Swati Maliwal will not give up.
Half an hour after it was reported that the Union Cabinet has approved an Ordinance providing for death penalty to those convicted of raping girls below 12 years of age, the chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women tweeted to congratulate the people for achieving a victory in a short span of time. She had started an indefinite hunger-strike on April 13 to demand stringent laws against rape of minors and action against those accused in Kathua and Unnao rape cases. This is part of the ‘Rape Roko’ campaign she started on January 31 this year.
“But until something concrete happens, I will not give up. Until a system is there which ensures safety for the last girl, I won’t give up,” Maliwal said after congratulating her supporters for the Ordinance. Amid false reports that she had broken her fast, she further clarified that she won’t stop until the Ordinance is passed.
Since January 31, when she began the ‘Rape Roko’ campaign, Maliwal has led a relentless battle to fight crimes against women. Here are 10 things you need to know about her campaign:
The ‘Rape Roko’ campaign started on January 31 with a ‘Satyagraha’ aimed at collecting 1 lakh signatures from citizens to demand urgent action against rape of minors. She also announced that the DCW team, including Maliwal, will work day and night until March 8 — the International Women’s Day — until her demands are met.
She subsequently wrote a letter on February 3 to the Prime Minister with a charter listing these demands.
The charter formulated by the DCW, and subsequently circulated for collecting signatures, has six demands. The first among them: a law by the central government that awards death penalty to those guilty of raping minors within six months.
The demands also include more fast-track courts for cases of crimes against women and children, increasing the manpower of Delhi Police and digitising its functions for accountability, strengthening of forensic science laboratories and prosecution departments, and better utilisation of the Nirbhaya fund.
A letter to the Prime Minister that Maliwal wrote today lists a more immediate action-oriented version of this charter. These demands have also been made to the central government as opposed to both central and state governments.
For example, instead of better utilisation of the Nirbhaya fund, Maliwal has demanded a committee — comprising of the Home Minister, the Lieutenant Governor, the Chief Minister, the DCW, and the Commissioner — for monitoring women’s safety in the capital on a monthly basis. “I have taken a resolute vow that will continue sitting on the hunger-strike until the Central Government doesn’t fulfill the following demands,” the letter says.
— Swati Maliwal (@SwatiJaiHind) April 21, 2018
To gather momentum and support for her campaign, Maliwal marched along with students from the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station to the arts faculty campus of the Delhi University on February 13. On the same day, a website was launched for gathering signatures online for a letter to the PM.
On the eve of the International Women’s Day, a day before the scheduled end of the ‘Satyagraha’, Maliwal was detained on her way to the Prime Minister’s Office. She was going to deliver the letters received in support of the campaign. The number of such letters was around 5.55 lakh according to some reports.
“Ms. Maliwal has been gravely injured and she is not in a condition to move her arms. This has happened while she was on her way to the PMO in a peaceful manner, to deliver the thousands of letters that the commission received over the last few weeks,” a DCW official said about Maliwal’s detention.
A day before Maliwal was detained, male volunteers of the ‘Rape Roko’ campaign led an interesting awareness drive. They walked in boxer shorts in the capital to say, “Clothes do not cause rape, sick mentality does.”
On March 8, thousands formed a human chain around the Central Park at Connaught Place in Delhi to raise awareness about the issue and reiterate the charter of demands. A song featuring the likes of Anushka Manchanda and Farhan Akhtar was also released.
A fortnight after Maliwal wrote to all MPs, the DCW said on March 10 that MPs across party lines have extended their support to her campaign.
“I would assure you that I would raise this sensitive matter in the Parliament and before our Prime Minister,” Krishan Pal Gurjar, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, said in his letter.
“The Parliament and State Legislatures must frame stricter laws against such crimes, in order to ensure the safety and well being of women and children,” said PJ Kurien, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
After the gory details of the Kathua rape to light and after the death of the father of the survivor in the Unnao rape case, Maliwal has intensified her movement with an indefinite hunger-strike.
Her initial letter addressed to ‘Friends’ demanded justice for Kathua and Unnao, among other demands from the ‘Rape Roko’ Charter. Today, she has written a letter addressed to the Prime Minister and set conditions on breaking the fast.
आज देश में महिलाओं और बच्चों के खिलाफ़ यौन अपराध चरम सीमा पे है।
मैं तब तक अनिश्चितक़ालीन अनशन पर हूँ जब तक बच्चों के बलात्कारियों को 6 महीने के अंदर फाँसी की सजा का क़ानून नहीं बन जाता। pic.twitter.com/YzXqz42XCd
— Swati Maliwal (@SwatiJaiHind) April 14, 2018
In a PIL filed after the rape of an 8-month-old in Delhi in January, apparently the trigger for Maliwal’s campaign, the Centre filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court yesterday saying it is thinking of amending the law to provide for death penalty in cases involving children below 12 years of age. The Central government had earlier opposed the plea for a death penalty.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal requested Maliwal to end her fast after the submission by the government in the court, but Maliwal refused to budge. “Every day affidavits are submitted in courts by the government. Unless the law comes into enforcement, I won’t stop,” she said.
Union Cabinet approved an Ordinance to be promulgated to provide for stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape particularly of girls below 16 years age and below 12 years of age. Death penalty has been provided for rapists of girls below 12 years of age.
pic.twitter.com/QXCv0P3pFP— ANI (@ANI) April 21, 2018
A day later, Union Cabinet today approved an ordinance with a host of changes in laws concerning rape. In cases of gangrape of a girl-child below 12 years of age, the punishment will be death sentence or life imprisonment, ANI reported. The minimum punishment for those raping girls below that age is 20 years’ imprisonment.
Similarly, minimum punishment for raping girls below 16 years has been doubled to 20 years’ imprisonment, and increased to ten years for raping women.
A group of lawyers and activists have also expressed differences with Maliwal over her demand for death penalty. While Maliwal has argued that death penalty will serve as a deterrent, the group explained to Maliwal that there is no evidence to suggest that.
“The most important factor that can act as a deterrent is the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity of its form,” the group, which includes lawyers Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover and activists such as Kavita Krishnan and Annie Raja, wrote in a letter to Maliwal.