On a day when the tussle between Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and the AAP hit another crescendo, this time over the appointment of Swati Maliwal as the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) head, Maliwal went about doing her job and refused to let the controversy “come in the way of her duties”.
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At 10 am on Wednesday, 30-year-old Maliwal reached GB Road area of Old Delhi to meet sex workers. As Maliwal, accompanied by a small team from DCW and some NGO workers, climbed up dingy staircases to interact with the workers, the group seemed unfazed by allegations that her appointment was “ultra vires and infructuous” as it does not have Jung’s approval.
While stating that the only official communication she had received with regard to her appointment was from the Delhi government, Maliwal said she was not aware of the controversy.
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“I have been here since morning. Even if something is going on, I am sure it is a minor glitch which will be resolved. I have been given a responsibility that has come from the Chief Minister’s office. The Delhi government has come out with a notification and that is the only copy that I have. I don’t have any other formal communication.”
Maliwal spoke to numerous sex workers and activists in the area on models for rehabilitation of sex-workers and on improving their living conditions. A 61-year-old sex worker, who has been working in GB Road for nearly 50 years after she was trafficked from a village in Bihar, said, “Every government has promised us relief but our living conditions have remained the same. While police harass us time and again, the government has just made empty promises. Middlemen and officials take us for a ride for a simple thing like getting a ration card or an Aadhaar card.”
Another sex worker who was trafficked from West Bengal around ten years ago spoke of the issues faced by those who try to get out of the profession.
“For the first couple of years, we do not have any share in the money that our customers pay…. Those who manage to get out, return because there is no other means of earning a living. Even though the government has schemes for our rehabilitation, these have not worked because of the social stigma attached to a sex-worker,” she said.
Stating that this was not the last time that her team would visit the area, Maliwal said, “It is very important to come here regularly and understand the issues on the ground. We plan to visit the area again and reach out to more sex workers… We will also be setting up a committee and will seek experts’ advice on this.”
Maintaining that she will continue to work in the area even if her post was to be taken away, Maliwal added, “I have been working on these issues even before (being appointed as the DCW chief) and I will do so even if I do not hold this post anymore…”