BEHIND LOCKED DOORS!- LOCKDOWN AND THE SHARP RISE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Updated: May 26, 2021
Author: Siddhi Gokuldas Naik, I year of LL.M. from V.M.Salgaocar College of Law, Miramar-Panaji, Goa.
“Scars tattooed all over my body
While every scar tells astory,
A story that says, ‘I Survived the nightmare’!”
The outbreak of the Corona Virus epidemic has created havoc in the life of every individual. Countries across the world have adopted several measures such as the use of face masks, maintaining social distancing, quarantining, restrictions on travel, etc. to battle the monster. Critically affected countries have resorted to another remedy that is the imposition of a ‘Lockdown’. While this has affected everyone, it has been a silent debacle for several women.
STAY HOME, STAY SAFE: BUT ARE WOMEN SAFE AT HOME?
On 24th March 2020, a nationwide lockdown was announced in India. It was subsequently extended for a week, then for 21 days, and finally until the 3rd of May 2020. This was an excellent step taken to contain the spread of the virus wherein people were asked to stay at home. However, the Lockdown brought fallouts in several areas. One such area is the safety of Women at home. Violence against women has been not less than a pandemic across the globe. It is an offence committed extensively but has highly remained inconspicuous with the imposition of the lockdown. Domestic Violence involves the violent or aggressive behaviour of one spouse/intimate partner or the family against the other spouse/intimate partner comprising all acts of Physical, Mental, Sexual, and Economic abuse. It is one of the most common forms of gender-based violence with women being targeted the most.
LOCKED UP IN LOCKDOWN: STATISTICAL OVERVIEW
With their children and husbands being at home 24x7, Women are not just pressurized with increased household chores but are also subjected to more abuse and violence. According to the National Commission for Women, Domestic Violence against women has been at a 10-year high in this lockdown period. The number of cases recorded in these four phases of the lockdown is equivalent to the cases that were recorded in the past ten years.
In March 2020, 501 complaints were reported. In April, the number reduced to 377, however, the decrease in the number was because of the non-availability of modes for women to register the complaint. There was a giant rise with 552 and 730 cases being reported in May and June respectively. Also, the Delhi Commission for Women,registered massive complaints especially during the period from March to June as compared to the pre-lockdown period. A helpline number 181 was created to address such issues and it was reported that around 34,454 calls were recorded.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, the actual numbers are much higher than this. 77% of women choose to stay silent by not telling anyone about what they go through every day and 86% of women do not prefer filing a complaint. This is evident to satisfy the fact that women are now trapped at home with their abusive husbands and family and are at a greater risk. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of United Nations on analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on Women, has termed this increase in violence as a Shadow Pandemic.
WHY IS THERE A SPIKE IN THE CASES?
The ongoing pandemic has led to a lot of disasters such as loss of people, property, employment, etc. Most people are physically confined in houses doing nothing due to which there is a lot of economic disruption with loss of jobs, slowed down businesses, dried income sources, and lack of basic amenities. Lakhs of people are driven into poverty. All this has increased the level of stress, annoyance, anger, impatience, and desperation amongst people which is vomited on the most vulnerable members of the family that is the Women. Lack of finance, especially amongst some males has led to a lot of frustration for losing hold over the economic security. The situation is bad if the male spouse earns lesser than the female spouse and even worse if he is unemployed and his partner is employed. This makes women endangered to physical and mental abuse at the hands of their husbands or intimate partners.
The growth in cases is also due to household work-related disputes between the partners. In India domestic work is primarily considered to be a Woman’s job. The absence of domestic helpers has led to an increase in the workload thereby fueling the ongoing friction between the couples and resulting in high chances of violence against women.
Adding to the above causes, many husbands have resorted to increased consumption of alcohol. Behavioural change after consumption of alcohol makes them engage in physical or verbal fights with their partners. The lockdown has led to a closure of liquor shops which has increased irritation amongst habitual drunkards, who torture their partners to satisfy their alcoholic needs.
Women are not only facing physical violence but also there is an immense rise in sexual violence against them. India has reported a monumental shoot in the sale and consumption of Porn, Condoms, and Sex Toys during the lockdown. This has contemplated an increase in sexual activities amongst couples thereby violating the sexual rights of women.
TRAPPED AND TORTURED: IMPACT
Domestic Violence makes women face long-lasting physical and psychological consequences. The majority of women are physically tortured and beaten by their partners which can result in injuries, fractures as well as chronic disabilities including loss of vision, loss of hearing, permanent disablement, and in worst cases even death. In addition to this, women go through severe psychological trauma. Sexual violence has refrained women from using contraception or negotiate safer sex. This has lead to unwanted pregnancies and also a high risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. Reports state that women have been subjected to high levels of violence during pregnancy which has risked the life of the mother as well as the unborn fetus.
The pandemic has also shut down all the schools making children stay at home. These children witness domestic violence faced by their mothers at the hands of their fathers. Girls watching their mothers getting abused are more likely to take violence as a normal act in marriage. Boys are more likely o become violent like their fathers in their adulthood.
STORIES FROM THE FOUR WALLS
The lockdown has triggered an enormous rise in domestic violence against women. Here are a few instances reported:
On the night of 25th June 2020, a 32-year-old software engineer from Hyderabad unable to bear the harassment from her husband and in-laws committed suicide. She was tortured for not being able to get pregnant.
