TABLE OF CONTENT
i. Introduction……………………………………………………………..…….……….3 ii. Domestic Violence…………………………………………………………………….4 iii. Laws on Domestic violence………………………………………….…………..……5 iv. Scenario before the lockdown……………………………………………………...….6 v. Scenario after the lockdown…………………………………………………………...7 vi. International Scenario……………………………………………………………......10 vii. Analysis……………………………………………………………………………....11 viii. What can be done? ......................................................................................................13 ix. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………...14 x. Bibliography ………………………………………………………………….……..16
The world has been hit by a pandemic, but the impact of it is not the same for everyone. The global crisis has exacerbated the existing inequalities. The dawn of 24th March 2020 brought the first lockdown in motion and everyone was forced to stay at home. Prime Minister Modi asked the people of his country to stay inside the Lakshaman Rekha to stay protected from the virus. But are we really safe on the other side of the Rekha? The lockdown may have contained the coronavirus but the virus of domestic violence was given the flare it needed. Home is considered to be the safest place during situations like these but this is not true for all. Lockdown has made people vulnerable in many sense, but vulnerability of women against violence is frightening to a new degree. Countless women, including queer women and Trans women, are facing the gendered impact of the lockdown in the form of domestic violence.
All the policy decisions like these during a crisis are made with the basic assumption that the effect of the pandemic is gender neutral. For the people living with their abusers, the Lakshman Rekha doesn’t seem to protect them inside their homes, as for them danger is lurking on both sides of the Rekha.
Domestic violence can be defined as the intimate partner violence, which also includes child abuse, elder abuse and abuse by any other member of the house. It involves a pattern of physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, and financial abuse. Assault, humiliation, threats, intimidation are also included in such violence.
Women are not the only one to face domestic violence, however, the rates of violence directed at women are much higher than that of men. World Health Organization states that one in every three women around the world face physical or sexual violence1. Along with this, at least 30% of the women in relationships have experienced violence by their respective partners.2
1 WHO statistics on violence against women
Around the world, 67% of the healthcare workforce and healthcare facilities are women, which makes them front line workers for the coronavirus response3. Even before the pandemic, women were doing three times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. But the global decision making regarding COVID-19 does not concern the women of the society at this proportion.
It has been said that “Gender norms and roles relegating women to realm of care work puts them on the front lines in the times of crisis, resulting in greater risk pf exposure, while excluding them from developing the response.”4
In India, women don’t easily share their domestic violence experience with others. Very few of the victims of such abuse come forward to seek help. Among the women who report cases or seek help create a “pyramid of reporting”. It varies from informal sources which is natal family and friends, to formal sources which is institutional routes like NGOs and the Police.
In this paper, we will understand the impact of the lockdown to COVID-19 all over the world in terms of domestic violence. The paper approaches to understand the reason for such violence, in the present as well as past context.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
Domestic violence is violence suffered by a person with whom the victim is in a domestic relationship5. The violence is of such a nature that it harms or endangers the health, safety, life or limb, mental and physical well-being, or causes physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and economic abuse.6It occurs in all kinds of intimate relationships including married couples, couples in live in relationship and same-sex partners among others.
Domestic violence is not only done by husbands, the abusers may include in-laws, parents and other relatives. It is not only about heated arguments or the physical abuse, it also includes the
3 WHO Statistics on health workforces- https://www.who.int/hrh/statistics/hwfstats/en/ 4 Terry McGovern, director of the Program on Global Health Justice and Governance at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
5Sadhana vs Hemant, 2019, Bom HC.
6Section 3 of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.
psychological abuse, social abuse and economic abuse. Social abuse is when the victim is isolated from others in the community. Financial abuse is when the abusers takes the financial control over the victims and give access only to fewer resources.
Domestic violence is a human right violation. It results in physical and mental torture and health difficulties. Domestic violence can deeply impact a woman in the form of depression, chronic diseases, sexual disorders, substance abuse etc.
Not only women but even the children are vulnerable to domestic violence during the lockdown. The sense of being trapped in a house causes stress and frustration which is projected on other people of the house, whom they feel are inferior to them.
