The novel coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill with tough challenges and tougher circumstances. Scientists and experts are working very hard to find a suitable vaccine for everyone. Oxford started human trials. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are working tirelessly to treat the infected while facing the wrath of the public. Citizens’ role in this pandemic is to stay indoors while the authorities are containing the spread of the disease.
The lockdown is a challenge but for many women and children, it has also become a scary situation. The National Commission For Women reported that there has been a spike in the number of domestic violence cases committed during this lockdown. The NCW registered 587 domestic violence complaints between March 23 and April 16, which is more than the number of reports before that. Feminist economist Ashwini Deshpande revealed that the NCW received reports related to domestic violence and the Right to live with dignity, and “a smaller increase in rape or attempt to rape.”
The lockdown has put women and children in toxic homes at a disadvantage because they have nowhere to go. Often times, places of work, schools and colleges serve as escape for these women and children. At the same time, alcohol stores, outlets, tobacco and cigarette sales are banned during this lockdown. There are reports of cases where the crime was committed due to alcohol withdrawal, especially in rural places where people are not aware of their Rights and how to access help.
Women without digital access face a bigger disadvantage. The NCW told the media that they rely on women to report domestic violence on its fixed helpline numbers and through post, but they have been closed due to the nationwide lockdown. Then, they made their email ID available to women but as per the statistic, only 1/3 women have proper access to the internet. Apart from lack of electricity and internet availability in many places, women in toxic homes depend on their husbands for things like internet and communication. It is also possible that they have their devices confiscated by the men in their home.
Also, during this lockdown, police officers are more focussed on ensuring law and order and border security. For example, a lady from South India, who faced domestic violence at the hands of her husband, went to the police. The officer instead asked her to go home and sort it out.
India’s 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) survey had revealed that at least half of the female population might have experienced one form of domestic violence or the other but only 1% report it. Even those who report it are asked to sort it out instead of filing a complaint. At the same time, there is reduced access to mental healthcare due to the guidelines and rules.
This rise is not limited to India; China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Tunisia, France, Australia, etc. reported a severe rise in domestic violence cases. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his concerns about the increase in domestic violence cases around the world and instructed all the governments to step in.
The NCW launched a WhatsApp number (72177135372) for emergency cases of domestic violence. The complaints will be checked and provided immediate security with the help of state police and administration. Police stations are working, and the victims can call 100/103/1091 for help. Women and children are advised to keep a close-knit contact to communicate with during dire circumstances, recognize the signs of potential violence and be prepared.
More than anything else, there should be a change in the narrative around domestic violence because it is often normalized by the society. The crimes committed are often excused as ‘irritation’ or ‘frustration’. Lack of jobs, income or alcohol during this lockdown might be used as an excuse. Domestic violence should be treated as a crime, and there should be sensitivity and awareness regarding the nature of the crime.
The government should step in, especially in those places where women can’t access the internet. Apart from intimate partner violence, domestic violence also encompasses elder abuse, which is also a concern during this lockdown. Elderly people are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection as 65% of people who died due to COVID-19 are aged above 60. There are reports of elderly people being abandoned during this pandemic.
It is disturbing to see images of men, women, and children walking with large bags to their native places during this lockdown because they depend on daily wages for living.
Women who depend on their husbands or fathers are further affected due to the lack of income. At the same time, there is already a situation where women are forced to work for less or no wages, especially in the agricultural sector, due to other responsibilities.
They have the primary responsibility of paying bills and purchasing necessities while men go to work. So, they are forced to stand in long lines for hours, and lockdown has mad the situation more difficult.
It has been reported from the United States that the landlords are demanding sex from their tenants instead of rent during this lockdown and accompanying financial crisis. The fact that people in positions of power are taking advantage of others’ difficulties is disgusting and angering.
In India, as people, mostly migrant and daily wage workers are forced to leave their places of work or evicted from their homes, there are rising concerns about the possibility of pimping of women and children to make ends meet in the financial crisis. Disturbing cases of rape and sexual harassment have been reported during these lockdown days. In Madhya Pradesh, a minor was raped, and her eyes were damaged. A visually-impaired woman was sexually assaulted while her husband was stuck elsewhere amidst lockdown. There have also been reports of harassment of women in quarantine facilities.
It is important to spread awareness regarding these issues, and the government authorities should take to the stage and address them. Political leaders should make it clear that domestic violence, child abuse and harassment, in any form, would not be tolerated. Authorities should make laws to protect people’s rights amidst the lockdown.