In this blog, the authors discuss the impact of the lockdown amid the pandemic. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, people tend to forgo the issue of domestic violence in the ongoing furor. The graphs have increased all over the world, without exception. For a patriarchal setup, such as that of India, the situation gets worse for everyone. The ambit of the term victim is not restricted. And now it is next to impossible to check the activities happening behind the closed doors especially when the help to be provided is scarce in the lockdown. Steps by the respective authorities are to be taken on an imperative basis to curb the ongoing shadow pandemic.
Domestic violence has crawled into our lives way before COVID-19 did. Where the world is suffering from crisis and social distancing is the key; it has made the vulnerable quite distant emotionally and socially, making them more susceptible to violence. The reason being, earlier, abusers implemented processions of isolating the victims but currently, such lockdowns epitomise the isolation process. The imposition of mandatory lockdowns to curb the outspread of COVID-19 has just worsened the abusive conditions by confining the victims with their abusers at a place which was meant to be the safest- their homes. Though domestic violence is not gender-biased, yet women, children and LGBTQ individuals form an overwhelming majority as victims.
As the virus roils one country after another, governments are focusing on everything from the disease’s economic and financial ramifications but domestic abuse. Amid the crisis, cases of domestic abuse have increased exponentially post lockdown. Research suggests that boys are more likely to favor physical violence as a bullying tac – tic, while girls tend to use psychological violence. A study conducted by Marianne Hester, a Bristol University Sociologist, suggests that the violence increases whenever families spend more time together. Jingzhou, a city in central Hubei province of China has reported a threefold increase in the domestic violence from the last year. 36% jump in the reports in Paris, the capital city and 32% jump in elsewhere in France led the French government to announce that they would pay for hotels and open pop-up counselling centre. Whereas in Turkey women’s right activists noticed a sharp rise in femicide amid lockdowns. On the other Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States have reported a similar increase in domestic violence cases. Yet these trends are understated and it can be credited to the nominal or minuscule resources to report.
Domestic violence cases have never been confined to a particular geographical boundary or socio-economic class. Globally, 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced physical or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the past 12 months. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, referring to the sharp rise in domestic violence cases amid mandatory lockdowns, urged governments worldwide to make prevention and redress of domestic violence as a key part of their response to the pandemic. Communities considering the mass release of prisoners to reduce their risk of spreading COVID-19 in confinement must weigh the potentially significant risk for victims and households if domestic violence or other violent offenders are among those released. This risk is likely to extend outside of the home as well, as 20% of victims in domestic violence-related homicides is not the intimate partner but rather a neighbor, family member, friend, bystander, or first responder.[i]
While the world is at its nadir while dealing with the ‘pandemics’, India is no exception. The National Commission for Women (NCW) received a two-fold increase in the complaints during the initial lockdown period. A report prepared by NALSA documents showed that a total of 144 cases of abuse were filed in Uttarakhand alone followed by increasing cases in Haryana and New Delhi. Confinement is fostering the incidents behind the closed doors of the household and the current pandemic has made the extent of help scarce. And it is quite a huge possibility that the abuses are multifold higher in number as compared to the ones being reported because of the persistent presence of the abuser around the victim. India is a patriarchal societal set-up, where a woman is not expected to stand for her rights. And in case of men, to showcase their prolific masculinity, they are not allowed to be vulnerable, which worsens the situation. And since in such condition when the slightest of the movement is restrained, fleeing from an abusive household becomes a fallacy impossibility, restraining their scope of help.
Moreover, at an individual level, economic vulnerability, employment instability, and perceptions of economic strain are associated with domestic abuse.[ii] Hence, it can be deduced and predicted that is not only the current lockdown that has caused the upsurge- but it is also likely to increase when India will suffer from economic difficulties post lockdown. 100 million and more Indian jobs will be at risk during and after the COVID-19 lockdown stage and this can lead to a massive increase in domestic violence episodes. In the situations where it is difficult to meet the needs on mere humanitarian grounds, it is quite unlikely that gender-based issues will be addressed by the administration. The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which has maintained a stoic silence on the issue, is complicit in the woes of victims, who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic on their calloused feet and hardened hands.
