New Delhi: Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) Chairperson Swati Maliwal won`t celebrate Diwali on Sunday -- in solidarity with her employees who have been denied salary.
"We are being punished for doing good work," a frustrated sounding Maliwal, 32, said in an interview, a day after revealing that the Member Secretary had stopped salaries of all contractual staff.
"Whenever I enter my office, I feel a lot of guilt when those 90 people who have not been paid salaries look at me," Maliwal told IANS. "I feel helpless as I cannot do anything about it."
According to Maliwal, Member Secretary Alka Diwan, appointed in the DCW by Lt Governor Najeeb Jung on October 7, had refused to release two months salary of the contractual staff.
Maliwal dubbed Diwan`s appointment as illegal, saying she was the VAT Commissioner and doing part time work in the DCW. In the process the DCW`s autonomy was being undermined.
Many of those who work on contract at the DCW are women who have been victims of acid attacks and even orphans.
"If I am not able to get salaries for acid attack victims, dowry harassment victims and orphan girls who work with me, how will I be able to celebrate Diwali? I am very hurt and dejected due to this.
"They work very hard and have families to support. They have not been paid for two months. Their Diwali is ruined. So how can I celebrate mine?" Maliwal asked.
What intrigues Maliwal is that she did not appoint all these employees -- and they never faced this situation earlier.
"Some contractual employees have been working for the Commission for the last 20 years. And yet salaries of all the contractual employees have been stopped.
"It is the first time salaries of employees of DCW, which is an autonomous body, have been stopped. If it has never happened before, why is it happening now?"
This is not the first time Maliwal has run into problems with the central government, represented by Jung.
An Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member, Maliwal is a long-time activist who was named by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as the DCW head to succeed Barkha Singh of the Congress.
Initially, Jung was not happy with her appointment but later relented.
In recent times, police cases have been filed against her alleging that she violated rules while hiring employees. Maliwal has denied the charges, and instead accused her predecessors of corruption.
"All this has taken a huge toll on me as well as my family," Maliwal told IANS.
"There are two false cases filed against me. My grandparents constantly keep talking about it and feel upset. Their health is also being affected."
She felt that attempts were being made to turn the DCW into another government department.
"We are being told to send files to the Finance Department for clearance. But DCW is an autonomous body.
"If we have to request the government even for our salaries, we will never be able to question them.
"Attempts are being made to create a stalemate kind of situation to crush the Commission," she alleged.
"How will we run the 181 Helpline without any staff? How will I run the Rape Crisis Cell without any staff? If you are not happy with the current employees, replace them. At least do something.
"But they do not want the DCW to work. They want to crush it.
"If salaries are not paid, I fear these employees will go on a `dharna` or leave DCW. The Commission will be closed if that happens.
"We cannot operate without the staff. During the last one year, we handled around 12,000 cases.
"The 181 Helpline received 2.16 lakh calls in the last six months. On a daily basis, each Commission member holds 50 to 60 hearings. We need staff to do all that."