How lock-down led to increase in domestic violence in India?
The Indian society, an epitome of patriarchy has often given men the power to abuse women in order to gratify their own tendencies of being violent and the lockdown has further enhanced their potentiality. With a reported increase of 21% domestic violence cases in India in the lockdown period, it is indeed a reflection of the prevalence of gender roles and power dynamics. The lockdown was imposed on 25th March 2020 and since then the National Commission of Women (NCW) received more than 220 complaints, which also indicated a 100% increase in domestic violence cases during this period. Also, All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice in the Delhi High Court recently stated in a news article that help lines all over the country received more than 92,000 calls about domestic violence and abuse just within the first 11 days of the lockdown. With many claiming that social distancing was an act of privilege as people get to reside in their homes, it did not seem to be applicable for Indian women who got through this and battled in a war zone. For these women, home was not a place where they were able to seek comfort in the four walls but rather lived in constant fear of being thrashed by their abusive spouses who also do not want to hold accountability for such behavior. The news pointed out to fractured arms, bruised legs, damaged wrists, etc. and it is also important to understand that the statistical reports did not pointed out to the true number of cases that happened all over the country as many were unreported and left unheard. A lot of women fear further clashes and unrest in their households if their husbands do get to know about the filed complaint against them which creates a lot of ruckus leading to a more tormenting environment. Women helpline services are available but some of them only offer paid services. This creates another backlash as women belonging to lower-income groups and those working in unorganized sectors either do not have mobiles or sufficient money to recharge talk balance. The cases that were reported to police have also been observed to be only from certain sections of the society who were literate, upper class, and had access to these resources and also the power to handle the backlash. Due to the digital divide, the gap caused by a lack of accessibility and availability of infrastructures such as telephonic communication and the internet has hampered the reporting of the cases by the rural women.
On contemplating why the cases have gone up, one can look at different perspectives to understand how this behavior that promotes abuse is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche and the social roots. Some of the reasons that can be attributed to the rising incidence of domestic violence include aggression, frustration, less satisfaction by the work done by their partners, a source of entertainment, acceptance of the submissive attitude, and withdrawal symptoms. When everything was at a standstill, people lost their job which heightened the economic distress in households. This has also been one of the reasons for rampant abuse because of the expectation of subjugation from the women as they are supposed to be dependent on their spouses. Due to the typical gender roles set by society, the time spent by women in the kitchen increased in order to cook for all the members in the house. This created problems for lack of time for leisure as they were constantly presumed to manage cleaning, dusting, cooking, and also the burden of ensuring good health of all the family members. In Malaysia, the government started a new campaign called the “House-hold happiness” where guidelines were stated for women to act as dutiful wives and put on makeup to do the chores. It said that women should not be frustrated and adopt the avatar of “Doraemon”, a Japanese cartoon character to reinforce infantile mannerisms and be passive consumers to do whatever their spouses expect them to. Although these posters were taken down after a lot of criticism, this is a reality of the stereotypes across the globe which has made this pandemic gendered.
In recent news, the Chief Minister of Orissa appealed to people to not overburden women with the chores which might seem to be progressive but still deviates from the fact how importance is given to not pressurize their existing work and not on how men should also take an active role and be helpful. With women confined to kitchens to fulfill the demands of the family members, the role of men as drinking, binge-watching television, demanding for good meals, and being frustrated over withdrawal symptoms due to closure of wine and beer shops also became acceptable and justified. It seemed like another rationalized parameter in the already divided society which allowed men to impose their supremacy by lack of participation in engaging in household errands, while women were expected to bear the brunt of it.
