Social distancing in COVID 19 leading to social distressing

SOCIAL DISTANCING LEADING TO SOCIAL DISTRESSING: Social epidemic within a biological epidemic

by Arshpreet Singh Saluja and Muskaan Jain

Introduction

Amidst this pandemic due to the practice of social distancing and the lockdown, reports have shown that the crime rates are sharply falling. This is true but not complete. Although the offences such as theft, murder and molestation have decreased, we should not get disillusioned by this moment of transient peace at public places.  Unfortunately, other crimes have escalated in the interim, many of them not even reported. This article is an attempt to analyse the changing pattern of crime in this lockdown and various challenges faced by the people.

Changing Family Dynamics

The silver lining during this pandemic is that people now have a lot of family time which should ideally lead to better intra – family bonds.

However, all is not that well within the families. The ugly side of the story is the alarming rise in domestic violence cases worldwide and India is no different. According to the  National Commission for Women (NCW), the number of domestic violence cases almost doubled between 23rd March and 1st April. Although this evil of domestic violence has persisted in India over the years. A sudden rise in these cases brings out the deep-rooted problem of our society which has been dominated by males.

It highlights the limitations of our laws, one of them being the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, where verbal abuse and mental harassment are vaguely defined. This problem also throws light on the inefficiency of our executive in implementing the laws. The authority established for effective implementation of the Act is a Protection Officer, who is identified by the State Government (PO). The PO assists the court, initiates action on behalf of the aggrieved and also looks after the services required by the victim. The PO is neither having adequate knowledge of the functions and powers nor do they have a gender sensitized approach towards the victim.

Moreover, the judiciary has also been found wanting in this aspect. Woman victim of violence under the Act has to fight within the judicial time limit as the courts are already over-burdened. Another aspect that the matters concerning family matters are always time consuming. Furthermore, many cases are not being even filed due to a lack of awareness and social stigma.

In addition to these issues, the fear of job loss has been a major reason for stress and anxiety amongst the people. According to the data from YouGov, a UK based global public opinion and data-based company, 45% of Indians are worried about the job loss due to the lockdown.

One more cause of concern is the possible rise in the unintended pregnancies. According to a report by UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners, there could be around 7 million unintended pregnancies due to the unavailability of modern contraceptives to around 47 million women in middle and low-income countries during this lockdown.

Way Forward

All the aforementioned challenges need to be dealt with some pragmatic measures some of which are mentioned below.

The Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 needs to be rigorously implemented to ensure that the victims of domestic violence get access to the judicial remedy. The DSLSA has taken the lead in this regard. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, has to be made more women-centric. This can be achieved by updating the implementing authorities and sensitizing the Protection Officers about the issues related to women. Helplines are also an effective way to counsel women and register their complaints.

In the long run, the NCW and all other stakeholders must be roped in to make broader policies related to the prevention of domestic violence. Most importantly, this problem will subsist until we address the deep-rooted problem of male domination in our society where women have played the traditional caregiving role. A society which needs to progress needs to ensure that its women are not left behind. This can only happen with better education of women, more opportunities for them, a gender-sensitive society and a change of mindset towards women.

The government needs to engage psychological experts and other spiritual leaders in order to ensure the good mental health of citizens. Cultivating a habit of doing meditation and yoga daily will not only help the citizens cope up with the present gloomy atmosphere, but it will also lead to a mentally strong society in the times to come. Furthermore, the NGOs and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers need to be involved to spread better awareness about family planning and making available access to modern contraceptives so that the unintended pregnancies can be avoided.

Wave of Cybercrime

Beyond family foes, a new wave of cyber crime is also mounting. Phishing and scamming of accounts have increased multiple times in this lockdown. Time and again, cyber criminals have targeted the vulnerable group of the society for their criminal activities.

In this lockdown phase, a crime against women has not just increased in the domestic space but in the cyberspace as well. National Commission for Women (NCW) received 54 cybercrime complaints online in April in comparison to 37 received in March, and 21 in February. The Akancha Foundation working in the area of women empowerment have reported a significant rise in cybercrime complaints by women, especially sextortion. Women are being duped, where they click on certain links and all their data is shared. In turn, either their intimate moments are captured or their images are being morphed which is then used for blackmailing. In this time, building fake accounts, cyber bullying, online harassment are bigger challenges.

Majority of the cybercrime in the nation is covered by the applicable provisions of IPC and the IT Act, 2000. The security under IT Act is available for crimes such as email account theft, credit card fraud, virus creation, phishing and email scams. While the IT Act and IPC  do not explicitly define cyber crime, they include rules and contraventions to deal with these cyber offences. The problem with the existing laws is that, even though they impose sanctions to deal with these crimes, the conviction rate is still insignificant.

The reason behind this is that there are no stringent provisions in the current legislation against the medium of cybercrimes i.e. the social media platforms. For instance, hackers and cybercriminals use social media platforms as a trojan horse to penetrate into the cyberspace and reach millions of users worldwide. The social media platforms, which promote and facilitate the user-generated content are known as “intermediaries” as stated in the IT Act. These intermediaries are not held responsible for any unauthorised or unlawful user-generated content. This clause serves as a protection to intermediary for liability against the user-generated content. There is a dire need to revisit certain clauses like this to regulate the content that is surfacing over the internet. These loopholes provide a safe harbour to cybercriminals to commit unlawful crimes like sexual harassment, revenge porn, morphed images, etc. in the cyberspace.

Yet another issue of significant concern is the spread of misinformation, fake news and rumours, especially on social media. There is no specific law in India to deal with the menace of fake news but existing legislations have some provisions to provide legal recourse to this issue. In the current situation, most of the cases are registered under –

  1.  IPC [Section 505(1)] which addresses  a wider aspect by providing punishment for any person who makes, publishes or circulates information that is likely to cause alarm to the public or is against public tranquillity.
  2.   IT Act [Section 66D] which deals with punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resource .
  3.  Disaster Management Act [Section 54] which provides punishment for a person making or circulating a false alarm or warning of a disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic.

It is pertinent here to understand that strict action regarding the same provisions should be taken to create deterrence against fake news circulation. Firstly, there is a need to re-examine the liability of intermediaries to guarantee social accountability and transparency, as mentioned earlier. Secondly, there should be a specific law and statue to deal with fake news only, as this is an online epidemic and it will only increase with more and more use of the internet. Thirdly, there should be awareness programmes for basic tech education to acquaint people with the consequences of circulating misinformation and to develop the habit of checking all the news and content before forwarding it. These measures if implemented effectively, can be fruitful in containing these online challenges.

Conclusion

 The present crisis provides us an opportunity to analyse the root cause of the erupting issues like domestic violence, cyber crimes and fake news critically, finalise the long term solutions whether they are legislative, administrative or judicial, channelize our resources like technology, human resource, and social institutions (family, government etc.) in the right direction for effective implementation and strategise our future plan of action so as to become a more progressive, egalitarian and peaceful society. It is only after finding answers to these challenges that we would be able to say, that we have kept the crisis at bay.

Views are personal.

Image credits: Interpol

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arshpreet Singh Saluja is a student of Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi and Muskaan Jain is a student of National Law University, Odisha.

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