LAWS AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
There are several laws protecting a married woman from domestic violence from her husband or his relatives. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code provides punishment for harassment for dowry by the husband or his family7. This harassment can be either physical or mental. Marital rape is not a crime in India, however, forced sex can be considered cruelty under this section. This section also covers all willful conducts against a woman, which abets her to commit suicide or injury to life, limb or health (mental and physical).
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 outlaws practice of giving or taking dowry. Even after this, if dowry has been given to and taken by anyone other than the woman, she is entitled to that amount back under this Act.
Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005 has played a key role in helping the victims of domestic violence. The act prohibits a wide range of abuse against women, ranging from emotional, physical, sexual and economical. The Act also covers women in a live-in relationship, but are not married8. The Act provides her a right to get an order of protection against
7Section 498A, Indian Penal Code.
8 Ajay Kumar v. Lata alias Sharuti, Supreme Court, 2019.
her husband and his family, to continue living in the same house9. She cannot be thrown out of her matrimonial home even if she reports her abusers, to claim maintenance, to have custody to her children and to claim compensation. The act also provides for compensation for mental agony and torture caused to the victim due to domestic violence.10
Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides that a woman does not have to necessarily file for a divorce to have a right to receive maintenance from her husband11. Marriage makes a duty of the husband to maintain her wife if she’s unable to maintain herself. A petition for maintenance is maintainable even in the absence of one for divorce. In a recent case, it was held that even if the wife is educated and working, she’s entitled to get maintenance from her husband.12
SCENARIO BEFORE THE LOCKDOWN
If we look at the recent statistics of Crime in India Report 201813, released by the National Crime Research Bureau, domestic violence is the top crime against women. The data shows that a crime against women is recorded every 1.7 minutes in India, and that a woman is subjected to domestic violence every 4.4 minutes. The data says that one-third of the crimes reported were cruelty by husband or his relatives, which was 103,272 cases.
The National Family Health Survey-4 of 2015-1614 painted that domestic violence affects every 3rd woman and that 30% of women have experienced physical violence at home since the age of 15. Among the married women, 83% have listed their husbands or their intimate partner as the main offender, 56% listed their mother-in-law, 33% listed their fathers and 27% listed their siblings.
9Section 12 of Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005.
10 Smt. Haimanti Mal vs The State of West Bengal, Calcutta High Court, 2019.
11 Vikas Bhutani v. State, Delhi High Court, 2019.
12 Megha Khandelwal v. Rajat Khandelwal, Supreme Court, 2019.
13 National Crimes Record Bureau, Crime in India 2018.
14 National Family Health Survey 4, Domestic Violence, 2015-16.
United Nations Study of 2018 has revealed that, around the globe, home is the most unsafe place for a woman15. This can be deduced from various scenarios. A special report on Intimate Partner Violence by US Department of Justice16 shows that in the period of 1994 to 2010, 4 out of 5 people who experienced domestic abuse is a woman. Other data from all over 80 countries have shown that about 30% of the woman in a relationship, have been subjected to physical or sexual violence from their partners.
The National Commission of women has said that normally, they used get 900 to 100 calls of domestic violence, molestation and eve teasing. But since the lockdown has begun, they receive 1000 to 1200 calls, mostly to report domestic violence17.
SCENARIO AFTER THE LOCKDOWN
Globally, about 67% of the healthcare workers are women, which naturally makes them prone to infection. Women are already engaged with unpaid care work that too three times more than men, and during lockdown, this burden has increased.
The Lockdown due to coronavirus around the world has imposed strict control on people’s mobility. It has put women in abusive relationships at extremely high risk of violence in the form of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
Lockdown mandates being trapped with their one’s abusive husband or in-laws or other relatives which leads to increased rates of sexual, physical, psychological abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation and controlling behavior among others. Isolation due to lockdown have resulted in restrictions on access to financial resources, education, employment opportunities, medical care etc. These restrictions are mostly trigger points of the behaviors mentioned above which often have a lasting effect on mental health and well-being.
15 https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/press/releases/2018/November/home--the-most-dangerous-place-for women--with-majority-of-female-homicide-victims-worldwide-killed-by-partners-or-family--unodc-study-says.html 16 Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2010, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice. 17 http://ncw.nic.in/reports/publications/reports-published-by-the-commission.