Kerala State Women Commission member reported a case in which the victim’s brother informed that his sister and her daughter had been hiding in a forest in Idukki district in Kerala after her husband debarred her from coming back home. The matter was investigated by the Kerala police and the husband was taken into custody for the grave conduct. It was observed that even though certain cases can be resolved through counseling and mediators amidst the lockdown but a lot of cases would require serious intervention and court trials to be settled. Another news that needs to be highlighted is how all over the country, the prisoners have been granted parole due to overcrowded jails during the COVID-19 when social distancing is a necessity. This also means that many of them being violent perpetrators who were jailed for offenses for more than 7 years have been left on loose with abusive tendencies that keep surfacing within their households. In Malda district of West Bengal, Sona Mondol, a 26-year-old woman was strangled by her husband of five years. In another incident in the district, another woman was allegedly murdered by her husband for objecting to his extra-marital affair. Both men were booked but one cannot turn a blind eye to how the lockdown has caused distress to these women, their children, and family members without even being adequately represented in the media.
Even with the reopening of liquor shops, different cases of abuse after being brutally hit by the drunken husband were reported. A 39-year-old Delhi resident dialed the police’s emergency helpline number to report how he had slapped her son after alcohol consumption, broken fan, lights and furniture. All the anger management issues that result in a fit of rage after drinking made women feel more insecure about their spaces at homes and also requested to close down the liquor shops once again because of the consequences it had on them.
Stating facts, the UN agency, Sexual and Reproductive health (UNFPA) estimated that there would be a surge of 31 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide if lockdown across the globe continued for another six months. This would result in mental illnesses like depression, sexual disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and substance abuse on peak for the ones who are suffering.
In all it can be noted that the government needs to take a central role in dissipating services and providing support to the women who are undergoing this. They need to be more active, sympathetic, and concerned about the harsh realities and need to realize that reaching out to the victims must be considered as an essential service. In France and Spain, pharmacies are also being trained to spot people facing abuse through code words, such as ‘mask 19’ for women who refrain from speaking openly, to indicate that they are being abused and want to seek help. Such initiatives can be taken in India also to provide security to women who cannot directly approach the authorities.
Most of the time, women feel unsafe to report the cases because of the further backlash of abuse by their in-laws, orthodox members of the society, and being labeled as ‘deviant’ from the ideal societal norms. In order to create a space for themselves to be recognized, they are willing to continue being a subject of such treatment. Such barriers need to be revoked, and even though it’s easier said than done but the process of uplifting women should start from somewhere. It is important to imbibe confidence and instill self-respect in them to eventually empower them to take a stand, report the abusers and not worry about how the outcome is going to damage the reputation society builds for them. Being trapped with violent or manipulative individuals could lead to long term effects of physical and psychological abuse with other humiliating and controlling behavior which demoralizes a person and expects them to function in a toxic home environment. With the victim being isolated from family and friends, their movements monitored, and restricted financial resources; loss of employment opportunities, education, or medical care, there is an immediate need to address these issues globally for the welfare of the society. The Delhi government also issued the court on April 12, to create a protocol to tackle cases of domestic violence during the lockdown. Once the survivor contacts he helpline (181), her complaint will be taken down and then forwarded to a counselor who would establish phone communication with her on account of the lockdown. The counselor is empowered to conduct sessions and solve the matter with the woman and her spouse or entire family if required. However, in case the woman is a victim of sexual or physical assault with worsening conditions, it is essential to inform the police about the case, and file a First Information Report (FIR).
When governments plan to respond to such an unexpected crisis like COVID-19, similarly addressing domestic violence should be prioritized in the same manner. In India, the government has partially overlooked the need to integrate domestic violence and long-lasting mental health repercussions. An aggressive nationwide campaign should indulge in promoting awareness about domestic violence, and throw light on varied modes through which complaints can be filed. News channels, radio channels, and social media platforms can be strategically used, similar to how the government deployed campaigns recommending physical distancing and hand washing to fight COVID-19.
It is of utmost importance that such cases are recognized and supported with adequate legal and administrative courses to dismantle the systematic exploitation of women which has occurred throughout history. It is necessary to understand the importance of building an inclusive society which nurtures the growth of women, cancels toxic masculinity, and sets a promising future for the children to look up to and be inspired to be the change and transform the society.