In this difficult time, where life expectancy has fallen, governments around the world have urged citizens to be at home for their safety. However being at home is not the safest option for everyone. Domestic violence has seen significant rise across the globe. This paper would specifically deal with the challenges that arise during the lockdown while dealing with domestic violence. This dire crisis leads to our core question:
What are the challenges faced by domestic violence victims? How can this be controlled?
In this paper, we are going to discuss the steps taken by the government to deal with the violence and the laws that deal with domestic violence. Focusing on the problems and the condition of the present scenario, we have to look for the solution or rather question the government about the steps taken for the welfare of the victims. It is equally important to focus and plan the solution to deal with the increased crime.
Keywords: domestic violence, pandemic, covid-19, domestic violence law, rights of women.
The world is facing the biggest crisis called COVID-19 due to which over 3.9 billion people of the world are under lockdown. While the virus is probably the biggest threat for all governments around the world, there is an issue that raises concern in this current situation i.e., surge in domestic violence worldwide promoted by continuous lockdown. The United Nations President Antonio Guterres affirmed this in a video wherein he stated that, “lockdown and quarantine are essential to fight against COVID-19, but it can trap a victim of violence with their abuser”. The warning signs first emerged in China where incidents of domestic abuse more than tripled. A similar trend was recorded in Australia (increase of 40%), Brazil (increase of 40%) and India (increase of 100%). WHO claimed to have seen 60 percent rise in domestic violence calls in Europe. It is a well-known fact that the perpetrators are often using isolation as a method for manipulating the victim and the condition generated by the pandemic, which is a perfect opportunity for the abuser to increase aggression as the victim is hindered in finding resource aid.
FACTORS LEADING TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING LOCKDOWN
- Loss of jobs causing financial strain proved to be a major factor.
- Lack of social interaction causing psychological strain resulted in various incidents of domestic violence.
- Unavailability of legal aid leads to undermining the rights of victims in distress.
RECENT REPORTS ON SURGE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
In the national Coronavirus lock-down era, the National Commission for Women (NCW), receiving domestic violence reports from across the country, reported more than double increases in gender-based abuse. During the first week of March (2-8 March), the total number of plaintiffs of women increased from 116 to 257 (23 March to 1 April).The NCW is a federal body established to protect women’s rights. “The main reason for the rise of domestic violence is that the men are at home and they are taking out their frustration on women” says Rekha Sharma. However this is not the only case. Around two in five victims nearly 40 % of domestic abuse are men, contradicting the common belief that women are almost always left to be abused and battered, according to a new study. A report of the men’s rights group Group Parity notes that men assaulted by their partners are often ignored by police, their perpetrators go free and have even less places to escape than women.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN GRANTED BY INDIAN CONSTITUTION
The Indian constitution recognizes women’s rights as right to live with dignity, right to equality and right to freedom from discrimination. The Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India observed that the right to life under Article 21 includes the right to live with human dignity, which means it is essential to include all the aspects of life which would make it meaningful, complete and worth living.
On the other hand, according to a recent report, NCW received 4,373 registered complaints under the ‘right to live with dignity’ category. Article 39A of the Constitution provides society with free legal assistance and ensures justice for all. Despite being one of the few countries with the highest number of laws, which protect and empower women, women still here face violence.
INDIAN LAWS ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005(PWDVA) is a Civil law providing household protection for women from men in the household. Under this law, women can get immunity from domestic violence, financial compensation, the right to stay in their joint household and, if they stay apart, they can get maintenance from their abuser.
● What is a Domestic Violence (DV)?
Domestic violence is defined by the Section 3 of domestic violence act “any act or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it harms, injures the health whether mental or physical, harass the aggrieved person to coerce her on to meet any unlawful demand.
Section 11 of PWDVA sets out the government’s responsibilities to periodically publicize DV issues through the use of media or print to raise awareness in society but since the lockdown the government has not initiated any program to spread the words.
● Who can register a Domestic Violence complaint?
