The recently emerged COVID-19 pandemic is a great concern for each and every one of us. 213 countries and two territories around the world are affected by this murderous virus, which originated from Wuhan, China, and till date more than 56,23,503 cases of coronavirus have been reported with a death toll of 3,48,760.
As a preventive measure, countries, suffering from COVID-19, have announced a nationwide lockdown, and India is one of them.
According to data from the United Nations, 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide are subjected to physical and sexual violence. One in every three women at some point of her life experienced physical or sexual violence.
The nationwide lockdown in India has exacerbated another pandemic—gender-based violence. It has just twice folded. The imposed lockdown in India to contain the coronavirus has restricted the victims with their perpetrators under the same roof. For the victims of gender-based violence, majority of whom are women, children and people of the LGBTQ+ community, home is unsafe and dangerous. Most of these victims are not even independent or self-reliant, and therefore they are left with no choice but to live with their perpetrators.
As NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma said, the highest cases of gender-based violence can be attributed to the lockdown imposed since March 24, which has restricted the victims with their abusers.
India has reported a 50% rise in domestic violence cases. According to a report of NALSA, a total of 144 cases of abuse were filed in Uttarakhand, followed by increasing number of cases in Haryana and New Delhi. NCW only received a total of 315 domestic violence complaints in the month of April which was only 116 complaints in the first week of March and 257 in the final week of March (March 23 to April 1). An analysis report of NCW showed, a total of 800 complaints were received of various crimes against women, out of which 40% constituted domestic violence related crimes.
Apart from domestic violence, another form of violence that has seen a significant rise in the month of April was Cyber Crime. NCW data also has showed that the cyber offence complaint has increased from 21 (online and by post) in February, 37 (online and by post) in March to 54 (online) in the month of April. All these complaints were received either online or by WhatsApp, and no complaints were made by post which means that the victims who don’t have to internet are unable to complaint.
An analytical report by Hindustan Times stated that while some states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Telengana have reported a decline in the number of domestic violence complaints, some other states received a spike in the number of calls complaining of domestic violence.
This clearly indicates that making complaints about instances of domestic violence depend upon the availability of space and tech in hand of the victims as they are sharing the space with the perpetrators.
Yes, we can say that the growing number of sick people, compulsory stay at home with the perpetrators, increased anxiety, financial crisis and job uncertainty, mental breakdown, physical distancing and lack of access to outer world have accelerated gender-based violence, but these causes behind the saddest reality can never justify the violence because violence, no matter what is accepted, should always be punishable.
Not only women but children are also becoming victims of this gender-based violence. The government child helpline number has received 92,000 calls within 11 days of announcing nationwide lockdown and the number is increasing day-by-day.
Children are said to be the worst victims of gender-based violence not only because they are too young to understand the nature of violence, but also because they have no way to raise their voices unless and until any family member gives voice to their pain. However, when the perpetrator is none other than a family member or close relative of the child, they are forcefully conditioned for normalizing of violence and confirming to that which is the crux of patriarchy.
Being an NGO professional and a gender rights activist, I have witnessed how children are taught to approach their trustworthy family members whenever they experience any bad touch. But we have forgotten to mention that the abuser could also be their family members—even own parents as it happened in Madhya Pradesh where a girl was raped twice by her father within a span of 16 days during this lockdown while her mother remained a mute spectator.
I would like to quote a few sentences of a letter penned by two lawyers Sumeer Sodhi and Aarzoo Aneja to CJI to take suo motu cognizance of increase in number of child abuse cases during ongoing nationwide lockdown to prevent spread of corona virus:
“Though there is an increase in the number of cases being reported of domestic violence, but since there is a possibility of grown-up women fighting for her rights as opposed to a child who possibly doesn’t even know what rights he/she even has, the present letter is restricted for welfare of children.”
Taking LGBTQ+ people into consideration, they are stuck even without access to food. As they are the minority of minorities, there are a lack of proper representation and records of problem that the LGBTQ+ people are facing.
They have been denied access to education, jobs, many of them working as sex workers, but because of the lockdown neither are they able to earn nor are they able to attract empathy of people to supply them with enough to at least make both ends meet. Anything that stops a person from practicing equality is a matter of violence, and the transgender people are still fighting for their equal rights of identity.
This lockdown has once again put us in front of a mirror for self-reflection. I was a bit optimistic that this lockdown period may enlighten the dominating, subjugating nature of patriarchy and would help them to empathize with non-male genders who have been living in quarantine since ages, but now, I think this is only possible in my fantasy world.
Violence is an integrated part of our society. What else would be more depressing than accepting the fact that women, children and LGBTQ+ people are even not safe with their own family members? There must not be any effort, logic or intellectual statement to justify the cases of reported or non-reported violence. No doubt India and many other countries are going through two different pandemic at the same time: while one (COVID-19) is so prevalent; another (gender-based violence) is the “invisible pandemic”.
We as a country, as citizens, as mere human beings can’t afford to remain silent seeing these growing incidents of violence. As the United Nations have emphasized, countries must include a gender perspective in their responses to COVID-19 to protect its people not only from the dreadful coronavirus but also from getting victimized by domestic violence.