While the world is struggling to contain the spread of the Corona virus, there is another virus that has silently crept in, creating havoc, not only in India but across the world. This virus is not something new, and we know it by the name of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Through this article, let us skim through the factors responsible for the increase in domestic violence amidst lockdown, measures taken by our government to deal with the same, and what more can we do.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 What Is Domestic Violence?
- 3 Spike In Domestic Violence During Lockdown
- 4 Victims Without A Voice In Lockdown
- 5 How Does The Lockdown Escalate Domestic Violence?
- 6 Measures Taken In India To Prevent Domestic Violence During Lockdown
- 7 Some other measures that we can adopt
- 8 Conclusion
‘STAY HOME STAY SAFE’ has been the practice in force worldwide, over the past few months to control the rapid outbreak of COVID-19, but is staying home really safe for everyone?
According to some studies, women are more likely to be the vulnerable sections of society, and no pandemic is an exception to this. As per a report by the UN, today when the world is amid lockdown due to COVID-19, the condition of women has further deteriorated and has become an important issue across the globe. Where people are busy countering the health pandemic of corona virus, domestic violence in the lockdown period is swiftly emerging as an invisible pandemic through which women have to suffer alone.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic Violence has no universally accepted definition, but when we talk about it, the first thing that hits our mind, is the violent or aggressive behaviour within the home, by a spouse or partner.
Further, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, ‘violence’ is an unjust or unwarranted exercise of force usually with the accompaniment of vehemence, outrage, or fury. 1Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary, (10th Edition 2014)
Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 defines ‘domestic violence’ as any such act, omission, commission or conduct of the person that:
(a) harms, injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or mental or physical well-being of the aggrieved person or causes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional abuse and/or economic abuse; or
(b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person to coerce her or any other person related to her to fulfil any unlawful demand for dowry, other property or valuable security; or
(c) threatens her or any person related to her by any conduct as mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or
Spike In Domestic Violence During Lockdown
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have heard and came across instances of domestic violence. But, on observation we can say that the COVID-19 lockdown period has further resulted in a whopping increase in domestic violence cases globally. A recent report by the UN Women suggested that 243 million women and girls between the ages 15-49 globally have been subjected to sexual and physical violence by an intimate partner/spouse during the past 12 months.
In India, the same issue came to light when the National Commission for Women (NCW), which is responsible for receiving complaints of domestic violence from across India, recorded almost 100% surge in the complaints during mid-April. The NCW received around 239 complaints between March 23 and April 16, which is almost twice the number of complaints (approximately 123), received between February 27 to March 22. Considering the statistics, we can deduce that domestic violence is emerging as a form of release by abusive partners who are presently stuck at home.
Victims Without A Voice In Lockdown
Caged in violent homes, many women are trapped in a situation where it is difficult to seek outside help or support, for example, in the pre lockdown era, the victims could have at least asked a friend or relative to intervene or give refuge in their house, but that is no longer easily possible. Therefore, the lockdown might be keeping the residents of the house safe from the threat of COVID-19, but at the same time, it is only worsening the plight of women stuck with abusive partners.
Even though victims can make online domestic violence complaints, it may be difficult for some women from no or low-income groups to do so due to lack of access to the internet. While they are unlikely to have entire rooms of their own where they can make a phone call without being discovered and abused further, they also live in neighbourhoods that are most likely to experience a lack of support, even from the police. Further, legal aid and protection services have also become difficult to access, making it more difficult for women to access the few sources of help that would usually be available.
How Does The Lockdown Escalate Domestic Violence?
Presently, rising numbers of COVID-19 infected patients, increased frustration, increased unemployment, and financial stress, have seemingly set the pace for an exacerbated domestic violence crisis. In my opinion, the factors leading to an increase in domestic violence during lockdown are as follows:
Social isolation has become government policy, with workplaces being closed, visits to family and friends discouraged and even public parks off-limits. Therefore, it has become easier for abusers to assert their absolute control on the victim, by completely isolating the victim from family, friends, or any other outside help that would be otherwise available. Continuous social isolation can result in normalization of abuse and permit abusers to more easily engage in manipulating techniques. It, can eventually also lead the victim’s mind to believe that there is no escape from the same.
