When the 18-year-old finished talking, she sat down and silently sobbed. It was the first time in 18 years that she had publicly spoken about the rampant harassment in her colony, sometimes twice a day, by young boys and men, some as old as her father.
About 400 women and girls attended the third edition of Mahila Adalat by the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), held at a gurdwara in Lal Bagh.
As the event went on, horror stories of domestic violence, police apathy, and harassment outside government schools in the area unravelled. “We cross the park near Azadpur Metro station to go to school, and boys whistle at us, try to touch our breasts with their elbow, and sometimes grab our hips. Every day I fear I will be raped,” a 16-year-old told The Indian Express.
As an advocate from the Delhi Legal Services Authority addressed the crowd about “bad touch” and “good touch”, a 10-year-old broke down and later confided in Maliwal about how her paternal uncle “put his hand inside my shirt a few months ago”.
While the middle-aged women in the audience were mostly silent, the younger ones, between ages 10 and 18, narrated tales of “sale and consumption of alcohol in parks”. “Men and boys gamble here, defecate in the open, drink and do drugs. My mother and I are harassed while walking together… If we say something, they surround and abuse us,” said a 14-year-old girl.
In a corner, Maliwal stood with a notepad, jotting down details before asking the girls to show her the park near Azadpur Metro station. Their faces covered with dupattas, a group of over 20 girls escorted her till the park, where at least eight groups of men were asked to leave, their playing cards torn.
A PCR call was made, and 45 minutes later, Adarsh Nagar SHO Anil Malik showed up. “I have arranged self-defence classes for you, I am here for you… but have you ever called and action hasn’t been taken?” he asked the girls. To this, some responded: “Why don’t you just patrol the streets?”
A 21-year-old student of IGNOU recounted how her parents asked her not to study at regular college because they didn’t want her to face harassment on the way. “So I attend IGNOU on weekends now… I’m paying for other people’s faults,” she said.
Also in the crowd were Meenakshi (29), with her face bandaged; a 25-year-old with marks on her arm; and Jyoti (26), who alleged her husband thrashed her when she was pregnant. All victims of domestic violence, they hoped the adalat will help them get justice.