As all of us struggle with the global quarantine, reports boast of a phenomenal decrease in crime rates. While this is good, frustration is mounting within people. And guess who is bearing the brunt of it? Women, in the form of domestic violence – the demon that rules most women’s lives not only in India but across the world.
Domestic Violence rates have seen an unbelievable spike since the lockdown, with government bodies, NGOs, etc. receiving constant emails, and calls, reporting cases of domestic violence. It has taken the form of another pandemic; UN Women has called it the ‘Shadow Pandemic’. So the women of the world are dealing with two major life-threatening issues at the same time. How much can they or should they bear?
Make no mistake, domestic violence takes on many forms. Legally, in India, the definition of domestic violence provided under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, takes into consideration not just physical and sexual abuse, but even economic/monetary, mental and psychological abuse. This gender-specific legal instrument is the means to achieve redressal for any women that face abuse at home.
These cases of violence are not restricted to any specific social class, with women from all walks of life facing the crisis. There are many reasons for this being the case. The root causes are:
- Lack of social interaction creates temperamental issues, which intensifies to a point where people come to blows.
- Job security issues are cropping up all over the world, giving rise to tension and frustration.
- Conventionally, patriarchal structures prompt women to do most of the housework, but with the lockdown, both men and women are forced to contribute. Men are finding it difficult to adjust to these newer responsibilities, which they are not used to and had hitherto found to be ‘unimportant’ women issues.
- The lack of house help is further creating issues within the household.
- Last but not the least, trouble from the in-laws, familial pressure, religion and defined gender roles make things worse.
While under normal circumstances, victims could seek shelter from drunken abusers by going to the neighbours, social distancing norms have removed this alternative.
These are just a few of the reasons clearly visible to us, when we consider that most of the women that are coming forward to report abuse are from an urban setup and are empowered enough to be aware of the means that are at their disposal to seek redressal. The lower down the social hierarchy we move, the reasons for violence change, and so does the likelihood of women reporting incidents and seeking aid. The situation might be a lot worse than it already appears to be.
The complaints received by the National Commission of Women (NCW) has doubled since the lockdown has been imposed, causing grave concerns to the society as a whole. To address this, they have set up a WhatsApp helpline to facilitate complaints.
Interestingly, the NCW does not receive too many calls generally, as women tend to contact the police first. Even the police have reported that the daily calls have seen a sharp rise.
Instances also indicated that women report the violence and then ask for their spouses to not be arrested, as they fear the in-laws and their wrath. Note that the Domestic Violence Act also includes any form of abuse that indirectly hurts the women, and this of course is a reference to abusers hurting children to get to the women, causing mental and psychological abuse. The children, hence, are also unsafe.
Additionally, while the complaints of domestic violence have seen such a sharp spike, even the rape complaints have gone up slightly, which means these are happening within households and homes due to lack of movement outside the house.
Solutions, are scarce. NGOs and Help Centres are largely understaffed, and underfunded. Additionally, the pandemic itself is causing the police forces and law enforcement networks to be immensely occupied, which is leaving less room for the domestic violence problem. Lack of mobility makes it difficult to move women who are under abuse to shelter homes, especially if one does not exist in their area. The gravity of the situation needs to be made immensely clear, and this shall hopefully lead to timely aid for women and children facing abuse.
The situation might become worse when the lockdown lifts, as there will be a scurry to get work, and for families to earn their daily bread. The economic slump, the lack of jobs, and availability of alcohol are only going to make the situation at home worse.
So please, if you face any kind of abuse, speak up. Abuse can be physical, sexual, economic/monetary, mental and psychological abuse. Do not hesitate to call or WhatsApp the helpline if you are facing any trouble. Reach out to someone if you cannot handle it alone. In the end, your safety is much more important than family prestige, especially the fake prestige which allows people to abuse women and/or keep quiet about it.
Stand up for what is right.