India, like the rest of the world today, is fighting with the COVID- 19 induced pandemic that has changed our lifestyles, work culture, habits, and introduced us to OTT platforms that we never knew existed in the first place. With India entering into a lockdown starting from March 24 that kept on extending till June 8, things became grim for a large section of the society. Post June 8, services started resuming in a planned and phased manner, and this came to be known as Unlock 1.
This naturally resulted in businesses, government offices, private as well as public sector resorting to the ‘work-from-home’ culture as opposed to in-person office as lockdown only authorized people involved in essential services to regularly go for their respective work. Everyone else had to pretty much manage by glaring at their laptop screens, the entire day and trying to procure the best plan of Wi-Fi because now, ‘Ghar Ek Office’ hai (Based on the popular yesteryear daily soap ‘Ghar Ek Mandir’, remember? Yeah, never mind!).
We all are aware of the fact that India is a patriarchal country, where in most cases, cisgender men work outside their homes and are compensated for it monetarily whereas cisgender women work inside their homes and are not compensated for theirs. So, with the lockdown, entire families started staying at home and the burden of that excess household chore fell on the women of the house.
Catering to the needs of all family members ate up their ‘me-time’, and let’s not forget the ‘cooking challenge’ which was being showcased as a trophy all over social media for some reason. Most families belonging to middle and upper classes chose to not employ their house-helps during the lockdown due to the fear of catching this dangerous virus through them since they’ll be visiting several houses every day, and there were some good-hearted people too, who cared for their house help enough to not avail their services during the lockdown.
Either way, in most cases, these chores also fell on the shoulders of the womenfolk in the family, and this otherwise ‘rosy’ and ‘cozy’ lockdown for many belonging to these classes turned out to be not-so-rosy and comfortable for women. They toiled harder than usual for the love of their family, or so they have internalized (conditioned) within themselves due to centuries of patriarchy.
With the commencement of lockdown, the print and digital media started bursting with reports as to how there has been a drastic increase in domestic violence cases on women. Domestic violence involves emotional, physical, financial, verbal, sexual, and psychological abuse. Episodes of threat, assault, intimidation also fall within the various categories and types of domestic violence.
A report published by The Hindu mentions that domestic violence complaints were high during the lockdown than those received between March and May in the last ten years. Although alcohol is not the sole reason behind domestic violence and abuse at home, the allowing of the sale of alcohol by the Government in several states further aggravated the problem.
Lockdown had already increased the number of domestic violence complaints registered and the sale of alcohol would deteriorate the situation in a lot of homes to a great extent. This move was not welcomed by several women organizations including the State Commission for Women in Punjab who believed that this would result in a rapid increase in such cases of violence against women who are now locked at home with their abuser.
A large number of women do not register complaints against their harassers. This is because they are dependent upon their abusers, have no bargaining power, and hence, are trapped in an extremely unhealthy environment thereby making violence and abuse a part of their life.
Another important reason behind the fewer registered complaints is because, more often than not, women don’t have the means to report or file complaints. As per a study, India has a wide gender gap in terms of access to mobile phones and the internet. Only 43% of women own phones, as compared to 80% of men.
World Health Organization in its report on Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol has talked about the link between alcohol use and intimate partner violence and how it affects ‘cognitive and physical function, reducing self- control…’ It further mentions the magnitude of alcohol-related intimate partner violence where India features in the list of countries where strong links between perpetrator drinking and intimate partner violence exist. A woman who was frustrated and fed-up with her husband’s alcoholism and domestic violence allegedly killed him when he came home in an inebriated condition in the first week of July.
The WHO runs widespread agendas (promoting policies that talk about the connection between alcohol use and violence, and thereby, endorsing and leading prevention initiatives which will ultimately recuperate public health) on issues to initiate and take charge of research, ascertain efficient prevention procedures, and hence, encourage action by the Member States, so that they can successfully execute interventions and bring out a policy that would aim at shrinking lethal drinking. In terms of policymaking, the World Health Assembly has prescribed that:
Public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol (WHA5826 ) of 2005 recognizes the health and social consequences associated with harmful alcohol use and requests Member States to develop, implement and evaluate effective strategies for reducing such harms while calling on WHO to provide support to the Member States in monitoring alcohol-related harm, implementing and evaluating effective strategies and programs, and to reinforce the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of policies. (As per World Health Organization’s report on Intimate Partner Violence and Alcohol).
Ultimately, however, the role of public health cannot be overlooked which needs to form and implement measures to completely prevent intimate violence. For this purpose, there is an essential need of getting in place established and user-friendly health and criminal justice services along with the bandwidth to document and keep a check on the use of alcohol and violence that is induced due to it.
The lack of concern from the authorities and the government is worrisome because it seems as if they do not consider the safety of women crucial enough to ponder over, before allowing the sale of alcohol in such arduous and grueling times.
India, however, is not the only country witnessing a rise in domestic violence during the lockdown as it is happening in Italy, UK, Brazil, China, and Germany as well. The need of the hour is to have the authorities take the matter of women safety rather seriously and devise policies and schemes which would ensure that they lead safe and respectable lives in this coronavirus economy.