SUFFERING DURING THE LOCKDOWN, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND WOMEN’S SAFETY
Author: Vaibhav Gupta, IV year of B.B.A.,LL.B(Hons.) From Himachal Pradesh National Law University, Shimla.
Co-author: Tanisha Gangwal, B.Com.,LL.B(Hons.) From Institute Of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.
Although home is considered to be the safest place for most but this can be disregarded for some. Where in the mist of the pandemic where everyone was asked to be in their home for safety, but controversially not everyone was safe in their houses, there was this lurking evil in the society called domestic violence which does not see whether that human is of which caste, creed, age or gender the abuser abuse the victim without any boundation.
There was a rise in the cases of domestic violence due to the lockdown caused by the pandemic as it was already prevalent in the society but got fuelled by the mandatory guidelines to stay at home, social distancing, economic uncertainties and anxiety.
While there is a possibility that both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, while women are most likely to be a victim of such evil. As in India the mentality of the society is very patriarchal, this creates higher chances for women to fall in this vicious trap.
Women safety has been on higher risk during this lockdown as the data was collected by the National Commission of Women raised an alert just after the lockdown started in India. This very well depicts and clears us of the doubt that women were at a very higher risk during the midst of lockdown.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
Domestic violence is not slaved to circumstantial needs; it is a virus prevalent in the mind of the abuser which always does not need triggering. “Domestic abuse, also called "intimate partner violence" or "domestic violence", can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to obtain or retain power and control over an intimate partner.”
Abuse can be in any way i.e. it can be either in a physical way i.e. battery or grievous hurt, in manner of sexual abuse, emotional by defaming or disrespecting the person’s consciousness, economic by depriving the person of its basic needs or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.
“Domestic abuse is not a predicament to any bias it can happen to anyone of any race, sexual orientation, religion, age, or gender. It can occur within a range of relationships including couples who are married, living together or dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.”
Therein domestic violence is a very prevalent curse on the society which is usually on women and it got triggered by the lockdown which forced everyone to stay at home and increased cases on the crime.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
According to Section 3 of The Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005-
“Definition of domestic violence.—For the purposes of this Act, any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it—
(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or
(b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or
(c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or
(d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person. Explanation I.—For the purposes of this section,—
(i) “physical abuse” means any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person and includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force;
(ii) “sexual abuse” includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman;
(iii) “verbal and emotional abuse”
(iv) “economic abuse”
As mentioned above domestic violence on women is not just in a physical way, it goes beyond those restricted parameters.
One out of three women has suffered domestic violence whether in a physical way or in a sexual way. “During the first four phases of the COVID-19-related lockdown, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period in the last 10 years. But even this unusual spurt is only the tip of the iceberg as 86% women who experience domestic violence do not seek help in India. In 2020, between March 25 and May 31, 1,477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women. This 68-day period recorded more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years.”
The reasons of domestic violence:
Patriarchy: In India some people have very traditional beliefs and they think that they have the right to control their partner/spouse, and that women aren’t equal to men.
“According to NFHS data, 42% of the surveyed men think there is at least one valid reason for wife-beating.”
Societal influence: Some abusers learn violent behavior from their own family, people in their community/society or other cultural influences as they grow up.
Boys who learn that women are not to be respected or valued and who see violence directed against women are more likely to abuse women when they grow up or get married.
Girls who witness domestic violence in their families of origin are more likely to be victimized by their own husbands because what they are witnessing from childhood created a fear in them.
Economic causes: Unemployment, consumption of alcohol and drugs may also contribute to violent behavior of men.
Socio-Cultural: Honour killings and Dowry related deaths are also a reality that testifies domestic violence.
Individual Factor: Some abusers may feel this need to control their partner because of extreme jealousy, low self-esteem, difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions, or when they feel inferior to the other partner in education or socioeconomic background which again leads to the domestic violence.
LOCKDOWN AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Just after few days of the lockdown started in India, the National Commission of Women (NCW) noted a rise in the number of domestic violence complaints received via email. The NCW chairperson was of a belief that the original figure is likely to be higher, since the bulk of complaints come from women who send their complaints by post, and might not be able to use the internet.
Between the beginning of March and April 5th, the NCW received 310 grievances of domestic violence and 885 complaints for other forms of violence against women, many of which are domestic in nature—such as bigamy, polygamy, dowry deaths, and harassment for dowry.
