This outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent imposition of the lockdown has unleashed and intensified loopholes that are plaguing our societal existence and experience. Shouldering all kinds of cacophony, our womxn* have been fighting numerous battles for mere subsistence. Speaking of the current scenario, they are fighting Covid-19 and something vastly more traumatising and exhausting: domestic violence (DV). According to the WHO, about one in three womxn worldwide have survived domestic violence.
A major irony was observed in the middle of this pandemic. While on one hand, Ms Preeti Sudan, the Health Secretary to the Government of India and key strategist of the plan to battle this pandemic, has enlisted the help of thousands of women doctors and nurses as front line warriors, on the other hand, male members of the ‘safe’ institution they call home are being violent towards womxn.
Worldwide, there has been a massive increase in the number of DV cases. In India, however, the number of cases registered is very low due to accessibility issues faced by womxn — another barrier to their freedom. But various reports suggest real numbers will only be revealed once the lockdown is uplifted and a meticulous study is conducted. The fear is that these numbers will be astronomical.
The ‘four walls of home’ are suffocating these womxn. They are locked up in a lockdown with their abusers. Coexisting with your abuser is in itself traumatising. Where will these womxn seek justice? If they step out, the police will thrash them, and inside, they are being thrashed already. DV has existed since time immemorial. This lethal combination of the pandemic and DV has thrown this reality in stronger relief.
According to the United Nations, DV could lead to a huge economic loss. This is mainly due to the exclusion of victims of DV from the workforce. Since we are aware that our police force is overstretched and helpline numbers are flooded with complaints, we need a sustainable and effective mechanism to solve this compound plague. It has affected the society quite severely. A number of helplines, legal acts (DV Act 2005) and NGOs exist to curb the menace of DV, but none of these initiatives have been able to hit the bull’s eye.
This issue is not a stain on a cloth. It cannot be washed off easily. DV is a stain on mentality, on institutions, and on the entire societal setup. Research establishes that there exists a direct correlation between a country’s gender equality indices and DV rates.
What we need is a meticulous and piecemeal approach and then to gradually solve this issue with the aim of complete eradication. We need to break the ‘cycle of abuse’ (a theory developed by Lenore E. Walker). We need to enter this vicious circle of abuse and dismantle it from its roots. We need to start again from the roots. We need to have a dedicated educational curriculum and well-trained candidates who can impart and inculcate this process.
It is not always the state machinery that may be held accountable for this menace. We, the people, are also equally responsible and must eradicate this menace from society as fast as possible. Enduring pain is not the solution for womxn, they must be empowered to stand up for themselves. Various door-to-door awareness programmes should be formulated and confidence-building measures should be undertaken.
We are aware of the immense penetration that media has made into our lives, its effects can never go overstated. However, its potential should be tapped into and made use of for such social issues. Online campaign such as ‘No More’ and ‘Say No to Violence’ must be organised.
Well-crafted films such as Thappad, Enough and Custody leave the audience to question and ponder over the issue. One of the major factors that act as a hindrance towards the success of any programme is the fact that people do not perceive violence or abuse as abuse. Even the victims do not consider it as an act of violation. They simply see it as an argument that went out of control. This needs to change, we can bring the change.
Together we stand, united we fall! Remember, womxn constitute half of the world’s population.
*The term womxn is an alternative spelling of the English word woman used to avoid perceived sexism in the standard spelling and to explicitly include or foreground transgender and nonbinary people.