Domestic Violence in the era of COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 is causing enormous challenges in terms of human rights, including the health rights of women. Generally, 1 in 3 women around the world experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Gender-based violence has never been unfamiliar to us, and the existence of domestic violence is not new to us, but as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced several countries, including India, to go in lockdown. So as the cases of domestic violence rose at an alarming speed in India. Recent data released by the National Legal Services Authority suggest nationwide lockdown has led to a rapid increase in cases of domestic violence in India.[i] The National Commission for Women has reported a rise of 94 percent in complaint cases where women have been abused in their homes since the lockdown is imposed.[ii]
The fundamental reason behind the sudden increase in cases of domestic violence in India is mostly due to mandatory stay-at-home rules, physical distancing, economic uncertainties, and anxieties caused by the pandemic, etc. India was already infamous for gender-based violence and ranked the fourth worst country for gender equality, according to public perception.
REASONS BEHIND THE SUDDEN INCREASE OF CASES
According to sociologist Marianne Hester, “domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations.”[iii] As corona virus cases started increasing all over the world, most of the countries went for lock down measure to slow down the pace of it. So from 25th March, India also announced nationwide lock down, which triggered a rise in violence against women.
As lock down began, life around the whole nation came to a halt, all families got packed in their homes, maximum have to do their work from home, and many lost their job or got considerable losses in business which caused a lot of frustration, anxiety, depression mostly in male members as the number of female workers is about less than half the number of male workers (In terms of proportion, 68.4 percent of the workers are males and 31.6 percent females).[iv] It is a very well known fact that during times of economic hardship, there is always a chance of an increase in abusive, compulsive, and controlling behaviour and aggression directed towards cohabiting partners.
As the family are packed together, and unnecessary movements are prohibited, the household workload increased more on females as it is socially and culturally often seen as “women’s work.” and with domestic helpers being avoided, there are more chances of violence increase if she fails to do so. Many women whose livelihoods have been affected by this pandemic, might also now be in financial distress which is one of the hurdles from removing themselves from a violent household.
LAWS REGARDING PREVENTION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
During the COVID lockdown, cases of domestic violence have increased. The Indian government has recognized this connection, and the National Commission for Women has launched a WhatsApp helpline. Several states have launched their helplines which shows the gravity of the issue. Several laws are existing which aims at protecting a married woman from abuse from her husband or her husband’s relatives. They are as followed-
a. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code
Under it, harassment for dowry by the husband or his family is considered a crime. This harassment can be either mental or physical. [v] This section has a broad scope as it also covers all willful conducts against a woman which instinct the woman to commit suicide or risk to life, limb or overall health which also includes the mental and physical health of the woman. Even though marital rape is not recognized as a crime in India, forced sex with one’s wife can be considered cruelty under this section.
b. Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005
It prohibits a wide range of abuse against women — physical, emotional, sexual and economical and all these are defined under this. [vi] The Act applies to all women, irrespective of their marital status, age or religious beliefs.
Section 3 of the Act defines Domestic Violence which includes causing any harm or injury to the safety, life, health or well-being of the aggrieved woman by committing any physical, sexual, verbal or economic abuse.[vii] Threats to commit any above-said violence are also covered under this definition. A range of choices has been given to woman under the Act as she has a right to get an order of protection against her husband and his family, to continue living in the same house. Also under section 125 of the Indian Penal Code, a woman does not have to necessarily file for a divorce to have a right to receive maintenance from her husband. The essence of a married relationship is such that it makes it compulsory on the man to provide maintenance to his wife[viii].
There are many other empowering laws for women to strengthen her social, economic and legal status to make her less vulnerable to abuse. For example, the Hindu Succession Act, after its 2005 amendment allows that women have an equal right in ancestral properties of their families, this is their legal right which is to get the same share as their brothers may get.[ix]
The feeling of isolation and financial and medical anxiety coming along with the deadly pandemic and falling economy has increased the frequency of terror within homes.[x] Since lockdown is imposed in India, the number of domestic violence complaints received by the National Commission for Women (NCW) had doubled.[xi] As complaints increased, the NCW announced a WhatsApp number to receive complaints, to be more approachable to women who find themselves in abusive homes.
