As the world is witnessing an increase in the COVID-19 cases everyday, there has also been a subsequent rise in cases of domestic violence in India and across the world.
Domestic violence is defined under Section 3 of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005. The definition explains four categories of abuses namely Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Verbal abuse and Economic abuse. Physical abuse is considered as any act or conduct causing bodily injury, pain or harm to any person. Sexual abuse is any sexual conduct which abuses, degrades, humiliate or violate the dignity of any women. Verbal abuse includes insults, ridicule and humiliations. Economic abuse includes depriving the women all the financial resources to which she is entitled or requires out of necessity like running the household[ Section 3, The Protection of Women from Domestic abuse Act, 2005].
With the first phase of lockdown in India, the National Commission of Women (NCW) has received complaints of gender-based crimes which includes rapes, domestic violence and the ones related to “right to live with dignity”. There has been more than a twofold increase in the total number of complaints, received by the NCW, which rose from 116 in the first week of March (2nd- 8th March) to 257 in the last week (23rd March – 1st April). Out of these, the domestic violence cases rose to 69 from the previously 30 cases recorded prior lockdown. This numerical data is enough to prove how women in this patriarchal society are used merely as a target for men to rent their anger. The age old issue of gender disparity still holds a strong grip over both the rural and urban society of India.
Impact of lockdown on the rising cases against women
The recent tense situations has shook the entire world both mentally and economically. The crisis and financial distress has resulted in heavy business losses and salary cuts. Some have even lost their jobs and are currently unemployed. This led men to release their frustration on women in the form of abuses and violence. Resumed liquor sale in various parts of the country has further added to the already existing problems. A 50 years old lady from Telangana, on liquor sale, said ‘We have almost exhausted all our savings, but now with liquor sale resuming, we fear that our husbands will splurge our little left money on liquor. The only good thing about this lockdown was the ban on liquor!’ Not only the liquor sale lead to long queues of people but will also be proved extremely dangerous in spreading the deadly COVID-19 virus. Further this will cause an additional financial burden on the family and is likely to increase the domestic violence cases in the country. Similar cases of violence over women were observed previously during such cases of lockdown and confinement, specially during the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
With the rise in such cases, helpline numbers run by a Delhi based NGO as an aid for victims of domestic violence records a shocking drop of 50% calls from the usual. The main reasons ascertained behind this decrease is the lack of privacy and space available to women. Due to lockdown all the family members are now confined to their homes which makes it difficult for women to reach out for help. The fear of getting caught is another stumbling block in their way restricting them to lodge a complain for the pain they go through everyday. Many of such victims, belonging mostly from low income groups and rural areas, does not have proper access to either mobile phones or internet connections. Because of this most of the complaints and cases regarding domestic violence goes unrecorded. Lockdown further restrained public movement from one place to another leaving these women helpless as they now cannot even visit the police stations to file an FIR (First Information Report). Emotional support from family and friends is also unavailable to them at this crucial time.
Initiative and Actions to curb the violence
While the world is battling with the dangerous Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing cases of domestic violence during lockdown has been ignored and did not get enough attention as it deserve by the government. The police and other staffs are overburdened with the law and order situation of lockdown, the existing shelter homes for the victims are now converted into isolation wards for the Covid-19 patients and the counselling services are not accessible at this time.
Apart from all this, the National Commission of Women (NCW) has raised the issue of domestic violence during the lockdown and also encouraged women to speak out for themselves. A special team is constituted in order to tackle the complaints on a fast track basis. Out of all the messages received those related to domestic violence and domestic abuse are given priority and are timely acted upon. On 10th of April, a Whatsapp emergency number to file emergency complaints was launched by NCW from which the Commission received almost 40 messages related to domestic abuse cases within just a week.
A new initiative named ‘Red Dot’ is launched by WEFT (Women Entrepreneur For Transformation) to identify a domestic violence victim through a red dot on her palm. They also requested to inform them about any such cases through social media, email or helpline numbers.The government of Delhi on 12th April told the Court about the protocol to handle such cases. After getting call on any of the 24×7 helpline numbers, the case is forwarded to the counsellor who then makes a telephonic counselling to assist the victim. If the case is related to sexual or physical form of abuse then the counsellor is required to inform the police and file an FIR of the case. After Delhi High Court, Karnataka High Court also asked the state government about the safety measures and actions taken to tackle the rising domestic violence cases. To this, the government responded positively stating the effective operation of all helpline numbers and proper availability of counsellor and shelter homes for the victim. Jammu and Kashmir High Court as well offered some directions including creation of a Special relief fund and designating informal safe places for women to report any case related to domestic violence easily.
On the resumption of alcohol sale in various parts of India, some women activists raised their concern and wrote to the authorities to stop the sale until the lockdown opens as it will only provoke men to drink which will lead to domestic violence and other forms of abuses against women.
Under the Indian law, there are certain rights and reliefs available to the domestic violence victims who are in need of help and assistance. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005 is one such Act ensuring the same to women. It is a civil law which aims to provide compensation, support and relief to the aggrieved party. It also aims at providing counselling services, shelter homes and monetary relief to the victims.
Women are an important part of every society and no country can prosper unless the women there are respected and taken care of. It is a concerning situation to see the domestic violence cases rising everyday during the lockdown. Under Section 11 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005 the government authorities must ensure proper use of television, radio, newspapers and social media to create more awareness about ways to deal with domestic violence[ Section 11, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act,2005]. We must also ensure fast track 24×7 helpline numbers and easy accessibility of other services including monetary relief and legal aid. This will not only give the victims hope but also make them independent and confident to fight their own battles.
“Overcoming abuse doesn’t just happen, it takes positive steps everyday. Let today be the day you start to move forward.” – Assunta Harris