In the month of April, the National Commission of Women18 released the date of domestic violence complaints during the lockdown. The commission recorded 291 complaints of domestic violence in from March 24 to April 16 via email, as compared to 302 cases in February and 270 cases in January. Along with this, the commission received 885 complaints for violence other domestic violence, like harassment for dowry, bigamy, polygamy etc., many of which are domestic in nature. However, the helpline numbers of various NGOs and other organization, which usually receive significant amount of complaints, are unnervingly silent.
Even the complaints regarding “Right to live with dignity” are doubled, from 35 cases to 77 cases19 during the first two weeks of the lockdown. These cases may pertain to discrimination on the basis of gender, caste or class or all three combined.
According a study of 2017 by the Ministry of Women & Child Development20, 30.8% homes are most common place of violence against women. This data can be used to explain the spike in number of cases registered by the NCW in lockdown.
It has been pointed out by the head of the NCW, Rekha Sharma that the actual numbers of such violence may be greater than the complaints received. She also added that women are burdened with domestic work, taking care of their child along with their in-laws, all this has stretched her limits. She states that the Commission hasn’t received any direct complaint or postal since the offices are shut, and since most of the women come from the lower strata of the society, they send their complaints by post. And even thought the online system is operating, there’s a large population unaware with the system. Although, after within one week of lockdown, the commission received 69 complaints, it released a WhatsApp number as an additional help, as there are more women on WhatsApp that on emails.
The other facilities like the Centers with gynecological wards for the victims of physical and sexual abuse, are not also not operating currently due to the lockdown. It is believed by the experts in this field that decrease in number of complaints in these NGOs are decreasing due to continuous
18 National Commission of Women, Statistics on domestic violence during lockdown, http://ncw.nic.in/ 19 http://ncw.nic.in/reports/publications/reports-published-by-the-commission?tid=18
20 Gov of India, Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2017.
presence of the abuser at home due to the lockdown, which makes the access of mobile phones or the space or time to call for help, difficult.
The number of complaints received by NCW is increasing at an alarming rate. NCW head has opined that since men are sitting at home, mostly without any job or work to do, they are frustrated, and they take their frustration out on the women of their household.
Another reason that can be held accountable for increase in domestic abuse cases is domestic labor. We live in a society in which our roles decided are by our gender. Around the world, domestic world have been the responsibility of women, and is socially and culturally demarcated as “women’s work”. During the lockdown, the amount of household work has increased as everyone is locked at home. Obviously the work is not divided equitably between all the members, women are expected to bear all the load of this increased domestic labor and when she fails to live up to that expectation, the chances of violence increase.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act provides that the counselling centers are supposed to reach out to the women who experience such abuse but the lockdown has resulted in closure of these centers which can turn out to be lethal for women in need. Women have lost police empathy towards women complaints regarding violence against them as they are busy enforcing the lockdown.
If a woman is being subjected to violence and has to complain about it to someone else, she needs to ensure that she’s not being overheard by any other member of her house as the situation could get worse. But when 57% of the women population in India don’t have an access to phones, their option to register complaints becomes limited21.
The lockdown may have helped in controlling the virus but with the curtailed mobility, the gender based violence has found its way in. Even the avenues that were made to protect the victims of such abuse are not in a position do anything as the women are losing these avenues.
India is in a dire need of an alternate alert system to rescue the women from situations like these. In this regard, the Uttar Pradesh Police has released a helpline number 112, although not specific to domestic violence, it is a good initiative22.
The laws of the land provides for protection of women against domestic violence but it is difficult for the judicial system and the legislature to break into the dominion of patriarchal family. Domestic violence has many dimensions and all of them stem from the exercise of patriarchal power.
If we look at the global statistics, domestic violence related distressed calls have shot up at an upsetting rate during the lockdown in various cases. In the Hubei province of China, where the first coronavirus outbreak occurred, has shown a significant increase in the number of complaints. During the month of February, the complaints received by the police rose from 47 (last year) to 16223, and the local activists of the area suggest that majority of these case has the roots in the lockdown.
