Coronavirus disease 2019(COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2(SARS-CoV-2). The disease was first identified in December 2019 in the Wuhan city of China. The new year since the beginning is witnessing the severity of this disease. The COVID-19 pandemic has entirely shaken the world claiming many lives with no cures till today. The government has issued effective lockdown. ‘Stay home, stay safe’ is the battle cry to protect everyone from coronavirus pandemic ruining the world. This global health emergency has posed an unprecedented threat to all. In the midst of all these, a shadow pandemic is ironically making homes unsafe for many women. Countless women are now trapped with perpetrators. The cases of domestic violence are showing a horrifying global surge. Amid the lockdown, not only the chances of violence increased but also women became more vulnerable to physical and mental harm.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE- CONCEPT
The term ‘domestic violence’ is used in many countries to refer to partner violence but the term can also encompass child or elder abuse, or abuse by any member of a household. According to the United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, the definition of domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 says that any act, conduct, omission, or commission that harms or injures or has the potential to harm or injure will be considered domestic violence by the law. Many types of abuse are included in the definition of domestic violence. The notables being physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, threats, stalking and cyber-stalking. The victims of domestic violence can be anyone- spouses, intimate partners, family members, children etc. It is a global issue. As per reports, women are the worst affected in cases of domestic violence particularly faced from perpetrators known to them. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in every three women across the globe experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime; and at least 30% of all women in relationships have experienced physical or sexual violence by their partners.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN INDIA
Though domestic violence is a global concern, it has very far reaching consequences in India. India is one of the worst affected countries in cases of domestic violence. Till 2005 there was no legislation in India to deal with such matters. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act came into effect in 2005. Though the Act was enacted in 2005, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) started collecting data under the law in 2014. According to the Crime in India Report published by NCRB, in India a crime is recorder against women every 1.7 minutes and a woman is subjected to domestic violence every 4.4 minutes. Year after year, the number of cases is increasing significantly. These data only pertain to the cases reported. Nearly half of the cases go unreported. Due to some orthodox social norms, women feel unsafe while approaching the police. They fear that if their partners are arrested, they may face worse abuse once they are released, and might also face harassment from their in-laws or others. Sometimes even proper justice is not served to them. Even the Act of 2005 is not enough to get rid of the menace of domestic violence.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN CONTEXT OF COVID-19
In the present situation, in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the country is in a complete lockdown. We are now going through the third version of lockdown which is known to be lockdown 3.O. Not just a virus is rampaging through the country, the age-old menace of domestic violence is putting ghee into the fire. The government has imposed a nationwide lockdown and mandated strict observance of social distancing. However, one of the backlashing impacts of the stay-at-home orders is the surge in Violence against women and girls (VAWG) specifically the looming cases of Domestic Violence (DV). National Commission for Women (NCW) registered around 580 domestic violence cases between March 23 and April 16 which shows a significant surge from the previous data. The cases are high in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, and Delhi. A Petition filed by NGO, All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice in the Delhi High Court says helplines across the country have received 92,000 calls reporting domestic violence and abuse in the first 11 days of the lockdown. Punjab State Commission for Women has been receiving nearly 30 complaints every day. The violence is worse in the weaker section of the society. The lockdown, physical distance, mental pressure, anxieties are the main reasons for these rising assaults. Job loss, salary cuts, an uncertain future has put everyone to the edge. Men are at home and taking out their frustration on women. Women, mainly the housewives, always being within the four walls of the house is not able to share their griefs with anybody. There is a definite pattern of domestic abuse cases reported during the lockdown. In the first week of lockdown, most of the cases pertained to men showing withdrawal symptoms taking it out on their wives. And later, cases pertaining to money matters increased. World Health Organisation (WHO) in one of its report mentioned that domestic violence often increases in times of crisis and is aggravated due to restrictions and containment measures as adopted in the present scenario.
The UN Agency for sexual and reproductive health (UNFPA) estimated that there can be a surge of 31 million more cases of Domestic Violence if the lockdown continues for another six months.
