What makes New Delhi unsafe?

In Delhi, not a single day goes by without horrific crime’s perpetrated against children; a minimum of six rapes destroy human life—from an 8-month-old baby to two and three years olds.  The data sourced from the Delhi police states that 31,446 crimes were perpetrated against children from 2012 to 2014, and less than 150 perpetrators were convicted. It’s no wonder criminals are roaming fearlessly.


What specific areas do you aim to focus on during your tenure as Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women?

We have achieved a lot in the last four years, including a new law that introduces the death penalty for child rapists. But it hasn’t changed the situations for girls. My work will remain unfinished until the day every girl feels confident and safe to walk on the streets of Delhi, even at night.

I also want to focus on the less privileged people who should have more protection, for instance, victims of human trafficking who are forced to work in brothels, as well as women in shelters and homes. My priority is to shut down a red light area in Delhi—they are running a mammoth human trafficking racket—and focus on rehabilitating trafficked girls and women who are forcefully made to consume drugs and alcohol, enduring the most horrible lives.


Nirbhaya’s case [The late Nirbhaya, a 23-year old physiotherapy intern, was brutally gang-raped on December 16, 2012, in India] launched conversations on gender equality and safety; however, the mammoth scale of the crime failed to act as a deterrent — perpetrators continue to rape and destroy with no fear of repercussions?

How will the crimes perpetrated against Nirbhaya act as a deterrent when the men who raped Nirbhaya are still alive? How will rapists have any fear? People should be scared of the law.

For over the last ten years, Delhi police have had a force of only sixty-six thousand personnel. As a result, police patrolling is scarce. Inspections carried out in police stations—during the day and night—find police to be functioning at half their sanctioned strength. My indefinite hunger strike resulted in adding three thousand police to the force, but that’s not enough.

Specific pockets in Delhi operate illegal drug rackets and liquor trade; here, girls are molested and raped. And Delhi police is unable to patrol these areas because they are short of resources. In such a scenario, how will police maintain law and order [in the capital] protecting girls and women?

Plus, there are hardly any fast track courts. And the new death penalty law for child rapists can only be implemented with proper police forces.


How does corruption dismantle law and order in society while propagating violence?

Presently, daily, DCW sees hundreds of malfunctions against police—from taking bribes to police not working on cases—and we issue hundreds of notices to the police every day. Let me give you an example: women call me from shanty’s informing me that they cannot walk on their streets because illegal bars and pubs function at night. When we started investigating these places at night, people who sell drugs and liquor blatantly asked (and I have the recorded conversation): “We give weekly money to the police. Who are you?”

The Delhi police have failed to act upon this incident and have not taken action against a single officer. Moreover, in the brothels, the police collude with the traffickers to ensure the business keeps running as usual. In one incident, the police went ahead of us, informing the brothel owner to hide the girl. In spite of registering a criminal complaint against that police, no action has been taken to date.

Corruption is one of the main issues that propagate violence. The situation for women will only improve when we stave the police of corruption, set accountability.

From Delhi to Chennai, the police are complicit with criminals and demonstrate significant resistance in doing right by victims. Is there a solution to this excruciating nationwide reality?

I visited the family of one late Rupesh who had taken up a fight against the drug mafia in Delhi, campaigning for four years, giving several complaints to the police. However, the police did not take action on his complaints, which emboldened the mafia to murder Rupesh in cold blood, in front of his two young children. In another case, a brave boy was murdered, but the police have not made an arrest.

Such circumstances lead me to firmly believe that the police are complicit in crimes, all types of organised crimes, especially the sale of illegal liquor and drugs in Delhi. And there can only be one way out—set accountability. Strong enquiries must be conducted on police officers who are involved in crimes, and then they should be thrown out of services.

When we set powerful examples, people will not have the courage to commit crimes. We live in digital times, and while we are talking, our Prime Minister is talking about digital India, but the situation is such that police functioning, which is a critical arm of the government, is not digitised. The Police Commissioner does not know the number of pending cases or the response of police officers, mainly cases involving crimes against women and children, which restricts him and inhibits him from taking strong actions. In today’s time, the 21st century, data should be available to the Police Commissioner at the click of a button.


Political leaders bury their heads in the sand when it comes to addressing issues of human dignity. Is there a lack of political will to prevent brutalities against children and women?

Yes, there is a lack of political will [to prevent brutalities against children and women]. As the head of a statutory body, I had to sit on an indefinite hunger strike at high-risk to my life—to be heard and to pass a law—death penalty for child rapists.

Recently a legislature from the country’s ruling party said: “If you like any girl, please let me know; I will adopt her for you and present her to you.” Neither has this politician been arrested nor was any action taken against him, to throw him out of the party. So where is the political will? No wonder we are the rape capital of the world. This disturbing situation needs to change.


Law and order are integral to the development of a society. What impedes the urgency to prioritise the law and order situation in India?

The centre needs to prioritise the law and order situation; the state governments need to do that too. It’s unfortunate that women and their rights are still not a political issue. There is a lot of talk but no action.

The Nirbhaya fund was set up in the memory of Nirbhaya, which presently holds thousands of crores. However, the centre is sitting on the funds, refusing to disperse it towards the interest of women and girls. So you can imagine the complete lack of interest and apathy in handling cases that are related to women.


What safety precautions must be put into placein every city, town, and village—to ensure children and women’s safety in India?

First and foremost, law and order of an area must be strong, with proper policing and beat patrolling. Apart from this, we must have the right infrastructure—CC TV cameras, last-mile connectivity, adequate streetlights, and women’s toilets—to ensure women’s safety for obvious reasons. And finally, we need a powerful justice delivery system—today there are hardly any fast-track courts to ensure swiftness of punishment, which leaves the victim feeling further victimised while the criminals are emboldened.


We continue to view stories of trauma and violence and document similar stories to share as entertainment. Instead of becoming participants, we remain apathetic helpless spectators. How would you want the younger generation to participate in changing the landscape of India?

Everywhere in the world, the hope lies with the youth. When a young person with a fresh mindset sees a problem and looks away, it’s unfortunate. It is crucial for the youth to be involved in social activity, and come forward to report cases.

It’s by becoming part of the solution that youth can break the status quo.

Our education and systems, as well as most of the world, is running after money and brands. And where youth might get a high in buying and wearing something new, the real satisfaction lies in sacrificing for your country and humanity.


Learn more about Swati Maliwal.