Similar is the case with Brazil, where state run shelters are receiving cases related to exploitation of women by an increased rate of 40 to 50% as compared to earlier. Even in the European countries, from Catalonia to Cyprus, the calls to domestic violence helplines have increased by 20 to 30%. In France, the cases have shot up by about 30% after March 17, when the country went into lockdown. In Argentina as well, the calls to emergency services in connection with such violence have risen by 25%24.
In the UK, the calls to report abuse to national hotline have increased by 65% recently. The country’s biggest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, has observed a disturbing surge of 700% calls to its helpline in a single day. The Home Minister of UK Priti Patel has issued a notice saying the victims of domestic abuse will be allowed to leave their home, if in need of shelter and help from
22 https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ncw-launches-domestic-violence-helpline/article31312219.ece 23 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html.
the police even in the lockdown. In Spain, women are given code words like “Mask-19” in pharmacy stores to report such violence and alarm the response mediator. Even the Gender Equality Ministry in France has promised to pay the for up to 20,000 hotel nights for the survivors of the domestic abuse.
If we look at the past records during the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, in West African countries the data shows a similar trend. Lockdown was imposed, and all the workplaces, schools, colleges etc. were closed to contain the disease. A steady increase in the number of rapes, sexual assaults and other violence against women was observed. Women and girls were abused and exploited. A survey done by the NGOs in Sierra Leone revealed that teenage pregnancy rates spiked due to rapes and assaults suffered by women. In over one year, the sexual violence against women increased by 40% in the country.
United Nations has warned the whole world from following the same path as that of Ebola crisis. The report from UN stated that, during the Ebola crisis, different forms of violence against women are aggravated, which includes child marriage, trafficking, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of women. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the sudden increase in number of complaints as horrifying.
The history gives us evidence that in crisis like these, the violence against women increases at an alarming rate. This can be a result of anxiety, as for many lockdown brings different kinds of hardships. People have uncertainty of jobs, their salary, access food and other basic necessity. And we live in a society where men find women as easy target for venting out the frustration.
The number of complaints received by the NCW and various NGOs doesn’t capture the reality in its real sense. Even before the lockdown, the domestic violence cases were underreported. The survivors of the abuse are made to follow the orthodox social norms and are stigmatized, which results in such underreporting. So, the condition during the lockdown can be clearly understood, where women are forced to live with their abusers as there’s restriction on their mobility.
In normal situations also the victims of such abuse don’t feel safe to go to the police for protection due to lack of empathy from them, and the fear that if their abusers get arrested, the repercussions may be worse when they are released. In most cases, their husband or intimate partners are the abusers but this is not exclusive. They also face abuse from their in-laws, and other relatives, which leaves them with no choice but to suffer in silence to survive.
Lockdown has surely intensified the violence suffered by existing victims, but along with that it has also created new victims. The extra free time, with no visitors the whole day, and staying at home all day has taken a toll over people conscious. If we look at the lower social ladder, the stress is of existence, of earning daily wage, of getting the basic needs like food and shelter, of surviving the day. This is used as an excuse for the violence and mental harassment.
Sociologists have suggested that family can become a place of exploitation and abuse because family is a cultural ideal and a focus of identity. The sacredness of the family as an institution is endorsed by the environment around it and the important concerns of the family like honor, propriety and reputation makes it difficult for the victims to come forward. This makes the collection of exact data difficult.25
Seminal studies conducted during the Great Depression indicate that during the times of economic hardships, men tend to become more violent, impulsive, abusive, and aggressive with more controlling behavior26. Women become financially vulnerable during economic crisis like these. Even if they wanted to remove themselves from such a toxic household, it becomes difficult due to financial constraints, the money that she must have saved for this purpose, will have to be used somewhere else since priorities change in hardships like these.
In emergency situations like these, men are not the only one to lose jobs. A study by CMIE of 2018 shows that out of 11 million jobs lost, 8.8 million jobs were of women and men only accounted for 2.2 million jobs. The situation is worse for educated women with a graduate or
25 Uberoi 1995:36
26 Mirra Komarovsky, The Unemployed Man and His Family, 1971.
higher degree, as they suffer 35% unemployment as against by men who have 10% as their unemployment rate27.
