Caught in the eye of a storm following a Delhi court directive to frame charges against her for alleged irregularities in appointments to the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), its chairperson Swati Maliwal has had an eventful seven-year tenure in the role.
Maliwal, an engineering student, left a job at HCL at the age of 22 to work in the slums and villages in India doing volunteer work. She would go on to become one of the youngest members of the anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare in 2011.
Maliwal also had a brief stint as a campaigner for Greenpeace India, working to provide safe food to women and children in 2013. She would then go onto work as a development consultant with MLAs in Delhi during 2014. She has also worked with a range of NGOs working towards greater centralisation of power in India and organised campaigns to bring awareness of the RTI Act.
She became the DCW chairperson in 2015 and quickly found herself fielding allegations from its former chief Barkha Shukla of irregularities in appointments made to the commission. The anti-corruption branch (ACB) investigated the case and filed a chargesheet against Maliwal and three other DCW members.
The agency claimed that against 26 sanctioned posts, the accused persons appointed 87 persons in DCW during the impugned tenure, out of whom most of the persons were acquaintances or party workers or associated with Maliwal and AAP.
The court, while framing charges against her, said the appointments “smack of nepotism”.
Maliwal said that she faced many problems – from discussions around her age to her identity as someone’s wife when she started her stint in the DCW. “I was not allowed to enter my office in those initial days. The biggest issue in the DCW was the complete lack of resources. The former DCW chief, who is the complainant in the ACB case, handled one case in eight years and we have handled 1 lakh cases so far. There is not a single allegation of bribery in these 1 lakh cases,” she said.
Maliwal soon came into the limelight as the DCW chief. It began with the intervention of 66 counsellors who help women, who are victims of crime, help file police cases. The commission’s ‘181’ women helpline gets over 3,000 calls on a daily basis. This helped the commission bring forward the attention of the media to a slew of rape cases involving minor and elderly women.
She also has set up a team which scoured through social media to look for cases of crimes against women and children. This included shooting a series of notices to the police in a case where pictures of Muslim women were posted an on app for ‘online auction’; calling for action against people who posted lewd comments against cricketer Virat Kohli’s daughter; and seeking an FIR against Shaktimaan actor Mukesh Khanna for his alleged misogynistic comments.
The DCW chief quickly pivoted from issuing notices to the police to undertaking rescue operations, taking action on spas allegedly involved in prostitution, and raids on members of the liquor mafia. Maliwal fielded accusations of not following due procedure in these raids, but she thinks people complained because she went after the money. “We are hurting businesses and all the corrupt officials who are a part of these rackets. I opened up a Pandora’s box,” Maliwal said.
She said she has also faced rape threats for speaking out against director Sajid Khan, who has faced allegations of sexual misconduct, for his inclusion in the reality television show Big Boss.
Maliwal says that she has no political ambitions and wants to instead keep working towards bringing drastic changes in the DCW.