A 42-year-old man allegedly murdered his wife, Savithramma, in front of his daughter, in a fit of rage, suspecting her of infidelity. This happened days after the family was quarantined in a temple in the Dodderi village of Karnataka.
“I live in a constant state of fear of what can change my husband’s mood!” says Tara (named changed) whose husband had verbally, emotionally, and physically abused her during the lockdown. Unable to bear the abuse and beatings, she decided to seek help from an NGO named Invisible Scars.
“I see my self-esteem being crushed every single day. There is stress at work and home. I am shouted at by my husband and my in-laws. There are fights and violence in the house that I have never experienced before in my ten years of marriage!” says Sunanda Desai, a working woman from an upper-middle-class family in Mumbai.
WHY ARE WOMEN STRUGGLING TO SEEK HELP?
As we are living through the pandemic, a lot of victims find it difficult to approach the authorities to seek help. With the offices shut due to the lockdown, complaints are accepted over phone calls or online. For most women, the prevailing situation has diminished the opportunities of getting access to a phone and calling for help or reporting the violence. The helpline numbers launched by the National Commission of Women are not known to many victims. Women from rural areas are not having an access to online platforms as most of them are illiterate.
While husbands cohabiting with them it is difficult for women to complain. Maternal homes are usually the first place of contact for them, however, the restricted movement during the lockdown has prevented them from moving there or contacting them. Police officers who are already tackling the COVID-19 are unable to deal with domestic violence cases. NGO’s are flooded with complaints. They are already trying their best to tackle the problem, however, they cannot take up the government’s responsibility.
Moreover many women in the fear of getting more harassed by their husband and in-laws, uncertain future, lack of opportunities, social stigma, lack of support from their own family step back to raise their voice against the crime. And if they have children then it is even impossible for them to think about leaving their abusive husbands.
Several laws are protecting a married woman from her abusive husband and in-laws.
Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides punishment to the husband and his relatives for cruelty against the wife. The act is punishable with up to three years imprisonment and a fine.
Section 304 B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides punishment to the husband and his family members for the death of the wife on account of dowry demands within seven years of marriage. The act is punishable with imprisonment for seven years which can be extended to life.
Furthermore, the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 prohibits a wide range of abuse against women- Physical, Emotional, Sexual, and Economical.This Act covers even those women who are in a live-in relationship with their intimate partners. It lays down the duties of Service Providers, Police officers, and the Magistrate and provides Shelter homes and Medical facilities to the victims. It appoints protection officers in each district to assist the Magistrate. It lays down the duties of the government. The Act also deals with aspects like obtaining orders and reliefs, counselling of victims, in-camera proceedings, protection and residence orders, child custody, monetary reliefs, etc.
However, during the lockdown, the laws have failed to address the issue. The protection officers are unable to visit the houses of the victims. Police officers are refusing to register the complaints. Even if they are registered, no investigation proceeds. Courts are also not functioning regularly so this has added to the misery of the victims. Other protections under the 2005 Act have also proved to be ineffective during this time.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Certain preventive measures can be taken to deal with this menace such as:
Break the Isolation: Studies have proven that there is a strong link between isolation and abuse. During the lockdown, victims have spent more time with the abusers. Even after the lockdown is over isolation can make women vulnerable to violence. Women have to come out and share their stories with someone. The power of just talking and making survivors feel like they are heard, believed, and understood should not be underestimated.
Provide support to survivors: During this time online platforms can be best utilized. Citizens can come forward and organize social media groups or live meetings to build rapport. Campaigns can be initiated to create awareness. In the rural areas where online means are unavailable at least call services can be provided. Conditions can be created to make it easier for the victims to report the violence to police, lawyers, doctors, social workers, and counsellors.
Responsibility of the Police and other authorities: They should not neglect their duties and act promptly in such matters.
Amendment in the existing laws: We see that the existing laws have turned helpless. God forbid if such a situation happens again in the future, problems faced right now should not be faced again. Therefore, a right amendment is the need of the hour to safeguard women in any given situation.
Plan for safety and emergencies: If the situation is so worse that a survivor has to leave their homes, neighbours should support them, move them to a safer place, and make arrangements for their children.
Enable access to government services: Neighborhood groups should ensure that local government services which are trustworthy and accessible can be provided to the survivors.
Build Visibility and Solidarity: There is a strong need to change the belief that domestic violence is a private family matter or a women’s issue. It has to be placed squarely at the centre of the community as everyone’s problem.
If we want to fight discrimination against women, the first point is home. If a woman is not safe at home she can’t be safe anywhere. It is very well clear that tackling Domestic Violence has become an urgent matter today not only for the government but also for society. While the law provides hope to the survivors, it is only through a change in the societal attitude that the survivors can hold on to the hope and find their way out.
In the words of Sir Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter!” Married or being in a relationship is a beautiful thing. But there is nothing attractive about enduring the pain and abuse from your partner.
It is a call for all the survivors:
It is ‘NOT’Okay!
Get Help Now!
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The Author, Adv. Siddhi Gokuldas Naik is a practicing lawyer from Goa. She Graduated in August 2020 (BALLB, 5 Years) with Distinction, from the V.M.Salgaocar College of Law. She is currently pursuing her First Year of LLM, specializing in the subject of Criminal Law in the same college. She is very passionate about researching and writing articles. Many of her articles on notable topics like Female Genital Mutilation, Acid Attacks, Trafficking, Dowry, Impact of COVID-19 on Migrant Children, Child Pornography, National Education Policy, 2020, etc. are published on established journals and websites.