At a time when the whole world remains under lockdown due to the global pandemic forcing everyone to stay indoors in their houses considering the homes as the safest havens and social distancing as the only tool to prevent themselves from being affected, there has been an upsurge in the number of domestic violence cases against women being reported. Just like the COVID, this upsurge has been reported globally and is present across all barriers. The lockdown has exacerbated the violence faced by the victims instead of ensuring their safety making the ‘safe haven’ the most dangerous place for them.
According to Anita Bhatia, the Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, the very technology that is being used to protect people from the virus can perversely impact victims of domestic violence. The director-general of the United Nations Antonio Guterres given the shocking yet expected figures urged the governments all over the world to include the prevention and redress of the violence against women as a part of their COVID action plan.
Global trend and India’s situation:
China reportedly recorded triple the total number of cases, Australia recorded a spike of 75% in google searches on ‘domestic violence help’ while countries like Spain, France, Turkey and even the United States recorded a sharp rise in cases. In India, the National Commission for Women recorded an increase of 100% in the number of cases of domestic violence against women reported during the lockdown. The number of cases reported broke all the records and were at a ten year high. Even with such high figures, a prominent fact that should be noted is that the cases of domestic violence are under-reported even in the best of times due to fear of retaliation from the harasser and his family or their own family for that matter. Although the cases of domestic violence widely prevail in all times, the cases escalate during crises such as that of war or pandemic. These times see new cases of violence or extremity in the already existing ones.
Why the upsurge?
The financial insecurities resulting from loss of employment or major pay cuts in salaries twinned with social isolation in confinement leading to mental frustration have been attributed to be the reasons for the surge. There is an increase in the exercise of control by the abusers over their partners to vent out the frustration and to affirm their ‘manliness’ to themselves during the unstable conditions and the constraints prevailing. In poor families, alcoholic men have turned aggressively violent upon discovering they would not get alcohol.
The recommendation of the United Nations women which stated that the shelter homes and helplines for the domestic violence victims be made essential service also remained unattended contributing to the continuity in the surge. The same was put forward before the ministry of home affairs by the All India Democratic Women’s Association in the form of a memorandum.
The Union Minister for Women and Child Development and Textiles did away with the concerns of the rising number of cases by terming it ‘scaremongering’. But the national commission for women was quick to launch a WhatsApp Helpline number –7217735372 for better reach to the victims. This number was in addition to the already existing online platforms. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) decided to commission a panel of women lawyers in each district as part of its online legal assistance. Though effective, these measures do not reach the poor section of the society or the families residing in a village with no internet connection. While the government declared various schemes and ground-level help for other vulnerable of the society such as the migrants and school-going children, the women were left out.
Laws in India:
Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act was passed in 2005 for the protection of women against domestic violence envisages offences of physical abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, economic abuse or sexual abuse. It protects any aggrieved women against the domestic violence living with the abuser in a shared household. The act provides victim security and monetary compensation from the abuser. But the act fails to address violence against the men or the LGBTQ who experience the violence too. Many districts lack shelter homes.
Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code provides for punishment to the husband or his relatives if they subject the women to cruelty.
Despite the stringent laws in place, extraordinary situations such as these require the government to frame condition-specific laws. The lockdown has created a situation wherein the victims are trapped with their abusers 24/7 with no privacy and constant surveillance. This makes it difficult for the victims to reach out to available resources or make phone calls because they fear being caught by their abuser. The first responders are the police who in the times of pandemic are already overwhelmed with work and are put to tackle the rising number of corona cases, leaving women out of options who due to lockdown cannot even escape to their matrimonial homes due to lack of transport facility.
Pandemic calls for improvised law:
Taking examples from Spain where the women can head to a pharmacy and say the code word ‘mask-19’ to the pharmacist who would then inform the required authorities or from France where the government has decided to pay for 20,000 nights in hotel rooms for the domestic violence victims and is also planning to set up counselling centres in the supermarkets. More initiatives such as that of Uttar Pradesh police ‘Suppress corona, not your voice’ advertising through social media should be taken up. Simple measures such as allowing complaints through basic text messages may prove effective and have far-reaching effects.
The world is facing this shadow pandemic in these unprecedented times where the abusers are unleashing more violence upon the victims and hence just like countries, our country too needs to come up with improvised laws.
This blog is written by Mansi Mishra, Damodaram Sanjivayya NLU
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