LAWS AND LOOPHOLES
With respect to Indian legal context, Section 498 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (herein, IPC) provides for punishment to those who subject a woman to cruelty within their inmate relationship. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was enacted to curb the violence and empower women. It did so and was advocated by the female right activists. Section 4 mandates the presence of Protection Officer who has to be informed about the violence and the officer is duty-bound to act upon it. Section 18 lays the provision of orders that can be passed for victim’s safety from the abuser, whereas, Section 20 discusses the monetary relief that can be sought. But the inherent flaws in DV Act tempt women to misuse their provisions and men to dread being prosecuted under the law without any rhyme or reason. Moreover, it excludes men from the definition of the victim too making them more susceptible to violence. In the case of Hiral P. Harsora v. Kusum Narottamdas Harsora,the Apex Court pronounced the irrationality of the definition of “aggrieved” under Sec 2(a) of the said act.
Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women, made in 1989 works for the implementation of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which entered into force in 1976. But these documents do not explicitly address domestic violence, they, along with the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, articulate a state’s duty to protect fundamental human rights that are commonly violated in domestic violence cases. Those rights include the right to life, the right to physical and mental integrity, the right to equal protection of the laws and the right to be free from discrimination. The conference document, the Beijing Platform for Action, identifies domestic violence as a human rights violation. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). Domestic violence on women, was a major focus at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, but rights of men and transgender are still not talked and amidst the COVID chaos, lives are at peril.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Viewing the surge, methods and policies must be formulated to help the victims considering the lockdowns and social distancing. The Indian government can also implement various methods adopted by different countries. Some of the possible suggestions being-
- Strengthen helpline services. 24×7 working helpline number is needed.
- Instant messaging system for women who can’t access Whatsapp.
- Setting up counselling centres to provide mental, social and physical support to the victims experiencing domestic violence.
- Taking help of social media platform to create awareness about the helpline numbers, messaging services, counselling centres near their residence and about the organisations providing support services to the victims.
- Ruling that instead of the victim to leave, asking the perpetrator to leave the residence
- Domestic violence shelters to remain open during lockdowns. In Quebec and Ontario, cities in Canada, shelter homes have been deemed as essential services and are to remain open amid lockdowns.
- Shelter homes for all the genders to be funded and functioned properly.
- Awareness about such heinous acts since the elementary level to condition children regarding what is right and what is wrong.
- Counselling facilities at schools where children can report the abuse at their household.
- Use of code-word to seek help must be popularised, like Spain pioneered a campaign ‘Mascarilla 19’ (Mask 19). Victims facing abuse can inform pharmacists by using the code word- ‘Mask 19’, who can then alert emergency services after taking the woman’s name, address and phone number.
- Allotment of dedicated funds to support the victims and organisations providing support services. For instance, the Australian government promised $150 million to address the issue as a part of their response plan.
- Increased social awareness about the social evil and increased societal support to uplift the vulnerable
The world was exasperated with the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 and yet another shadowed pandemic has surfaced. Domestic violence has been a matter of concern and the current situation alarmed the highest of the authorities as to why it needs to be addressed as efficiently and successfully as possible. Homes that were meant to be the safest place for a being, unfortunately, became the most dreadful one for the victims of domestic violence. While the world leaders are busy combating the pandemic, they do not heed any attention to the ‘other’ pandemic and thus their verbosity withers away into the morass of institutionalized discrimination that fails in taking care of the most vulnerable populace of their own state. And it is the time when administration should come forward to take brave ways based on empirical methodology to curb the issue.
[i] Smith S., Fowler K., Niolon P. Intimate partner homicide and corollary victims in 16 states: national violent death reporting system, 2003–2009. Am. J. Public Health. 2014;104:461–466.
[ii] Bowlus AJ, Seitz S. Domestic violence, employment, and divorce. International Economic Review. 2006;47:1113–1149.
Authors: Aishwarya Srivastava and Shivani Singh from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.