A SHADOW PANDEMIC: VULNERABILITY OF WOMEN AMIDST COVID-19
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
By- Tanvi Gupta, 3rd Year, B.Com LLB Student at UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh
“There can be no better measure of our governance than the way we treat our children, and no greater failing on our part than to permit them to be subjected to violence, abuse or exploitation.” -Jessica Lange
The sudden outbreak of Coronavirus in 2019 in Wuhan, China spread across the nation in no time. While our nation is facing a hard time battling this mushrooming pandemic, it was declared nationwide lockdown and strict observance of social distancing. As an emerging global humanitarian crisis, the spread of COVID-19, and subsequent mitigation policies and measures, are expected to affect women, men, children differently. Women are often the primary responders to any crisis, and they play a pivotal role within the survival and resilience of families and communities. One of the backlashing impacts of stay home, stay safe order was a sudden surge in the cases of Domestic Violence. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a universal issue and has repercussions on the victim themselves, their families, and the society they belong to. However, this is not the first time that there has been an intense increase in the number of domestic violence cases during an epidemic. The number is probably going to hike as security, health, and money worries add to tensions and strains are underlined by constraining and circumscribed living conditions.
A report issued by the WHO on 26 March 2020 stated that data from countries like China, United Kingdom, United State, and other countries are showing the increased incidents of domestic violence during the COVID -19 outbreak. Violence caused a deep impact on the health of victims such as physical injuries, mental, sexual, and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies.
EMERGENCIES EXACERBATE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The term "domestic violence" refers to intimate partners' violence; it also encompasses child and elder abuse by any member of the household. According to NCW from 27 Feb to 22 March Commission received 396 complaints of crimes against women from across the country but During the first phase of lockdown (23 march to 16th April) NCW registered 587 domestic violence complaints which are almost the double of the normal incidents. Mounting statistics suggest the VAWG is acting like an opportunistic move, burgeoning the conditions created by the pandemic. On the very initial stage of Lockdown UN Secretary-General called for "ceasefire" to address the "Horrifying global surge in domestic violence".
Hence, as a measure of foresightedness, we must first try and understand why domestic violence continues to be a menace and then perceive solutions that suit the Indian context:
Economic stress and social isolation: From sudden fall in income to losing one’s job are likely to increase the perpetration of violence by abusers. Economic Stress and Joblessness are closely associated with a sense of powerlessness as per 'Masculinity' Norms. Even during marriages, Indian parents often look at the Economic Status of a Man before giving away their daughter. Normalization of such norms leads to a predisposition towards feeling 'loss of power' whenever the financial crisis set in.
Psychopathology and alcohol consumption: This lockdown not only resulted in the ruckus of domestic violence but also gave growth to mental illness and stress. Due to strict norms and unavailability of liquor, there has been intense aggression among male partners.
Patriarchal Mindset: “It’s the woman’s job to cook, clean, wash. It’s the man’s job to earn. So albeit we seem to possess progressed in paying hypocrisy to be 'liberal', the true test is in the living. And this confinement is throwing up the 'real' mindsets of partners." There are many dimensions to domestic violence, all of which stem from the exercise of patriarchal power.
LAWS PERTAINING TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN INDIA
Under the Indian Constitution, it is the duty of the State under Article 47 of the Constitution of India, to boost the level of nutrition, the standard of living and to improve the public health of the people. State also has to provide safety and security for the citizens. However, domestic violence in India is a forgotten agenda amidst the lockdown.
The government of India has made various laws to curb domestic violence. There are various provisions under the Indian Constitution such as A- 15(3), 39, 42, 51, and 243, etc. Also, certain civil laws such as The Hindu Marriage Act,1995, The Indian Divorce Act 1869, The Dissolution of Marriage Act, 1930, etc which provides the remedy to women to step out of Abusive marriage. There are numerous provisions in IPC for offences like rape, dowry death, detaining married women with criminal intent and outraging women's modesty, etc.
Furthermore, there is a separate act on Domestic Violence. Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has widened the definition, it includes an act or conduct which harms or endangers the health, safety, and life and wellbeing mentally or physically.
INITIATIVE TAKEN BY THE GOVT. TO CURB DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 lays down that the government should adhere to the strategies that have not been adhered to. In India the NCW was set up as statutory body in January 1992 under the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 the Commission has the vision “The Indian Woman, secure in her home and out of doors, fully empowered to access all her rights and entitlements, with an opportunity to contribute equally in altogether walks of life”. The Commission has the core unit i.e. complaint and counseling cell which entertained all complaints submitted to it either orally, written or Suo motu under Section 10 of the National Commission for Women Act.
During the lockdown, the amount of receiving the complaints increase then commission launched a WhatsApp number 7217735372 on 10th April 2020 to register the complaints, as well as commission, appealed to women to approach the nearest police headquarters or State Commission for ladies. Between the period of April-May, 727 complaints are received on the WhatsApp number. Commission also has the varied helplines number like JAGORI-(011) 26692700, Sakshi - violence intervention centre-0124) 2562336/ 5018873 despite these there are women helplines numbers are also available such as women helpline ( All India women in Distress)-1091, Women Helpline Domestic Abuse-181 similarly the various State Commissions also have their helpline numbers and women helpline numbers. Within the various states the Government has set up in every District Police headquarters Crime Against Women Cell (CAW) was created and women suffering from domestic violence can approach this helpdesk in police headquarters. There are arrangements for the fast transportation of the officers to respond to complaints of domestic abuse and rescue them to the shelter with immediate effect.
FOR A ROAD TO A BETTER FUTURE
VAWG shouldn’t only be reported to authorities through helplines but there should be proper online counseling sessions. The sessions will help in finding the root cause and might save the family from a split.
The government should aim at creating more job opportunities because it is found half of the ladies fail to share violence against them due to the uncertainty of income and shelter at a later stage.
More informal spaces should be designed like a grocery shop, chemist to report VAWG so that it can be reported without alerting the perpetrators of abuse.
During this lockdown, families should utilize this time in building bonds and fun activities.
National Commission for Women should increase the awareness of helpline numbers and WhatsApp numbers on which the women can file complaints.
Citizens must be sensitive towards intimate partner violence and the neighbors and bystanders should not ignore it but rather intervene in the situation. When people are unable to contact for help, the government should initiate an alternative same as France and Spain by introducing a codeword.
The current crisis is an all hands-on deck sort of situation that's getting to require maximum coordination and sincere efforts by all authorities. As more and more issues come to the fore, the burden on these authorities is only going to increase. Resultantly, it is also important to mobilize all grass root level organizations working across India to spot victims of abuse, ensure that the information reaches the authorities and thereafter coordinate with them to provide accelerated relief to the sufferers. Adding thereto, witnessing a mother do home chores, getting beaten by one's father or any member in ascendance, only cements the conception that ladies are impuissant and credulous. This conception needs to be uprooted, and all evils born out of this conception get uprooted additionally. Understanding the trigger factors of an abuser and placing checks upon them is feasible with opportune regime support and funding. Overall, humanity should never bow right down to accommodate the preservation of humanity.
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)