As COVID-19 pandemic continues its rampaging effect all across the globe, with many countries still under lockdown of varying degrees as a precautionary measure to avoid the spread of the virus by maintaining physical distance, the victims of domestic violence, mostly women, children and elderly people, continue to be locked in the farrago of maladies of domestic violence. Within the first month of lockdown being observed in many countries, cases of domestic violence spiked at an alarming rate and still continue to rise. Addressing the issue of domestic violence, the WHO warns countries to make efforts to quell the rise of domestic violence as the risk of intimate partner violence is likely to increase under such conditions where the victim and the abuser share the same roof. The United Nations Secretary- General Antonio Guterres, in the first week of April this year addressed the alarming global surge in domestic violence and asked governments across the world to put women’s safety first as they take measures to fight the pandemic.
Globally, the situation is startling due to an absolute increase in number of domestic violence cases against women and children. Lockdown as an effort to safeguard life of masses has jeopardized the condition of women at home. The compounded stress of lockdown and women losing jobs increases their vulnerability as it may lead the perpetrator to project frustration onto the victim to a frightening new degree of violence. In China, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to combat violence against women reported that there has been a surge in calls for help since early February, when the government locked down cities in HUBEI province. In Italy and Spain, the officials reported that there is a rise of 18-20 percent calls regarding domestic violence. The French Police reported about 30 percent spike in calls on the emergency number for domestic violence in the first two weeks of lockdown. A surge of 45-50 percent in domestic violence cases was reported in Brazil and likewise in US and many other countries in the world.
In India, the first lockdown was announced on March 21, within three months there has been a staggering increase in the domestic abuse. Many victims suffer from isolation, economic loss and many mental health issues due to lockdown. The measures taken by the government have inevitably provided a conducive environment for the rise of domestic violence as there are not many measures to address this issue effectively in India. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) reported a drastic increase in cases of domestic violence since the start of the lockdown on the basis of data collected through 28 State Legal Services (SLAs). The National Commission for Women (NCW) reported that there is two-fold increase in number of complaints of domestic violence during the lockdown as victims are not able to connect to the regular support system for help. The condition of women in India is pitiable as around 57 percent of them do not have access to phone to report the malfeasance at home. Women and children continue to suffer in silence during this time due to insufficiency of psychological counselling and shelter services.
Speaking of J&K, we are no different from the general trends, there is a significant upsurge in the incidents of domestic violence since the lockdown. In the first week of lockdown, the Jammu region observed more than 260 cases of domestic abuse mainly from far-flung areas. Many victims succumb to injuries due to inadequate medical facilities in the region and Zaitoon Bi from Chunga village of Poonch is one such example. As per the figures from Women Police Station Rambagh, Srinagar, an official disclosed that they received 30-35 calls related to domestic abuse within a month during lockdown. To ensure the safety of women in the UT, the HC issued notices to J&K government and asked them to take necessary steps to mitigate the sufferings of women in UT. The former Chairperson of J&K Women’s Commission, Vasundhra Phatak Masoodi stated to a news agency that there has been a rise in calls regarding domestic abuse from the valley and she has been counselling the victims over phone in these difficult times.
Traditionally, domestic violence was mostly associated with physical violence, perpetrated by intimate partner and other family members for dowry and money. In 1993, the United Nations Declaration on the elimination of violence against Women identified domestic violence as one of the four contexts in which violence against women occurs. The common form of violence is the physical abuse which includes slapping, arm twisting, beating, stabbing, strangling, burning, kicking, female genital mutilation and murder in some cases. Coerced sex through threats, intimidation or physical force, compelling the partner to have forced sex or unwanted sexual acts with others is considered as sexual abuse. It must be noted that verbal aggression, threats to leave a partner, constant surveillance, confinement to home or a room, threats to take away custody of children and humiliation in any form in public or private sphere is considered as psychological abuse. Economic abuse includes denial of funds, refusal to contribute financially, refusing to provide basic needs like food, clothing, health care access, shelter and controlling access to employment. On the contrary, one must also understand what doesn’t include domestic violence. After many Indian women filed erroneous claims of domestic violence against their male counterparts, men’s rights activists recorded a notable victory recently when the Supreme Court essentially identified them as the victims of domestic violence cases. Marital rape is not recognized as a crime in India as men cannot be sent to jail and they can be subject to restraining order if they are charged under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Disrespecting family values and disrespecting the sanctity of marriage and family does not fall under domestic violence.