However a woman needs to have a landline or mobile phone when she has to complain or seek help from a helpline about her family being abusive, but almost 57% of the women in India[xii] has no access to phones, so their options for registering complaints under the lockdown gets limited. Recently Delhi HC has ordered the Delhi Government and the Central Government to ensure to deliberate on measures to curb domestic violence and protect the victims during the coronavirus lockdown in the case of All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties & Social justice vs UOI & Ors.[xiii]
In the case of Sudha Ramalingam v. State of T.N.[xiv] the Madras High Court has given time to the T.N. Government to file a supplementary status report in a writ petition that is seeking immediate setting up of an emergency response system to aid and assist victims of domestic violence. Various domestic violence helplines and organizations all over India are also working continuously to deal with this issue. Recently, NGO Sneha with the help of several Bollywood stars took to Instagram by #LockdownMeinLockup campaign, to encourage people to speak up against domestic violence.[xv]
Within a few days of the lockdown in India, the NCW noted a hike in the number of domestic violence complaints. The number of cases reported is most likely not equal to the actual rise in domestic violence because abusers may not be able to report because of fear, non-availability of a phone, etc. A significant difference between health emergency and gender-based cruelty is that there may never be a vaccine to end the latter. While there are various laws to protect against domestic abuse, but it is not easy for the judicial system to break into the patriarchal nature of society.
It would be suggested that the government and police should try to implement the laws strictly. Whatever helpline numbers are introduced, it should work properly so that victims do not have a problem in reporting. It would also be advisable to the victim to keep a friend, family, neighbour or someone in close informed in case of escalating risk. There are many free online counselling websites that victims can use for relief. Most important is that awareness regarding all this is required.
[i] Domestic violence cases in India on the rise during the lockdown (May 18, 2020, 2:00 PM), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/love-sex/domestic-violence-cases-in-india-on-the-rise-during-lockdown-says-report/articleshow/75801752.cms.
[ii] Shalu Nigam, COVID-19: India's Response to Domestic Violence Needs Rethi (13 May 2020), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3598999
[iii] A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html
[iv] Women in the Workforce – India: Quick (Nov 14, 2019), https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-the-workforce-india/
[v] Domestic Violence and Connected Laws Indian Women Should APRIL 24, 2020), https://www.shethepeople.tv/law-and-her/domestic-violence-and-connected-laws-indian-women-should-know-of/.
[vii] Aanchal Singh, What is Domestic Violence? An introduction to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (December 5, 2018), https://theleaflet.in/know-your-rights-domestic-violence-an-introduction-women-2005-act-aanchal-singh/
[viii] Supra vi.
[ix] Supra vi
[x] Dhamini Ratnam, Domestic violence during Covid-19 lockdown emerges as a serious concern, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown-emerges-as-serious-concern/story-mMRq3NnnFvOehgLOOPpe8J.html.
[xii] COVID-19, Domestic Abuse and Violence: Where Do Indian Women (17 April 2020), https://www.epw.in/engage/article/covid-19-domestic-abuse-and-violence-where-do
[xiii] All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties & Social justice vs UOI &WP., W.P. (Civil) 2973/2020April 24 April, 2020).
[xiv] Sudha Ramalingam v. St. of T.N., 2020 SCC Online Mad 973
[xv] Akshaya Vijayalakshmi, Violence No More: India's COVID-19 opportunity for anti-domestic violence camp June 09 June 0909 June 2020), https://www.warc.com/newsandopinion/opinion/violence-no-more-indias-covid-19-opportunity-for-anti-domestic-violence-campaigns/3641
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Srishti Gupta who is a 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Chanakya National Law University, Patna.
[PUBLICATION NO. TLG_BLOG_20_3104]