On 24th March, the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, which has frozen the movement of the entire 1.3 billion population of India. It was done as a preventative measure against COVID-19. Today we are in the second phase of the extended lockdown (until 3rd May). We have been asked to remain inside our houses to remain safe during this pandemic. But what if a house is not a safe place for somebody?
I am referring to the most vulnerable class of our society; women & children. According to the studies, there is an increase in domestic violence cases globally since the COVID-19 outbreak began and the lockdown was declared. There is also an increase in cases of child abuse. The victims are staying with their abusers 24/7 which is horrifying. Do you think this was something unexpected? Not at all!
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that "stay-at-home orders and quarantine measures which are taken to try to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic will likely lead to an increase in domestic violence". He also added that "We call on countries to include services to end violence as an 'essential service' that must continue during the response".
The increased abuse is a pattern repeated in many emergencies, economic crisis, and disease spread.
Domestic Violence - All-over the Globe:
This ‘Shadow Pandemic’(as a UN women term it ) has Captured Australia, France, UK, Spain, Bangladesh, and India too.
1. In Hubei province, (the heart of the initial COVID-19 outbreak) domestic violence reports to the police have tripled in one country alone during the lockdown in February.
2. In Brazil, a state-run-drop in the center has already seen a surge in cases it attributes to coronavirus isolation.
3. In Italy, activists said calls to the helpline had dropped sharply, but instead they are receiving text messages and emails.
These alarming figures represent the only cases where women can seek help; many of them can't make calls because they fear being caught by abusive partners or are stopped from leaving home.
What is the situation in India?
The National Commission for Women which receives complaints of domestic violence from across the country has recorded more than twofold rise in gender-based violence in the lockdown period. The cases are high in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana & Punjab. We can't find solutions unless we are well aware of the root cause of any problem.
• There are many causes for the drastic peak in the graph of domestic violence cases:
1. Men are at home and taking out frustration on women and they refuse to participate in domestic work.
2. There is a fear of losing jobs & uncertain future while salary cuts are already there.
3. Global slowdown, massive economic, dislocation, closed businesses, the threat of hunger, and poverty.
4. Psychologist says that the men's ego is getting rubbed as men are unable to stand being told to help. As we all know the Stereotypical ideologies still exist. It's a woman's job to do house chores and its man's job to earn.
We have to see what is the International approach to tackle this 'intimate terrorism' practiced by the abusers:
1. In France, the government has announced that it will be paid to victims to stay in hotels. Notably, "popup counseling centers" will be installed in shops in the hope that women out buying groceries will be able to access them easily.
2. In the UK, the police are encouraging victims to use what they are calling a silent calling the emergency No. 999 and then dial 55. The police say that they will recognize the call as "a cause of concern".
3. In Australia, the government has given a $142 million boost in funding to tackle domestic violence.
4. In Spain & France, women can go to the pharmacy and request a "MASK 19" a code word that will alert the pharmacies to contact authorities.
In India, we have The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The provisions under the act are still there but the current situation is exceptionally worse and it requires some new strategies to tackle.
Some traditional forms of support are now unavailable to domestic violence victims due to the lockdown. For example:
1. They don't go to their parental homes for fear of infecting elderly parents.
2. Shelter homes are crowded.
3. The police force is already overburdened.
4. Hospitals are busy doing their duties to handle COVID-19 cases.
What is India's strategy to handle the increased complaints of domestic violence?
Currently, there is no systematic approach to tackle the issue in hand. Some NGOs have come forward & made helpline numbers and email IDs but no firm policies have yet been formulated in this regard.
The Union Minister for Women and Child Development Department Smriti Irani conducted a video conference on 8th April with institutes associates with her ministry. This was to discuss that Government and its machinery are working for women who seek protection. She gave few instructions to the officials-
1. To ensure that One-stop centers that provide legal & psychological help to survivors of gender-based violence are linked with local medical teams, police, and National Legal Service Authority.
2. One-stop center teams must be linked with NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) to equip counselors across the country to deal with problems faced by women.
3. To opt for digital governance.
4. NGO to try to ensure that every individual calls at least 10 women every day to let them know that they are not alone.
