Domestic Violence during Covid-19: an Ongoing Pandemic
By Yuvraj Mathur, a 2nd year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Rajiv Gandhi National
University of Law, Punjab
#COVID-19 lockdown conspicuously highlighted the ubiquity of domestic abuse, comprising the gendered division of domestic work, all of which are rooted in the practice of patriarchal power. Although lockdown succeeded in plummeting the number of coronavirus cases, in turn, cases of domestic abuse rose manifolds. The lockdown worsened the factors contributing to domestic abuse, significantly restricting survivors’ potential to seek relief and redress, and placed an austere onus on providers seeking to intervene and respond to survivors. The Covid-19 lockdown, with the text “stay home, stay safe” devised to avert the propagation of the virus, led to an upsurge in the intensity, frequency, and scale of violence against women and children in their ostensibly “safe” homes.
No lockdown for Domestic Abuse
In early April, domestic violence was titled as a ‘shadow pandemic' by U.N. Women. According to reports, in the pre-covid times, a third of the women were subjected to domestic abuse, both in parental and matrimonial homes. Nevertheless, the advent of pandemic marked that the rates of domestic abuse have severely amplified after a lockdown in India. The indications of the issue were first disclosed in mid-April, in figures presented by the National Commission of Women (NCW), which disclosed that domestic abuse cases doubled during the lockdown. As per the official data, complaints of crimes against women received by NCW were 19,730 in 2019, which surged to 23,722 in 2020.
Similarly, when most people were confined to their homes due to pandemic, the number of domestic violence complaints drastically increased from 2,960 in 2019 to 5,297 in 2020. NCW, to counter the surge in the complaints, notified a WhatsApp number to receive complaints of the abused women. NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma mentioned that during the lockdown, Punjab reported the highest number of domestic violence cases, all of which were complained on email. Delhi observed the highest complaint rate receiving about 32 complaints per 1 million women. U.P. reported 600 complaints, the highest among all States. About 86% of women who confronted abuse never sought help, and 77% of the sufferers did not even disclose the occurrence(s) to anybody.
Family as the Primary site of abuse
The pandemic substantially transformed people's lives and, most notably, family dynamics. The lockdown was particularly troublesome for women since they had to juggle between domestic responsibilities while managing their work. Over 90% of women reported intensified levels of economic, sexual, emotional and physical violence during the lockdown. They reported being subjected to severe punching, pushing, hair pulling, arm-twisting, slapping, kicking, beating, suffocation, bodily harm during pregnancy, and refusal of the meal, and two incidents of dowry-related homicides.
Women who confronted verbal assault prior to the lockdown stated it intensified physical violence during the lockdown. Forms of emotional abuse cited were disrespectful and demeaning comments in front of the children, negative remarks about appearance, denying medication, abusing parental family, desertion, restraints of mobility and interaction with parental family, forcible eviction from the home, character assassination, and verbal humiliation. They also included throwing cooked food on the floor, not being allowed to work outside or speak to anyone, policing at home, constant criticism, and threats of divorce, desertion, and being thrown out of the home as well as murder, and a tendency of the abuser to self-harm.
Violence in the Domestic Sphere
During the pandemic, there has been a substantial upsurge in the domestic work women are supposed to discharge, with all the family members being at home. Demands on them and their time grew, causing greater stress and abuse. Women suffered severe economic abuse and food insecurity during this period. Perpetrators losing their jobs and income led to their inability to meet basic family needs.
Some women even caught their husbands red-handed having an extramarital affair, whilst others were themselves accused of having an extramarital relationship and their husbands being more suspicious and paranoid of them. Women being easy targets who could not counter became the answers to their husband’s stress, anxiety and frustration. Women who were divorced or abandoned and are reliant on maintenance from their spouses reported sustentation being discontinued and their impotence to access courts to file for the execution of maintenance orders. Women who were domestic workers were self-employed, daily wage earners, or in the unorganised sector who lost their sustenance faced aggravated monetary distress.
With increased violence during the lockdown, there has been a critical toll on women's mental health because of the financial insecurity and the anxiety and fear around Covid-19, which severely affected their interpersonal relations, general functionality, appetite and sleep. Not only elderly women but also single women living alone, unable to connect with relatives and friends, were found depressed. Those ensnared with the abusers were traumatised, stranded and petrified for their existence. There was a significant intensification in the number of survivors reporting suicidal ideation.
Addressing the Shadow Pandemic of rising Domestic Abuse
A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs headed by Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma that deals with “atrocities and crimes against women and children” has found that due to the disruption in economic activities, the lockdown led to a spurt in cases of domestic violence and trafficking, and recommended continued cash transfers and the moratorium on loan repayments, among other steps, to empower women. The committee, in its report, analysed the causes behind the rise in atrocities against women thoroughly and proposed deploying decoys to check if cops are properly registering FIRs. It also recommended adopting and implementing the “Online Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences (ITSSO)” by all the states.
Learnings from the lockdown
Its high time now that there should be an increase in the facilities for women to report domestic abuse incidents in a situation of sustained restriction of mobility. Concerned authorities need to ensure the availability and coordination of survivor support services and classify them as "essential services" at all times. That proper protocols and infrastructure are put in place to ensure that services are functional and accessible in crises. While the countrywide strictures have been eased, various district and state level lockdowns are enforced every now and then, allowing the shadow pandemic of domestic abuse to shoot simultaneously. Violence against women must not be counted as an inevitable crisis but rather to improve the otherwise delayed policy implications to address the situation.
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)