The number of cases reported are most likely not proportional to the actual rise in domestic violence. As the victims being locked in with their abusers may not be able to get access to a mobile phone, nor the space and time to call for help. Most avenues to seek help or to physically remove themselves from their situations are impaired.
Being trapped in a space with violent or manipulative individuals could lead to increased rates and intensity of threats, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, humiliation, intimidation, and controlling behaviour. The ability to isolate a person from family and friends, monitor their movements, and restrict access to financial resources, employment opportunities, education, or medical care is heightened by a lockdown. These behaviours often have lasting effects on people, and can significantly affect mental health and well-being.
“Invisible Scars, an NGO working on an initiative to help domestic violence victims, has also seen a rise in complaints. In cases of physical domestic violence, depending upon the severity of the abuse, they guide the victims how to go about registering a complaint with the police. Its founder says they encourage victims to speak to someone if they are hesitant to approach the police. This is done after understanding the details of the abuse, both past and present.
“Since the victim most likely lives with the abuser and is stuck with him 24/7 at this point, we have to be very careful. For one of our victims, we suggested asking her to get a written undertaking from her husband and in-laws that they won’t isolate her from her family and will not beat her,” she says.
Coronavirus has exposed us to our dependence on house help. Most families don't have live-in help and with the lockdown part-timers are unavailable. Says Varkha Chulani, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at Mumbai's Lilavati Hospital: “Not used to getting their hands dirty, many men are struggling to cope. They feel they are being bossed around, to do the dishes, wash their clothes. Their ego is getting bruised as men are unable to stand being told to help. Stereotypical ideologies exist - it’s the woman’s job to cook, clean, wash. It’s the man’s job to earn. So even though we seem to have progressed in paying lip service to be ‘liberal’, the true test is in the living. And this confinement is throwing up the ‘real’ mindsets of partners.”
'Mpower 1 on 1' is a newly launched helpline in Mumbai to report domestic abuse and help the victim. They got a call this Sunday from a woman who was sounding anxious and breaking into sobs. She had a fight with her husband on some petty issues. It soon escalated and her husband beat her up badly. Feeling helpless and vulnerable, she couldn't go out because of the lockdown. Dr. Ambrish Dharmadhikari, psychiatrist and head of medical services at Mpower says his team counselled her on the phone and asked her to report to the police. "But the sad part is, now the police are busy enforcing the lockdown to curb the spread of Coronavirus," says Dharmadhikari.
The violence of domestic abuse is worse in the poorer section of the society. Psychologist Padma Rewari says her own domestic help has an abusive, alcoholic husband. Now going without alcohol and cooped up in a small room, he has got more violent. For victims like her, there are NGOs like Stree Mukti Sanghatan for help. “The women should approach free counseling and use the online facility for reporting the crime," says Rewari. "The victims of physical abuse may find it helpful to have a safety plan in case the violence escalates. This includes having a neighbor, friend or relative or shelter identified to go to in the event they need to leave the house immediately for safety," she adds. As the lockdown and limited movement outside the house appears to be a long drawn affair, the best recourse for victims of physical abuse is to report the crime and seek help.
This grievous increase in was larger in the backward section of the society as due to lockdown people were deprived from their source of income and many were also deprived of their basic necessities as they are habitual of being the bread earner of the house which leads to aggression and frustration in the abuser as they were not able to vent it out anywhere this raised the number of cases of domestic violence, as India being a patriarchal society women were highly prone to the consequences of men’s frustration as in the society women are considered to be very weak and looked down.
Domestic violence is a very living evil which is day by day eating the society. The victims lay off to the hands of such an evil is sadly women of our society can also be termed as the most fragile section of the society. The spread of the novel coronavirus has created a pyramid of problems for the people to even cope with it. Due to lack of cure and treatment to this disease people are forced to stay in their houses and be deprived of the help they need. As the only solution at present is the lockdown to be prevailed in the society. However, this has resulted in a paradox of social distancing, which includes issues such as economic instability, mental health problems, and isolation.
Although there have been researches exploring the impact of COVID-19, there is a lack of rigorous literature highlighting these issues from the perspective of gender. This also involves the issue of rising gender violence during the pandemic. COVID-19 has not only led to an increase in the cases of gender-based violence but has disconnected them from their support networks. To reduce the prevalence of the issue, it is crucial to acknowledge the extent of gender-based violence, reimaging government policies, and support networks to make it easier for the victims to access them and, lastly, create awareness about the issue as well as the resources available to tackle it.