Alcohol is also widely considered to be a key factor leading to domestic violence, majorly because of its accelerating effect on aggression. When coupled with isolation and stress, alcohol adds fuel to the fire, for relationships that are already strained with violence and abuse. On the other hand, the government’s decision to curb the sale of alcohol during the lockdown, led to rise in frustration of the abusers. So, domestic abuse may find its way as a form of releasing the filled-up frustration resulting from the non-availability of alcohol.
When the government lifted this ban on sale of alcohol during the lockdown, women from across the country protested against the decision because even though alcohol is not the root cause of domestic violence, it is a contributory factor as it reduces self-control and increases aggression. Some studies show that when the victims of domestic abuse were interviewed, they often said that their partners were drunk before the incident.
Elevations in stress hormones are associated with increased aggression. In many ways, disease outbreaks can foster a type of stress more deceptive than that of other disasters. Simply put, during most disasters like floods or earthquakes, we know whether or not we are personally impacted. Even though these events can be truly stressful, there is at least a confirmed time limit from which we can begin to assess the damage and eventually move forward. But with viral pandemics like the current COVID-19, we are often left in a continuing state of risk and worry, triggering an overexposure of the stress hormones.
Therefore, abusers look at domestic violence as a way of releasing this accumulated aggression due to increased stress.
Financial tension due to Unemployment
Economic anxiety is one of the most significant stressors and aids to domestic violence, as it easily triggers the aggression of abusers, leading to releasing the piled-up tension on the victims. Even research has shown that domestic violence is more to be expected (and more severe) in economically distressed homes. For example, when the year 2008 (period of Great Depression) reported an exceptionally greater number of domestic violence cases, studies found a direct relationship between an increase in unemployment and a surge in domestic violence cases.
Similarly, today the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to unprecedented job loss at levels similar to the Great Depression of 2008, and hence the rise in domestic violence across the globe.
NOTE: This article emphasises more on the domestic abuse against women, because domestic violence against women is predominant across the globe. However, it is also important to note that, these factors discussed above may affect women’s mental health as well, leading to them abusing men. It is not a secret that men also suffer from domestic violence. Further, ‘abuser’ being a general term, clearly implies that it can mean a man, as well as a woman.
Measures Taken In India To Prevent Domestic Violence During Lockdown
The Secretary-General of the United Nations said, “Put women and girls at the centre of the efforts to recover from COVID-19”. In effect to this, the government and courts have taken certain measures to deal with the issue at the individual state levels. For example-
- The Delhi High court directed the government to take measures ensuring the effective implementation of Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 owing to increasing number of domestic abuse cases. So, the state assured that it had issued a protocol where a survivor once calls the helpline; the tele caller will note the complaint and will forward it to the counsellor who will establish a phone communication with the survivor.
- The Jammu and Kashmir High Court took suo moto cognizance and on April 18 2020, issued few directions for the creation of special funds and designating informal spaces for women such as grocery stores and pharmacies where women could report abuse without alerting the abuser.
- When the Karnataka High Court questioned the state government about helpline numbers and actions taken on domestic violence complaints, the state assured that they have implemented “Santhwana” to provide counselling, legal aid, and even medical aid for victims.
- In UP, the state government launched a special helpline for victims of domestic abuse, titled ‘Suppress Corona not your voice’, in which once a complaint is filed, a woman officer will attend to it.
- Further, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) announced that ASHA and Anganwadi and other frontline health workers are counselling against domestic violence, and women can report these workers if in case they are facing any abuse at their homes.
Some other measures that we can adopt
The measures taken by the government as mentioned above, look sufficiently good. However, considering the diverse situation of India and gravity of the issue, we can also adopt a strong and impactful nationwide campaign to promote awareness about domestic violence. National news channels, radio channels, and social media platforms must be strategically used to educate people about basic human rights, similar to how the government has arranged campaigns advocating for physical distancing and hand washing to combat COVID-19 pandemic.
Just like we are following social norms to control COVID-19, we can adopt a similar course of action to curb domestic violence by imposing lockdown on the gender discriminatory beliefs, putting patriarchy in quarantine forever, and maintaining social distancing with the misogynist ideas.
COVID-19 is already testing us in ways most of us have never previously experienced or even imagined, providing emotional and economic shocks that we are struggling to rise above. Amidst all this, the domestic violence is emerging as a dark feature of this pandemic due to the reasons stated above. So, the government is implementing various measures to deal with this issue because we not only have to survive the Coronavirus, but also cope with the invisible pandemic of domestic violence.