"Maharashtra home minister is blinded by power"

Rakhi Sawant is not ashamed of item girl tag and candidly admits that she’s no politician, but says she wants to work for women and poor

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | August 12, 2014


Rakhi Sawant at Maharashtra home minister RR Patil`s (right) office.
Photo courtesy: Rakhi Sawant/RPI

From an item girl to her new avatar as a politician, Rakhi Sawant has courted many controversies. In an interview with Governance Now, she speaks about a recent heated exchange with Maharashtra home minister RR Patil, her agenda as a politician and why she joined the Republican Party of India.

What prompted you to join politics?
Sometimes you are destined to do something and it happens. I want to help and serve the poor. Women’s safety is a burning issue. Every day I go to a police station and try to solve different problems. There is domestic violence, women are being beaten up, incidents of chain snatching and single mothers struggling to make ends meet. These are the kind of issues I am fighting for more than a year now. When people contact me with their problems I take them up and I have met the chief minister and the home minister of Maharashtra for the same.

Recently, when I met home minister RR Patil to apprise him of a domestic violence case and seek his help as the police was not registering an FIR, he asked me if he was supposed to handle every issue related to women.

I also apprised him on other such incidents, of rape, molestation, spreading MMS to blackmail and harassing a girl, to which he said if I brought to him five such cases on negligence and dereliction of duty he would issue suspension orders of those responsible. But, am I the home minister? Is this my job? It is the job of his department to pick cases of inaction by police and punish them. The home minister is blinded by power. He further insulted us saying we had wasted his time.

He offered us tea but when the discussion became heated he sent it back. I left behind the case papers. Later, his office intervened and called the Santacruz police station to file the FIR. Only after I created the pressure, the FIR was finally registered. But I can’t do this for every woman of this country. If the home minister has to intervene to register an FIR, it is very sad.

Do you think your efforts will help?
I am the President of Republican Party of India’s women’s cell. Along with the home minister, we have also handed over a letter to the chief minister, asking him to do some good work in the last months of his government.

Did you always want to be a politician?
I never thought I would become one, although I was always inclined to do social work. I decided to fight elections because unless you have power, no one cares about you. So I contested elections from my area. My 12-day-old party (Rashtriya Aam Party) has got 2,500 votes.

Why did you join the RPI?
There is a lot of poverty in our country. Dalits are exploited and used as a vote bank. The RPI is a party of poor people.

What is your special agenda in RPI?
I joined the party two months back and since then I have met the chief minister and the home minister and got justice for many girls. I have taken many policemen to task. All this has been achieved when I don’t have any power. I could do much more if I had power. I have presented many other issues before the CM about the poor condition of BMC schools -- non-availability of clean water, insufficient gas cylinders, no fans and lack of good teachers.

How did RPI chief Ramdas Athawale react to this?
He is happy that I am fighting atrocities against women. I got the FIR registered (in the domestic violence case) and will see that her husband goes to jail.

There is no serious and sustained will across parties to address women’s issues. What difference will you be able to make?
If the government of this country cannot protect its women and create laws for their protection then people like me have to do take charge. I have met the Maharashtra CM and other officials and issued them a warning. If they refuse to take action I will sit on a fast with 1,500-2,000 women, even at the cost of my life. Women are being brutally beaten up and raped across the country. A mentally retarded girl was raped recently in Goregaon. Rapes are recorded and MMSes are created to threaten girls. If the boy is rich, he is let off after paying up. While the law is equal for rich and poor, people throw money to get away. What kind of law do we have that lets off the culprit because he pays a bribe to police after an FIR has been lodged? How can the court let off those who create MMSes of girls? There are a number of harassment complaints from girls who work long hours in BPOs and those who visit temples to pray. The home minister cannot feign ignorance on issues of women’s safety.

Your image is that of an ‘item girl’, you might not be considered a serious politician.
I do not agree. I am very serious about my political career. As an item girl I have earned my bread and butter, looked after my family and got my siblings married and I do not regret that. If anyone has any issues with that, they must give me back my childhood, feed me and look after my family.

Will you stop acting then?
No. I am acting in many films and playing negative characters. I am open to working in serials too. I am no more an item girl. Smriti Irani (Union minister) too acted in serials, today she is a cabinet minister. If I danced in films I have no regret at all.

How do you view the current state of politics in Maharashtra?
I am not a political person. I don’t know the dirty politics of money. For me, serving the poor is politics.

What are the key issues you stand for in politics?
Women’ s issues and children’s education. Soon, I will meet Uddhav Thackarey (Shiv Sena chief) and Rajnath Singh (union home minister) to voice my concerns on issues related to children’s education. Recently, when I visited Siddhivinayak temple, I saw some women being molested. I censured two men who I saw were troubling them. Later, I called the home minister and told him, I don’t have the power but you do. You should do something for the safety of women. He told the DCP to call me. The DCP told me 100 women constables were deployed on the temple premises, I didn’t see any.

What was your experience in the Lok Sabha elections?
The good thing was that I got to interact with many people and understand the issues affecting them. The bad was when I asked people to vote for me they said ‘note do vote lo’ (give money to get our vote). I would never do this. People who buy votes with money never work in public interest. I saw voting was all about money. Only someone with money could win.

Shouldn’t you have joined a big party like the BJP or Congress?
I feel that the post I have been given in RPI can help me work for women’s issues. In the Congress or BJP, the queue is very long and it will take me years to do this work. The RPI is a poor man’s party. I have not heard of any poor person in either Congress or BJP.

Who is your political idol?
Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Ramdas Athavale.

Tell us about your successful cases?
All cases have been successful. For instance, a girl was raped by five men at Aarey Colony. She was admitted to Sion hospital with serious injuries and the police was not accepting the complaint. When some women came to me, I went with them and got the Aarey police to register the case.

How do you intend to ensure that laws are implemented?
Unless I have power I won’t be able to change the system. Give me power and you will see how I bring in change in the system. If you want to work for your country you can bring in change. If that is missing no amount of power will change things. Why is everything systematic in America and London and not in India? If India can adopt western clothes, food, fashion, accent, language and pizza, why can it not have effective laws like their’s?

What will be your efforts towards bringing change?
I will have to meet Modiji (prime minister Narendra Modi). We pass laws, but do not implement them. Computers are approved for BMC schools, but aren’t installed. While there is no dearth of government hospitals, the poor are asked to shell out money, otherwise, they are denied treatment and made to sleep on floors in government hospitals. Medicines are given at private rates in government hospitals.

I have all the information, yet people call me an item girl. I am proud of my image. Even a prostitute must be respected because she works to feed herself. People must introspect before pointing fingers and judging a woman. Nothing is more dastardly and shameful than raping a woman and killing her.

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