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Rise Of Domestic Abuse During Lockdown And Its Normalisation In Society

The irony arose when the best practice to mitigate the spread of the deadly COVID-19, maintaining social distancing by staying at home, led to an equally dread-inducing complication — a surge in the number of reported cases of domestic violence. A greater distress than confinement at home is the prospect of having to spend the confinement period with an abusive partner or family. The victim is locked in the same cage as the abuser.

Adding to the abuser’s constant presence can often be his frustration and anger of being shut, not getting alcohol in some cases, and imminent unemployment combined with the refusal to help with domestic chores, which are in turn vented out on woman and children of the house.

Reported cases of domestic violence have nearly doubled, according to the data from the National Commission for Women. Special teams have been deployed to look into the issue and emergency contact numbers have been launched by the NCW and State governments alike. But the fact remains that unreported cases could be in significantly greater number than those reported. The fear of increased harassment, combined with the stigma of failed marriages, dissuades many women from contacting the authorities concerned to complain about their abuse.

Domestic violence is endured by many women, men and children in the form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, but the occurrence of domestic violence against men is rarely reported. Studies show that nearly 30% of Indian women have been victims of domestic violence as preference for a male-child is still predominant in patriarchal families.

Jadavpur University students protesting against domestic violence
Students of Jadavpur University protesting against domestic violence. Photo by Debsuddha Banerjee/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Progress may be seen in more modern or better-educated families, but the numbers of reported cases are still very high. It is a myth that domestic violence is confined to poorer sections of society, though studies show that low income and low education increase the risk of domestic abuse.

In India, domestic violence or intimate physical violence against women has become too familiar an issue that more often than not, people dismiss it as being an inherent part of relationships. The monstrosity of the experience is evident to the sufferer alone, while others in their families become mere onlookers.

The ignominy of being a divorcee dissuades many women from reporting domestic abuse, which may not always be physical: gradual social distancing, not allowing women to contact their families or go to work, determining the way they should dress or behave, making them feel less significant or not being capable of making decisions, or showing neglect and control — all of which is emotional abuse and often dismissed as being done out of love or to ensure their protection.

A look at the most common justification of domestic violence gives us a rather clear idea about the root causes that sow the seeds of the issue at hand. “You are the woman, you should be more forgiving,” “You should be subservient so that you can have a peaceful family life,” “Divorce will bring dishonour to the family,” “Stay for your children’s sake,” and “He is your husband, he has the right,” are some of the many pieces of advise women are given when the issue of domestic physical or sexual violence is raised.

What’s worse is the advice newly-weds are given: of having kids would be the ultimate solution to all problems. This does nothing except pulling unknowing children into this vicious cycle with undeniable deleterious effects, and makes the possibility of an escape from abuse even more remote.

Detrimental societal attitudes towards men further aggravate the problem. The expectation that a man should be stronger and have an upper hand in families brings shame to them for not being assertive enough in families, making them resort to violence. Cases where both partners are violent towards each other (other than for self-defence) result from not wanting to appear weaker before the partner, and thoughts like “how dare they defy me?” or “They is controlling you,” or even an occasional need remind the partner who has the upper hand in the family.

What’s even more toxic is that in cases of domestic violence in which women are victims are negligently normalised in our society, predefined gender roles and the still-at-large dowry system being primary factors that lead to this. Occasional occurrences of dowry deaths serve as a momentary trigger to human rights organisations and progressive people, but things go back to being the same as before once the dust settles.

The high prevalence of domestic abuse and the failure of most mitigation measures demand a thorough study of the frame of mind of the abusers. The fact remains that most people who engage in domestic violence have either been a witness to or endured such abuse themselves. Causes that feed the aggressive behaviour must be identified, and offenders must be given appropriate counselling, made to work on their triggers, and eventually made to understand the benefits of an equal voice with their partners.

Moreover, the normalisation of domestic abuse, which is the root cause, shows no signs of waning. Extensive counselling at society level is what is most essential and the change should start with individual families.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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