COVID-19 crisis has put India in such a condition that people cannot even come out of their homes except in cases of extreme emergency. The women who are being continuous victims of the abuse or violence from her family members rarely can report to police as they can’t come out of their homes. The weaker sections of the society who don’t have access to mobile phones suffers the most. So, the government has taken certain steps to reach out the victims. The NCW has launched a helpline number and has started to accept complaints via email. Some states have come up with their own initiatives. For instance- UP Police have launched an initiative ‘suppress corona, not your voice’, in which women are encouraged to contact police officers and ask for rescue. The Orissa state commission for Women has also launched its own helpline number. Tamil Nadu government has allowed the movement of appointed protection officers. However, looking at the statistical rising in cases of domestic violence, the measures taken up are not adequate to handle the rising shadow pandemic. This is a country where only one-third of women has access to internet. These helpline numbers are not likely to rescue the victims.
ARE THE MEASURES ENOUGH TO CURB THE MENACE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING THIS LOCKDOWN?
Certainly not. The government has barely adhered to the law in its measures. Section 11 of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 mentions obligations on the part of government for regular publicity of issues of Domestic Violence through the use of media or print to raise awareness in the society. However, not once in his address to the nation since lockdown, Prime Minister has talked about the dilemma of these women which violates the section of Domestic Violence Act. The state has not been able enough to address the concerns of women, which shows a direct violation of the Fundamental Rights of Life of them under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Many instances highlight that the police officers often have not given much importance to these cases. One assaulted woman came to report to the police, and he said in reply, ’Go home and sort it out. The police and the court are shut now.’ Another news shows that a case from UP was reported wherein a girl approached the police, but the personnel refused to rescue the victim and she was left with the accused. These are definitely not acceptable in the eyes of law. Clearly, the government in its attempt to flatten the COVID-19 curve has overlooked women’s physical and mental concern. It violates Article 51 (A)(e) of the constitution.
There’s a famous legal maxim ‘Ubi jus ibi remedium’ which means where there is right, there is remedy. It’s the right under law that every citizen should be treated equally. Even in times of pandemic or any other emergencies, the government should equally look after one’s right. With the sudden lockdown, when women find themselves isolated and vulnerable, what are their options? Reporting is certainly not an easy task and it may also lead the victim to more suffering.
Amidst the lockdown, the need of the hour is to build a safe space for women by ensuring some measures and preventing such abuses from happening. This can be achieved through a “Community based Network” amongst families and neighbors residing in the same area. The emphasis must be to train the people of such community networks to be able to sense the plight of women before reporting. The organizers can conduct online training programs for them. Moreover, India should learn from countries across the globe which has brought about innovative plans to prevent gender-based violence in times of pandemic. The NGOs play a vital role in this context.
As we are taking all the necessary measures to flatten the pandemic graph, we need to be equally attentive to make sure that the graph of domestic violence does not rise aggressively. The law enforcement agencies must pay heed to the intensity of the problem. A large part of our country is housed in rural areas. So, the panchayat must take out time to raise awareness and voice against such acts. The security of women cannot be put to a hold until we emerge out of this pandemic. Domestic violence got a worldwide recognition in the name of ‘shadow pandemic’ and ‘parallel pandemic.’ In not implementing any significant measures, for India’s battered women, the prison sentence will only get longer if the COVID-19 lockdown further extends. And this parallel pandemic will continue as a shadow. Priority measures must be initiated without deviating from the overall COVID-19 action plan to help and protect the victims of domestic violence. This is an apt time for us as a society, to rethink, reconsider and reshape our beliefs and values about gender equality and begin to take action to make the society more humane and habitable for women.
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Author: SHINJINEE NAMHATA,
Intern at Lawportal,
Author: SHINJINEE NAMHATA,
IFIM LAW SCHOOL, BENGALURU, KARNATAKA , FIRST YEAR BBA-LLB STUDENT