A Window Into The World Of Women

COMBATTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

In a deeply patriarchal society like India, where the notion that men and women are equivalent in worth is still appalling to many: it shouldn’t be a surprise that domestic violence is not only prevalent but also dangerously normalized. Domestic violence, although criminalized by law, goes unreported in most cases. To many women, “home” is not a safe place of love and support but an inescapable cage of neglect at best and abuse at worst. 

The stressor of the global pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have obviously not helped the case either. According to global statistics, domestic violence cases nearly doubled in the lockdown period. In countries like France and China, cases of domestic violence increased by 30% and 90% respectively. In India, from March 25, 2020, to May 31, 2020, nearly 1477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women. While this may seem like a small number, given the population of India; two things must be considered. Firstly, this number was much higher than the reported cases in the March-May period of the past ten years. The second factor to be considered is under-reporting. Of the women who did report(only 14.3%), only 7% reached out to relevant authorities-police, doctors, lawyers or social service organizations. More than 90% chose to reach out to friends, family and neighbours. The aforementioned pattern is clearly reflective of Indian society’s perception of domestic violence as a “private matter” to be resolved within the family or community. Seeking legal intervention is often seen as a betrayal to the family. Moreover, for many people, the husband, as a man has a right to “discipline” his wife, by whatever means necessary. 

During the lockdown, access to help even from within the community was greatly limited, legal pathways, even more so. Although steps have been taken by governments to make help accessible to women, most of them have been tech-focussed-helpline numbers and online counselling. Given that only about 35% of Indian women have access to technology, these measures have largely fallen short. Moreover, even when cases do go through the criminal justice system, adequate justice is not guaranteed to the survivors. 

A call for more efficient and wide-reaching solutions to combat the lockdown-domestic violence came mostly from NGOs and independent organizations instead of the government. The Delhi High Court, responded to a petition by the All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS) issued notices to the Ministry of Women and Child Development; Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Government of NCT of Delhi; National Commission for Women; Delhi Commission for Women and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of India to act upon the suggestions of the petition. The Karnataka High Court also responded to a similar petition guiding para-legal professionals to aid survivors of domestic violence seek help. 

In addition to awareness drives about available resources to seek legal help against domestic violence, there is also a need to set up a strong infrastructure to aid the rehabilitation of survivors. For instance, the  Gauravi one-stop crisis centre in Bhopal introduced an initiative that trained survivors of domestic violence as auto-rickshaw drivers to deliver rations to families in slum areas and simultaneously reach out to women facing domestic violence in these areas. Rehabilitation must also include active measures towards providing mental healthcare to survivors. The answer to annihilating domestic violence is found in the movement of women empowerment. Initiatives must be introduced to educate and financially empower women so they do not have to remain dependent on their abusers.

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