The dawn of marriage brings nightmares in the lives of few women. The terror they face is seldom acknowledged and eradicated. Often it is not noticed or simply regressed under the notions of patriarchal society.
Domestic violence, a term used to refer to harassment, abuse and sexual exploitation of a woman in the institution of marriage, is sometimes labelled as “itna toh chalta hai” in Indian societies. But how long will it go on? And the more staggering question is- has this condition improved or has worsened in the months that passed?
We are no more unaware that COVID-19 has brought an array of other complex issues. Mental health degraded, the economy underwent a great loss, jobs shattered, and there was a surge in sexual harassment and intimate partner violence.
Throughout the lockdown period, NCW and various NGOs reported an unprecedented increase in domestic violence against women, surprisingly not only in India but in the whole world. What was the underlying cause for it? Undoubtedly isolation from the rest of the world and seclusion at one place, which was in most cases their own homes.
Humans around the planet were trapped inside their rooms with almost zero offline contact. This led to a poisonous moment in which most women have to suffer. Lockdown rules curbed social meetings, and moving outside the house was restricted at almost every place. This took from women their chance to raise their voice, mostly because many of them were devoid of social media and excess to the internet.
COVID-19 wards and screening rooms flooded the countries, making every hospital, clinic, hotel room and inns exclusive for the COVID patients. These measures took away the opportunity of alternate shelters for women and men.
The less fortunate, especially labour and cleaning service providers, had to leave their jobs which made them secluded within the walls of their rooms. Additionally, another reason for this tragedy were loose contacts with the natal family. Not only did lockdown create immense possibilities for an increase in this crime, but it also imposed barriers to reporting it. Medical service providers and hospitals were one such place where women could have raised their voices, but lockdown snatched even this mere ray of sunshine from their lives.
The UN stated that domestic violence was a “shadow pandemic”. One out of four women and one out of ten men were estimated to have succumbed to this crime. Already existing data shows that most of these cases go undetected. The NFHS-IV report claimed that 33% of married women between the 15 to 40 age group experienced physical, sexual and emotional spousal violence in India.
Out of these, 17% were the women who spoke, while 77% never reported it. Shockingly, only 3% of these reported cases were registered by the police, and around 65% were reported to the family members. This saw an even greater effect on the lockdown. Genuinely, the aforementioned issue existed due to problems in internet connectivity and the absence of internet in many cases.
NCW states that after 23 March 2020, when the lockdown was imposed, a 100% rise in domestic violence cases was seen within a fortnight. This made them start a WhatsApp helpline number. The NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma time and again raised the concern to reach out to every woman restricted at home with abusive partners.
On her advice, the commission created a committee to track these cases on a fast track basis. Though there was a clear rise in cases, the NCW monthly data portrayed a perplexing truth. It showed a decrease in cases with the imposition of the lockdown. In January, there were 538 complaints; in February 523, March 501 and April 377. As the lockdown started to ease, complaints further rose. In May, 552 were registered, and in June, it was 730. This data points out clear evidence of a discrepancy in reporting the cases during the lockdown.
Resulting from this was a crippled situation of every woman smothered by violence. Her tears were hardly cared for, and her state was deduced as normal. Cruelty in humanity has surpassed its limits; this added with inefficient means to convey the crime made the plight worse.
COVID-19 has sprouted the weeds of domestic violence in every state, country and continent. The hour requires not looking at it as a suspected stumbling block of another issue but rather an imperative concern. Channelising groups of people from NGOs can tackle domestic violence across the nation to survey and screen sensitive locations while also appointing a strict national-level committee to look into this matter.
Health workers should frame a questionnaire for every woman visiting hospital premises and enquire into the answers to see if cases of domestic violence are suspected or not. Every police station needs to be more careful and appoint one officer to register domestic violence cases. Sadly, these measures should have been taken before the lockdown set in. If these had been in place on time, maybe we would have been witnessed fewer cases and more smiles. The harsh reality is that almost every piece of machinery has failed to curb domestic violence, which has taken a heavy toll on many innocent lives during COVID-19.
Malala Yousafzai rightly said, “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is a sword the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of a woman.” If domestic violence had not burnt the emotions of a woman, COVID-19 might have been an easier battle for the country. I still find myself incapable of deducing if COVID-19 was more terrifying than domestic violence and leave it upon the reader to decide which was a bigger pandemic.