A study published by World Bank Economic Review28, collected data from 31 developing countries during the period of 2005 to 2016. The study shows that a 1% increase in men unemployment is related to increase in domestic violence by 0.05% points or 2.75%.
United Nations has also pointed out that coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the economic distress and the social issues, along with restrictions on movement. This has seriously impacted the situation of women all around the world and number of cases of domestic abuse has increased at a disturbing rate.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The victims should not blame themselves for the abuse. The abuser is fully responsible for his acts, no reason can justify their doings because violence is Unacceptable at all cost. Acceptance of violence leads to a vicious cycle, and encourages it further.
There are various helpline numbers, counselling websites, and counselling centers to help the victims of domestic violence. One can always report to the police, Domestic Violence Act provides for instant arrest of the accused.
Covid-19 has posed many challenges before women of the household. Therefore there’s a need of strengthening the existing machinery to deal with domestic violence. New solutions and measures should be introduced for extraordinary situations like these. Women from all strata should be taken into consideration before making a system.29 For instance, not everyone have access to internet to avail online counselling sessions, or draft an email. So, alternatives should be prepared for situations like these so that women of different education levels and access to basic technology can also use it.
28 Unemployment data by Bhalotra et al. (2019), World Bank Economic Review.
Domestic violence is the biggest crime against women right not, there’s an urgent need of including it in the national response plan to handle it in the crisis like pandemic. A strong message can only be sent when the highest authority of the country prioritizes this issue. Campaigns should be hosted on television by leaders who are followed by many obediently, or by film stars or cricketers.30
Important provisions of Domestic Violence Act should be explained to people. Women should be made aware with their rights. Signs and pattern of such abuse should be studied to prepare a safety plan. Enlighten people with the campaigns that are made for this purpose. Each and every household, chawls, streets and society should be circulated with the helpline numbers specially designed for conditions like these.
Local authorities can be extra vigilant to set up helplines in different stores where a code system may be provided like done in France. Authority in power should make sure that the identity of the informers are kept confidential to protect them from future abuse. We can learn from Canada, which is investing in shelter homes for the victims of abuse who flee from their homes.
The state should fund in self-help groups as they play a very important part in helping victims of such abuse. This will help them track the pre-existing cases and networks, so that relatives of the victims can be encouraged to keep in touch with them.31 Many women coming from upper strata also face these hardships, they have the access to internet and therefore can be target via email or online surveys. Reaching out to people facing in distress due to domestic violence or otherwise needs to be classified as an ‘essential service’ by the government.
The lockdown due to COVID-19 has trapped many women with their offenders and abusers. The lockdown and the ‘Social distancing’ norm enforced by the government was the main strategy in many countries to contain the virus. But it had a horrifying fallout of increase in number of reports of domestic violence cases.
30 https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/en/summary_en.pdf?ua 31 https://www.government.nl/topics/domestic-violence/tackling-domestic-violence
Women also deserve peace. Their safety should be as important as protecting them from coronavirus as both are deadly in their own way. People like you and I need to be more vigilant for signs of violence around us. We should give them a helping hand. Gender inequality is prevalent from a very long time and gender based violence is deep-rooted in our lives which has been given an encouragement during the lockdown. It is true that it cannot be rooted out during the pandemic but this should not be the reason to set it aside, and let the pandemic pass. We cannot forget a disease already prevalent just because a new disease has erupted. The lockdown is important, and so is safety of women. Lockdown or the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to worsen the disproportionate balance of household work and the domestic violence followed by it.
Women are locked with their abusers, we have no time to lose. Our focus should be diverted from less important things to make a quick plan of action, to put all our efforts together, to strengthen our communication so that an effective implementation can be carried out. We all are already facing different kinds of stress due to lockdown, and are dealing with this traumatic time. Only if we join our hands together to help the victims, we can succeed in keeping ourselves safe in its truest sense.
1. News Articles
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/implement-steps-to-curb domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown-high-court-to-centre-delhi govt/articleshow/75249397.cms
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