Section 2(a) of the Domestic Violence Act defines “aggrieved person” as any woman who is or was in a marital relationship with the respondent and who alleges that the respondent has been subjected to any act of domestic violence. The Act covers not only women who are or have been in a relationship with the abuser but also women who have lived together in a joint household and who are related by consanguinity, or through an adoption relationship.Also women who are daughters, single women, wives, widow or live with the abuser in some other relationship have the legal security under the DV Act.
On one hand, the PWDVA’s fine. It is helpful even to poor and illiterate women; it educates the woman about the rights and the assistance available; it offers several reliefs, free legal advice and helps initiate legal action against the respondent; it attempts to restore the family; and it empowers the woman but on the other hand, it ignores the rights of men. It does not talk about men being the victim of DV. In the case harsora v harsora the court referring to domestic violence ruled that “the abuse in this type is gender neutral”.
● Hurdles in implementation
There appear to be problems with the regulation actually being implemented. This duty is also given to current government officials in several districts, rather than hiring security officers as they are not prepared to deal with the same. Consequently, they do not perform any of the duties stated in the Act and are unable to make full use of the law for the benefit of the victims.
Talking about section 9(f) of PWDVA provides that it shall be the duty of the protection officer to provide shelter home. Research into actual implementation, however, has shown that many districts do not even have one shelter home. Although the President of the NCW encourages women in the event of household abuse to contact the police, it is worth remembering that police rescues may be delayed because of the lockdown duty.
● Cases of police insensitivity top molestation allegations
We have often heard people from the police asking women personal and insensitive questions when they come to them with complaints. Following this, the department has reported 3,963 complaints of police apathy than of molestation or dowry, raising serious concerns about this issue.
INITIATIVES TAKEN BY OTHER COUNTRIES TO PREVENT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
- To address this issue, In Spain’s Canary Islands, the Institute for Equality has launched a campaign called Mascarilla 19 (Mask-19), emphasizing that fleeing violence is a legitimate reason to leave your home.
- The French Gender Equality Minister, Marlène Schiappa said the Government is opening up as many as 20 counseling centers where victims can drop their issue in the shopping list as well as the victim can leave their home and leave the abuser away during this period and the government will provide shelter.
- After seeing the increase in domestic violence incidents, the Government of Denmark funded 55 additional rooms in shelters for four months and eased the lockdown, enabling some Danish schools to reopen and give women a chance to seek help. Other countries rather than just launching programs for violence have considered the fact that the victims are trapped with their abuser, which makes it difficult to report.
STEPS SUGGESTED TO TACKLE THESE INCIDENTS
India’s National Women’s Commission after receiving more cases of domestic violence post lockdown launched a WhatsApp-based helpline no.72177135372.The Odisha State Women’s Commission has also founded its own WhatsApp helpline number.
● Why does WhatsApp related reporting or online reporting prove to be ineffective?
A studyconducted by Harvard Kennedy School in 2018 found that 71% of men use cell phones, compared to 38% of women, about ⅔ of the women do not have access to the internet to report incidents and even though they have those tools, staying with the abuser makes it impossible for them to report the incident. In Tamil Nadu, state-appointed protection officers are allowed to move during the lockdown, some women in dangerous situations have been rescued and moved to shelters.
● But why do women need to move to shelter homes?
In the case of Roma Rajesh Tiwari v. Rajesh Dinanath Tiwari Bombay high court held that the act makes it clear that PWDVA is enacted to secure the right of a woman to reside in her matrimonial home or shared household, irrespective of the question ‘whether she has any right, title or interest in the said household or not’.
However, the measures taken are not enough to deal with the resulting shadow pandemic. Instead of just launching programs the organization should focus on the fact that the victims are trapped with their abuser. Government should boost support to provide shelter services, and raise awareness so that victims should access these services.
Due to the current pandemic, the world is not only facing difficulty in tackling the virus but also the increased violence during the lockdown era. Being trapped with the abuser has made it difficult for the domestic violence victims to seek help.
Governments across the world have taken steps to curb the violence like funding shelter home, campaign like mask 19 etc. In India also steps have been taken to reduce the violence However; the steps taken by our government have some shortcomings. It could be successful in dealing with the situation if implemented perfectly with some improvisation.
Author : Alok Kumar from Dr.Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.