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Swati Maliwal: The woman on an indefinite hunger strike that India hardly cares about

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Maliwal is demanding the death penalty for rapists of minors, but the Centre or the BJP have taken no cognisance of her protest at Delhi’s Rajghat.

New Delhi: It has been eight days since Swati Maliwal has eaten a morsel of food. She has lost 6 kg of weight, and can barely speak. But she says she’s doing just fine.

A few politicians from different parties have shown up to express solidarity with her, but the Delhi Commission for Women chief is clear that she will not break her fast — not until the Prime Minister heeds to her demand for death penalty for rapes of minors.

At a time when haunting images of the eight-year old Kathua rape and murder victim are still fresh in public memory, Maliwal has launched a do-or-die protest for rape victims in the country. She is visibly infirm after days of fasting, and people are worried.

Ball in PM’s court

As she sits on a wheelchair with a mask covering her face, she responds to our questions by scribbling answers on tattered sheets of paper. “I don’t care,” she writes, when asked about people not coming to her protest.

Her Twitter timeline is flooded with messages of solidarity. But hashtags such as #BetiKhatreMeinHai and #SwatiForJustice have barely made it to Twitter trends. The crowds at Rajghat too are thinning with the Delhi summer beginning to set in. But Maliwal is determined.

Asked if she plans to call off her hunger strike before Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes back to the country, she writes, “NO”.

On Thursday, Maliwal had told the media: “I know PM is very ziddi, but main bhi unhi ki beti hun: agar woh ziddi hai, toh main zyada ziddi hun (I know the PM is very stubborn, but I am his daughter: if he’s stubborn, I’m even more stubborn).”

The Centre or the BJP have taken no cognisance so far of her protest right in the middle of the national capital’s Rajghat — in fact, no one has even spoken about it.

Maliwal believes support for her movement is pouring in from across the country. “Silence is not the answer,” she wrote in a response.

Maliwal is accompanied by scores of men and women, who are demanding that the Centre use the Nirbhaya Fund to increase police personnel and set up fast-track courts, and give the death penalty to those who rape minors within six months.

“Only fear will stop them,” she tweeted.

A thorn in Centre’s side

With the vocabulary of a politician and the politics of an activist, Maliwal is known for regularly taking on the Modi government directly and unequivocally on matters concerning women’s safety.

Appointed DCW chairperson in 2015 after the Aam Aadmi Party came to power in Delhi, she launched protests against the central government for several reasons, including non-payment of salaries to the staff, underutilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund, and not filling up vacancies in the police force.

No stranger to controversy, Maliwal was also accused of corruption and summoned early last year by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which alleged that she was involved in the irregularities regarding appointment of staffers on the panel. In response, Maliwal accused the BJP and the Congress of attacking her for their vested interests.

The Centre’s lack of response to Maliwal’s hunger strike is therefore hardly surprising – their relationship has never been particularly friendly. The Delhi BJP has even demanded her resignation in the past, and the Delhi Police have detained her at least twice in the last few months itself.

The AAP connection

Yet, for many, it has been rather easy to dismiss the “activist” DCW chief and her protest politics as a result of her political mentor Arvind Kejriwal’s legacy. Many protesters who ThePrint spoke to were supporters of AAP.

Maliwal, who has close ties with the party and is married to an AAP leader in Haryana, was the youngest member of the core committee of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement in 2011.

Having graduated from the JSS Academy of Technical Education in Noida as an IT engineer, Maliwal switched to public life and social work soon after, having briefly worked with Greenpeace to promote safe food for women and children.

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