The whole idea of “Stay Home, Stay Safe” has turned into a space of physical, mental and sexual abuse for women, children and elderly people. Amidst the lockdown, home may be considered as a safe place to prevent the spread of this pandemic but it is not the safest place for all especially the victims of domestic violence who are trapped under the same roof along with the perpetrator. The victim undergoes a constant feeling of uncertainty and helplessness as they are caught up in the repeated cycles of violence and victim is helpless to save herself in these conditions. With a few resources to save oneself from the vicious cycle of violence, a number of other factors like fear of loneliness, guilt about a failed marriage, concern about potential independence and loss of emotional support, belief that he or she can help the abuser overcome the tendency of violence prevents victim to remain silent about the distressed condition. In case of worsening situations leading to divorce the fear of losing custody of the children, fear of emotional trauma for the children, lack of housing, lack of job skills, fear of social isolation and abandonment of friends and family, fear of court involvement, cultural and religious restraints, fear of retaliation, the victim abstains from speaking about the grave matters of domestic violence. Many a time the victim is taken in by small acts of kindness from the perpetrator forgetting about the violence inflicted upon them for some time and fall prey to the abuser’s perspective, fearing that abuser will find him or her after leaving, experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, experiencing nightmares, fear, anxiety, and other emotional and mental reactions are also some of the other reasons that a victim refuse to speak/report about the domestic abuse.
Amidst the lockdown, there is a need for continuous support to help victims report the incidents and break the cycle of domestic abuse. Such victims need emotional support so that they do not blame themselves for what is happening to them and catapult themselves from the abyss of suffering into the dawn of life. Victims must not make excuses for the actions of the perpetrators, as there are none. The acceptance of such actions on victim’s behalf may lead to a never ending vicious cycle of abuse. Violence in any form is unacceptable and the perpetrator is accountable for his/her actions inflicted upon the victim. Such incidents should be reported and addressed as soon as possible in order to break the cycle of violence.
It is important that the partners talk about the problems openly to each other without being offensive. They can also seek intervention from close relatives or they can seek help from professional marriage counsellors/professional psychologist online. In case of escalating situation then one must seek help from women Police Station’s Help Desk. Many countries across the globe including India responded to stop the soaring numbers of domestic violence cases during COVID-19 lockdown. Initiatives like “mask 19” in France and Spain, where women can go to a pharmacy and ask pharmacist for help from the authorities by asking for “mask 19”. Another initiative “red dot” by Women Entrepreneurs For Transformation (WEFT) has been started by putting a red dot on the palm to alert neighbours and authorities about violence the victim is undergoing. In India, The National Commission for Women (NCW) has launched a Whatsapp number- 7217735372. All states are asked to start Whatsapp or SMS Services for emergency response to women. It also stated that the cases related to domestic violence amid the lockdown will be given priority and an immediate relief will be provided to the victims through state police and administration. It has made it mandatory for Police to appoint Nodal Officers for redressal of complaints. A special team is constituted by the commission in order to handle the complaints and matters of domestic violence during the lockdown on a fast track basis. In villages, awareness campaigns to be launched through Aanganwadi and ASHA workers. The victim may inform their area’s police station or district SP/DCP or send an application to Crime Against Women Cell via email, hand-written copy or fax. A complaint may alternatively be sent to Lieutenant Governor, Women Commission. One can report to NCW’s Whatsapp Number- 7217735372 and State Women’s Commission can also be approached for quick action.
Important Helpline Numbers
Women Helpline- 1091, Women Helpline Domestic Abuse- 181, Police- 100, National Commission for Women during COVID- 7217735372, National Commission for Women during normal times- 011-26942369/011-26944754, Student/ child Helpline- 1098, National Human Right Commission- 011-23385368/9810298900.