by Himanshu Tyagi
While the whole world is fighting against the coronavirus outbreak, we have forgotten about a deadlier virus, which lurks around in the corridor of every household. As the governments around the globe have enforced a lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a horrifying surge in domestic violence has raised the alarm. As per WHO’s health reproduction programme reports, 1 in every 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence by their partners in their lifetime and this violence tends to increase during the time emergencies including global pandemic.
According to the Refuge, UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, there’s a 700% increase in calls on their helpline to report domestic violence. It is pertinent to note that it gets difficult to report a case of domestic abuse when you’re living with the abuser and hence; the police in the United Kingdom is taking a different approach to tackle the problem. The police are encouraging the victims to send a signal to them by calling on the emergency number 999 and then by dialing 55. In this way, the authorities will recognise this “as a cause of concern”.
Countries like Spain, Germany, Italy and France are also approaching the situation in a very unique way by adopting a campaign called Mask-19. The victims are asked to report the domestic violence at the nearest pharmacies by asking for ‘Mask-19’, which is used as the code, and then the pharmacies, in turn, inform the police. The French government has even gone a step further and announced to pay for the victim’s stay in hotels. Canada is providing $50 million in support by opening the domestic violence shelter for the victims. The Italian government has launched an app that enables a victim to report domestic abuse without making a phone call.
India’s Status quo:
In India, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (2018), more than 1 lakh women have reported “cruelty by husband or his relatives”, which constitutes one-third of all reported crimes against women. Moreover, after the nationwide lockdown in India, the number of domestic violence cases received by the National Commission for Women (NCW) has risen to double the number before. The state of Karnataka has submitted in its report that around 477 calls have been received on domestic violence helplines during the lockdown. Additionally, a 50% surge has been noticed in domestic violence cases in Punjab during the lockdown period.
Recently, an NGO called All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS) filed Public Interest Litigations in the Delhi High Court seeking immediate steps to stop ‘intimate terrorism’ of domestic violence. Pertaining to this the Delhi High Court has directed the Central and the State Governments to take strict measures and ensure effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, during the period.
What’s the reason for this surge?
One should ask whether or not it is correct to blame COVID-19 for this upright surge in domestic abuse? Leading psychologist and scholars believe that domestic violence increases whenever families spend more time together. At the time of this nationwide lockdown, families are finding hard to live with each other for an extended period of time. Moreover with impending uncertainty about work and lack of financial security people are facing adversely stress levels. Predictions of economic recession are also taking a toll on the mental health as jobs are lost and businesses fail which may likely to continue beyond the lockdown.
Furthermore, the recent decision of the Government of India to re-open the alcohol shops may have added fuel to the fire, in the cases of domestic violence. Countries like Greenland and South Africa have banned liquor sales to reduce domestic violence and child abuse. Colombia has also restricted alcohol sales to one bottle per person as it is believed that excessive drinking could create chaos in the household, which can lead to violence. In a study conducted by WHO, strong links have been found between alcohol use and the occurrence of violence.
Women across the country have campaigned for liquor bans, citing that drinking fuels domestic violence and impoverishment of family income. In fact, women in Bihar have confirmed that the prohibition on alcohol in 2016 has a positive impact in re domestic violence.
Where have we failed?
While imposing the nationwide lockdown, the Government failed to notice the consequences on vulnerable sections of the society i.e., migrant workers and the homeless. The lockdown is not only intensifying the abuse suffered by the existing victims but also is creating new victims. In the midst of the alarming surge of domestic violence cases, the Government has failed to lay down a proper strategy to tackle this midway crisis.
The state machinery is already overburdened with the implementation of the nationwide lockdown, therefore, if a victim wants to shift into a shelter home, she may not be able to do so due to the overcrowding and fear of greater infection.
NGOs are working relentlessly to help out the domestic violence victims and some of them have even released helpline numbers and email ids so victims may reach out for help. However, due to the tricky COVID-19 situation, the victims can neither leave their matrimonial home nor go to their parental home due to fear of infecting their elderly parents.
Government’s decision of extending the lockdown has also played a major role in the surge of domestic violence cases. Sneha, aMumbai based charity has narrated, “There is no difference in their treatment of women really. They would abuse the women when they had alcohol, and now they are abusing them because they don’t,”.
“It is the duty of all husbands to exert total control over their wives. Even physically weak husbands must strive to control their wives.”
We live in a patriarchal society and the cases of domestic violence stem from the patriarchal relations of power in the home. The Apex Court while declaring Section 497 of IPC as unconstitutional held that “husband is not the master and any provision treating a woman with inequality is unconstitutional”.
As the domestic violence cases have swelled outrageously, the Delhi High Court has decided to extend the sphere of hearing of matters like domestic violence and child custody. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was enacted long back in 2005 and now after a decade, the spirit of the Act has been swept away with the lack of implementation. The Act grossly deals with domestic violence, which includes physical, verbal, sexual and emotional violence, and with a fruitful enactment of the same, justice can be served.
The recent triumph of symbolic initiatives led us to conclude that PM Narendra Modi’s leadership is uncanny and his national addresses including “Man Ki Baat’ has served a great purpose to unite the nation at the time of this unprecedented emergency. I believe that the inclusion of the hovering menace of domestic violence in his upcoming addresses may amend people’s mindset to deal with this grievous vice. At the same time, the problem of domestic abuse should be included as a key part of the national response plan, which is being developed to address COVID-19.
If you or anyone you know is facing similar kind of situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to the National Commission for Women’s emergency WhatsApp helpline (7217735372) that has been set up for the COVID-19 crisis.
Views are personal.
Image Credits: Author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Himanshu Tyagi is a fourth year student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.