Authors: Prateek Khandelwal and Nikhil Hans*
The unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 led to a worldwide shutdown. The “locked’ world aims to break the web of infection and flatten the curve. Though, the lockdown acted as a pause button to freeze the planet, it has reshuffled the lives of millions. The pandemic has generated multilateral effects; economies crashed but the environment was seen relaxing, and many more. Subsequently, the lockdown shielded the world from witnessing violent crimes. The figures of several cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and Coimbatore have observed 60-90% decrease in crime rate as compare to last year. Violent crimes such as murder and rape have fallen even more sharply, all credited to the nationwide lockdown. However, with fewer people venturing out, cases of domestic abuse have witnessed a sharp increase, and this is happening not only in India but across the world. The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”
Domestic Violence: A Shadow Pandemic
The concept of social distancing and staying home can surely mitigate the challenge posed by the ongoing crisis. But the metaphor of Lakshman Rekha quoted to break the network of the virus has proved to be unfortunate for the women again.
For long, women were confined within this permanent state of lockdown, it was only in the past couple of decades that women have begun crossing the Lakshman Rekha of violent homes and strengthening themselves to control their lives. Despite this, homes remain the most unsafe environment for women where one in every three women in India continue to face violence. Domestic Violence is one of the most normalised “shadow” pandemics, which has been adapted as a pattern of life. Experience of Covid-19 shows that in times of exigencies violence and offences against women increases.
In the context of women, “#Stay Home, Stay Safe” quoted to prevent the spread of Corona, sounds ironical as the nation could overpower Corona, but women will be forced to stay close to their perpetrators. This legitimised lockdown has caused a steep rise in violence against women. According to the data of National Commission for Women, 587 were registered complaints from March 23 to April 16, out of which 239 were of Domestic Violence. A contrast can easily be cited, as only 123 cases of domestic violence were received between February 27 and March 22, while the total number was 396 in that period. NALSA report shows that in two months of lockdown, till May 15, more than 144 cases were reported in Uttarakhand alone. In another report, by Sakhi One Stop Centers, a spike is witnessed as 89% of the total number of cases registered were of domestic violence.
Moreover, lockdown has reduced the outlets from this exploitation and therefore preventing women to register complaints against the perpetrators. As women who are victims of domestic violence are locked in with their perpetrators, for months together. Such women in “ordinary circumstances” could have sought help from the authorities, sought shelter elsewhere or sought medical aid after the abuse. However, each of these outlets has been shut down due to the lockdown to prevent the spread of the “pandemic”. If the domestic abuse were a virus in itself, locked homes would have increased its breeding rate and mutated a more complicated variant that would have seeped into the genes of the patriarchal society.
Corona and Global Domestic Trend
The incidence of domestic violence is not restricted to India only. The trend of abuse has perpetrated all over the world as a consequence of the lockdown. The women and children who are victims of domestic harassment have no escape from their abusers during the quarantine. As the lockdown is entering into the next phases, the problem has risen alarmingly and steeped across jurisdictions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the risk of intimate partner violence is likely to increase, as distancing measures are put in place, and people are encouraged to stay at home. On April 6, UN chief António Guterres called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments to combat Coronavirus pandemic.
Fuelled by mandatory stay-at-home norms, social “physical” distancing, economic fallout, and anxieties caused by the corona pandemic, domestic abuse has increased globally. Across the globe, there is a surge in the reported cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence including China, United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, and others. Now, with houses locked up in the worldwide shutdown, headlines are lighting up with violence reports, leaving no choice with the governments other than to address the crisis. Modified policies are being transcript since no jurisdiction governed by the rule of law had a provision to curb the domestic crime in this unprecedented crisis.
To tackle the surge, Spain and Portugal modified lockdown guidelines to include protection and assistance of victims of gender abuse as “essential services”. As a preventive measure, the government of government of France has booked hotels to shelter women seeking a safe environment; also toll booths were set up at groceries and pharmacies so women can register complaints against the abuser. As a social step to fight this evil, in France, Italy, Norway and Spain a code is in trend wherein a woman asks a pharmacist for Mask -19. This is a pseudonym for him to call for help.
Conclusion: What Have Resulted In Increase Of Domestic Violence During Pandemic?
From the past few decades, there have been attempts by the NGOs, social activist and government to restrict domestic violence against women and protect her constitutional rights. However, still, it has been increasing day by day and this time a bit differently. As most of the countries are under lockdown and fewer people are venturing out, this has put women under severe threat, because they are being subjected to domestic abuse and the cases has increased drastically in these lockdowns and pandemics. But why this is so?
Firstly, as most of the people used to live in other cities and states, separately from their wives and children for the works but due to lockdowns caused due to COVID-19 pandemic they came home and living together with their family. And fear of losing jobs and financial distress have resulted in physical, mental and psychological stress which in turn provoking and increasing the cases of domestic violence.
Secondly, Alcohol is one of the major reason behind surge of domestic abuse. Despite of lockdowns and ongoing pandemics alcohol are being supplied under the table and as we know, people (mainly migrant labourers) who came home and got out of cash, they are asking their wives (women being ‘Karta’ at homes i.e. they keep money to run homes) for money, denial of which resulting in domestic violence. Consumption of alcohol is itself resulting in increase of domestic abuse because, a large number of people are at their homes as compare to pre-pandemic situation.
Suggestions: Need Of New Approaches And Ideas
Human civilisation has come so far now, everything about humans has changed except the “patriarchal mindset.” We as a society have failed in protecting, and uplifting the liberty and dignity of women, so it is a high time that every member of the society needs to change their perspective on women. Just enactment of stringent laws will not bring us a decline in Domestic Violence. Pandemic and further lockdown has affected people and working of justice systems as it is unsafe to go out, which has restricted victims (women) to seek remedy and redressal. So, to provide such women access to justice in this pandemic, there is a need of new approach and ideas i.e. if these women are unable to reach authorities then authorities should reach them.
Government should conduct door to door survey at village, Nagar Parishad and Anumandal level through Aganwadi Sevika, Sahayka and ASHA workers (as they are women so victims will feel comfortable to share her problems with them). It should be conducted under the purview of Ward Sadasya, Sarpanch and Mukhiya at village level and, Ward members at Nagar Parishad and Anumandal level. If any of such women found, they should be provided with financial support and shelter to live. Doing the survey at lower level will be proven effective and efficient as it will help in reaching every houses and that too with proper safety because population density in villages are low and most of the above given authorities live at the place of their respective jurisdiction.
Women grievances cells and helpline numbers should be established in metropolitan cities (by dividing it in various zones according to population density) which are densely populated as physical movement either by authorities or victims would not be safe in this pandemic. Awareness about helpline number should be extended to people through T.V. news channels, paper media, social media platforms.
These are some measures that the government can adopt, apart from increasing investment in organisations that provide aid to women. It only needs to remember that India’s women are not waiting by the wayside to be picked up at the end of the lockdown, they are shouldering the brunt of it and are being exploited while at it.
*Nikhil Hans is a 2nd Year student pursuing B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) from Chanakya National Law University, Patna