THE ‘OTHER’ PANDEMIC: COVID -19 AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Updated: Oct 19
Author: Sagarika Swapnil, Advocate at Patna High Court.
Co-author: Raj Krishna, LL.M from NLIU Bhopal.
“In the theatre of life, it seems, man has put the autograph and there is no space for a woman even to put her signature.”
- Former CJI Dipak Misra
Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. v. The State of Kerela & Ors.
On 24th March, 2020 a national lockdown was imposed by the Union Government in attempt to curb the spread of the dangerous Coronavirus. Even though now the country is in unlock mode, but still movement from one place to another is not that easy as it used to be in the pre-corona days. However, for some women and children, home has become more dangerous than the deadly Coronavirus itself because the offence of domestic violence has increased across the globe with India being no exception. Women and children in aggressive households are facing a double whammy at the time of this pandemic because they have to face an aggressor inside their houses and have to face a deadly virus outside their houses. If we go by the data of NCW we will find that there has been a massive rise in the number of domestic violence cases since the nation-wide lockdown has been imposed. From February 27, 2020 to March 22, 2020 a total of 396 offences related to women were reported to the NCW. However, from March 23, 2020 to April 16, 2020 [Time period of the First Nationwide Lockdown] as many as 587 complaints related to women were reported to the NCW. Thus, it can rightly be said that there has been a surge in the number of offences related to domestic violence at the time of lockdown.
One of the major reasons behind a rise in domestic violence is the combination of economic and social stresses arising out of the Pandemic. Furthermore, study also suggests that violence is a way for the man to assert his notion of masculinity. The current atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, food insecurity, and unemployment may create feelings of inadequacy in men. However, committing violence against women in household no way whatsoever will justify the problem one is facing because of the COVID-19 outbreak. At such a critical juncture victims need to be made aware of their rights. Some semblance of confidence, empathy and support is the least that the victims of domestic violence deserve.
INDIA’S RESPONSE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING COVID-19 CRISIS
Post lockdown the National Commission of Women launched a helpline WhatsApp number for the victims of domestic violence. If a woman faces domestic violence in her home, then she can send a message on the number seeking help. Once the message is sent then the NCW’s complaints and legal cell will contact the victim and seek specific details about the remedies she seeks along with her address. Following this she will be linked with the local police team or a counsellor from a local NGO or a medical facility or relocated to a One Stop Centre temporarily. The messaging facility will also help those women who aren't comfortable making a call because of a live threat to them.
Furthermore, the NCW has compiled a State-wise list of One Stop Centers as well as nodal police officers who can be contacted immediately. It is also working on building a network of counsellors and has sought UN Women’s help for this. When asked how the NCW plans to popularise the new helpline, Ms. Sharma said it will use social media, news media, radio as well as NGOs to spread the word. Lastly Delhi as well as Jammu Kashmir High Courts took suo-moto cognizance of the domestic violence happening around the households and questioned the respective state governments.
GLOBAL RESPONSE TO OTHER PANDEMIC I.E., DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The United Nations has termed the act of domestic violence against women and children during the COVID-19 outbreak as a shadow pandemic which is plaguing the lives of women and children all over the world just like the deadly Coronavirus. The Secretory of the United Nations Mr. Antonio Guterres has directed every country’s government to look into the offence of domestic violence seriously while dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
The Institute for Equality of Spain has launched a campaign named Mascarilla-19 (Mask-19) to deal with the crisis of shadow pandemic i.e., Domestic Violence. If a woman faces abuse in her household, then she is supposed to go to a nearby pharmacy and obtain a Mask-19 from there. When the victim will ask for Mask-19 then the pharmacy will note her name, phone number and address. The woman can then go back to her home or wait for the arrival of police and support workers.
The Government of Italy has launched an app which would enable the victims of domestic violence to seek help without making a phone call to the support staff. The French Government has declared that it would pay for hotel rooms for the victims of domestic violence and would also open pop-up counselling centres for them. The French Government is funding anti-domestic abuse organizations with an extra one million Euros so that these organizations can support the victims of domestic violence.
The Canadian Government has opened a number of domestic violence shelters for the victims of domestic and gender-based violence during this COVID-19 crisis. The Canadian Government has allotted 40 million Dollars to the Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE). Under this 40 million Dollars package, 30 million dollars will be used to address the immediate needs of shelters and sexual assault centres.
The governments of United Kingdom and Australia are also funding their respective organizations which are dealing with domestic violence abuse.
The most important thing one can do is to accept the fact that domestic violence does take place in households and thereby they should work to reduce the stigma attached to the victims of such violence. The National Commission of Woman has made an appeal to all the victims of domestic violence to reach out to their nearest police stations or call the State Women’s Commission for help. Furthermore, there are some other formal means by which one can provide support to the victims of domestic violence. The provision of cash transfers and ration support are likely to sustain the family and also reduce stress in the household leading to lower violence against women.
Since the lockdown has begun, the amount of TV viewing [Especially news channel] has increased. At this juncture of time the National Commission of Women should increase their advertising expenditure on TV in order to relay messages requesting the victims of domestic violence to contact the police station for help. Lastly the government could also send mass SMS messages [As it did during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis] as most women have access to at least a basic phone.