The Police in Uttar Pradesh (having the worst track records of violence against women) have launched a new domestic violence helpline as the domestic violence cases are flooding. 'Suppress corona, not your voice' was the advertisement in one of the newspapers. The UP police ensured that these cases will be handled by the women police staff.
Until Government comes up with a strong head to beat these issues some of the experts, lawyers, psychologist have come up with various suggestions like:
1. Administration and law enforcement agencies to recognize the gravity of the problem and to believe the women.
2. Reaching women in distress need to classified as an essential service
3. Arrange safe places where the victim can be shifted.
4. In rural areas, frontline health workers need to be the first point of contact for abused women with the panchayats and women's self-help groups working jointly to provide safety and security to women.
5. To increase the number of shelter homes.
6. Regular check-ups in slum areas.
7. Launch a mobile application, streamlining the form filing, regarding alleged domestic violence act and accessibility to nearby protection officers.
8. Circulating the numbers of Protection Officers, as per their area of jurisdiction, through social media, Television broadcast, News Paper, etc.
What is happening on the judicial front:
1. An NGO called All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS) has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Delhi High Court.
2. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has taken Suo Moto (on its own motion) cognizance.
3. The Karnataka High Court has asked the state government about the action it is taking due to an alleged spike in cases of domestic violence, during the lockdown.
4. A letter has been addressed to Union Minister of Women & Child Development and National Commission for Women by Supreme Court Lawyers.
Few common suggestions and guidelines:
1. Appointment of Nodal Officers to attend distress calls by victims.
2. Setting up area-wise hotline numbers, to be made functional 24/7.
3. Wide publicity of all helpline numbers through TV ads, social media, newspapers, on news channels, the radio, SMSs, Tele-Calls, etc.
4. Free online or tele-counseling facilities, etc.
5. Funding, an increase in the availability of call-in service
6. To treat domestic violence cases as 'urgent cases'.
But even after giving the resources to the victims to approach the concerned authority, the question remains about how to deal with the abusers. Can we adopt penal sanctions ( police action) on perpetrators/abusers during the lockdown period?
A detailed study by Ms. Radha Iyengar at Harvard University revealed that police action in case of domestic violence increased intimate partner homicides.
After the various PILs and directions of High courts of different states Central Government has taken some steps:
1. Advisory issued to concerned authorities to remain operational during the lockdown
2. Emergency Response Support System over the short code 112.
3. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in collaboration with "NIMHANS" has started a helpline 080 – 46110007 to provide psychological support to victims of domestic violence.
4. Launched special WhatsApp number 7217735372
5. Advisory to TV channels, FM radio to give adequate publicity on women safety and person in distress
The situation seems complex and sensitive.
Though the rate of a heinous crime like rape has reduced the crimes behind the closed doors are at peak. As the police personnel are busy with lockdown duty, the Government can appoint temporary staff or take the help of NGOs, lawyers, psychologists, counselors to deal with the situation. Stopping liquor sales will be a sane decision because during lockdown alcohol consumption may cause a huge hike in domestic violence cases.
Along with domestic violence cases attention to be given to the rising child abuse cases.
- Adv. Prachi Patil
(The writer is a practising lawyer at the Pune District Court and the Family Court, Shivajinagar)
1. Centre rolls out steps for women’s safety
2. In locked down India, women fight coronavirus and domestic violence
3. Domestic Violence Can Be Isolated, Repetitive Or Even Span Generations
4. Does the Certainty of Arrest Reduce Domestic Violence? Evidence from Mandatory and Recommended Arrest laws
5. Lockdowns around the world bring rise in domestic
6. Delhi HC Asks Govt To See Whether Temporary Protection Officers Can Be Appointed, Till Regular Appointments Are Made, For Protecting Women From Domestic Violence [Read Order]
7. Karnataka HC Asks State About Action Taken On Increasing Complaints Of Domestic Violence During Lockdown [Read Order]
8. Domestic Abuse: The Unseen Crisis Of The COVID Pandemic
9. Protection of Women From Domestic Violence During Lockdown: Delhi HC Directs Centre, Delhi Govt To Convene High Level Meeting [Read Order]
10. Stop 'Intimate Terrorism': Plea In Delhi HC Against Increase In Domestic Violence And Child Abuse Cases During Lockdown