The lockdown has been hard on all of us, but it has been the hardest for women - the primary victims of domestic violence. Violence against women has seen an exponential surge across the world during the lockdown. Women are currently trapped with their abusers and their violent partners, with no escape.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown in the face of rising Covid-19 cases on March 24, it left abused and victimised women without a chance to save, secure or protect themselves.
It is important to understand that this is not just an Indian problem. It's a global problem - a male problem. Since Covid-19 hit us, countries have imposed lockdowns and curfews with varying degrees of strictness. This means that families are forced to stay home. This means that women are trapped with the men who pose physical, mental and emotional threats to them.
(Representative image: Reuters)
According to experts, husbands and male partners are undergoing ‘increased stress levels’, due to which they threaten, attack and assault their partner. The underlying cause behind the increase is primarily unemployment, lack of funds, isolation, allegedly a lack of alcohol and a disruption in the daily lives of people.
With all the focus on the lockdown, a police force swamped with enforcing Health Ministry guidelines, has resulted in the women being left helpless and at the mercy of their perpetrators, who are beating them with absolute impunity.
Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the reporting of domestic violence cases, primarily from urban areas with active NGOs and pro-active police. Varsha Sharma, senior police officer in the Crime Against Women Cell in Delhi, had said, "It's not that there is more violence now. Violence was always there, but now there is more reporting.” Many experts have concurred with Sharma’s views.
This was, however, a couple of years ago. Today, not only has the violence continued, it has increased immensely, spreading like the coronavirus across the world.
In the United States, cases of domestic violence have gone up by 20 per cent, while the UK has seen an increase of 25 per cent in such cases. In France, there has been a surge of 37 per cent. In Australia and Tunisia, the increase has been 75 per cent and 500 per cent, respectively.
In the first week of its lockdown, South Africa has had nearly 90,000 domestic violence cases reported.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) received 69 complaints of domestic violence between March 24 and April 1. NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma has confirmed there has been a spurt in the number of complaints the commission is receiving. She also confirmed that the number has been steadily rising post April 1.
It is important to think of solutions to the problem.
A travel pass
A pass should be issued for women, men and members of the LGBTQI+, who have had a history of past abuse or are being currently subjected to abuse. The pass should act just like the passes issued for essential services like media, health workers and doctors, etc.
This will allow victims to get out of the prison of torture and abuse that their ‘home’ has turned into. If we can have a travel agreement made for food delivery services, we can have one for people who face a threat to their lives.
Amend the law or a bring in a court order to change the execution of law
India does have laws to confront domestic violence, however, they have been ineffective in the past and continue to remain ineffective even today.
For instance, the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (DV Act), is purely a civil statute and not a criminal one. If a husband beats his wife once, he goes scot-free, back home to beat her again.
It’s only when the woman files a second complaint against the husband that action is taken against her abuser.
This is absurd and sickening; one shouldn’t have to be able to convince the law enforcement agencies that the person shouldn’t get beaten up. The abuser should be taken into custody at the first instance itself.
The creation of a national and state helpline in coordination with civil society
Most women subject to domestic violence and abuse are ill-equipped to fill online forms, figure out websites and the correct email IDs to report injustice. What a lot of women do is write letters in hand via post to the NCW, but since the post and railways are both not functioning, the victims have no way to call for help. There isn’t enough evidence regarding the existing helplines. The government must find out ways to dessiminate information regarding how women can reach out for help.
There must be a dedicated hotline for victims of domestic violence in India. Voluntary organisations who will receive complaints and coordinate with the concerned police station to ensure that there isn’t a misuse or abuse of power by the police.
Police insensitivity to cases of domestic violence has been known about, studied and analysed for decades and there needs to be an independent monitoring, or at least a collaborative public-private mechanism.
Allowance of children in shelter and increased fund for shelters
Recently, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court passed an order to increase funding for domestic violence and abuse mechanisms, for example - shelters.
The HC took suo moto cognisance of the matter and the Supreme Court should do the same. In addition, the Centre should provide funds to protect the women of India. The money can come from the PM Cares Fund.
The PM repeatedly raises the slogan ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. It is time for him to deliver on the promises made regarding women security.