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Trending: Call for Papers Volume 3 | Issue 2: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]

Domestic Violence And Absence Of Access To Protection Amidst Covid-19 Pandemic

Introduction

Coronavirus or COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. This disease is widespread over the entire world so much that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the same as a ‘pandemic

The word ‘pandemic’ here means that the epidemic is affecting beyond a country’s border i.e. it has spread to various countries altogether. This outbreak has left the entire world in a turmoil where people are fighting for their lives and has played havoc with the economy of the greatest nations of the world. Apart from the legal and economic issues, the pressing social issue of the hour is the alarming increase in the rate of domestic violence cases in this lockdown period. Ensuing this, the situation of women has exacerbated and there is a gross violation of women’s human rights. 

As rightly said, ‘there are two sides to a coin’. This phrase is quite fitting in this lockdown situation since although on the bright side, the lockdown is fetching good results in protecting the public health of the people; on the other darker side, women are stuck in the houses with their abusive spouses, family members or even partners and have no escape in this lockdown.

The UN Secretary-General recently said that the lockdowns have led to an enormous rise in Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases globally and have escalated the gender disparity across the globe for the reason that the women have the conventional responsibility to tend to the household needs and the family as a whole. Pursuant to this, the position of women in the political, social and economic domains has deteriorated considerably. The UN Committee on ESCR identifies GBV as a form of discrimination, constraining the ability to enjoy ESCR, on a ground of equality.[i] In many countries, the term ‘domestic violence’ connotes ‘intimate partner violence’, but, it also includes child and elder abuse as well as abuse by any family member.[ii]

Reasons for Increase in Domestic Violence:

Gender conformity is the main reason for the increase in the domestic violence cases during this lockdown. ‘The household work is the work of the woman of the house’ highlights the rule of gender conformity in our country. During this lockdown, when all the household chores should be divided amongst the family members, gender conformity renders it the sole responsibility of the women. Domestic Labor in times of unavailability of domestic help has taken a toll on the women and if she fails to meet the standard, she falls victim to domestic violence. The age-old patriarchy has inculcated the system of gender conformity in our minds.

Economic adversity is another reason. It has created a violent and frustrated domestic environment, leading to a surge in domestic violence. Independent women, whose jobs are adversely affected by the pandemic, may also be emotionally stressed as their workplace may have been the only safe haven from their violent households.[iii]

Lack of Adequate State Protection:

Owing to a lack in the precautionary and protective policies against gender violence cases during the pandemic, the innocent lives of the victimized women are at stake. According to a report of Indian National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) in 2018, the frequency of subjection of women to domestic violence is 4.4 minutes each day in India. The National Commission for Women showed an upsurge in these cases as it registered 587 cases in India between 23rd March and 16th April, in contrast to 396 cases between 27th February and 22nd March. Pursuant to this, the Commission launched a Whatsapp number, apart from helpline and email facility, in order to provide ease and convenience to the victims in seeking their help.[iv]

Increase in domestic violence instances is one issue and under-reporting of it is another graver issue. Under-reporting of domestic violence cases has been a deep-rooted problem in India because of the acceptance of such violence as a usual practice in society by women. Women have fallen victim to the concept of ‘learned helplessness’. This violence has a tremendous adverse impact on the health of women, apart from their rights. The National Family Health Survery-4 (2015-16) reported that this kind of violence is very common in India. It was seen that women are unwilling to report it because of their sheer dependency and lack of access to help and counseling. The root cause of such violence is the subservience and feebleness of women in households.[v] However, this under-reporting issue has aggravated since the lockdown issues by the Government of India. There has been a sharp decline in the reporting of domestic cases during this pandemic in certain states like Rajasthan, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh. 

Although both the government and non-governmental organizations are laboring to provide protection to these victimized women through helpline numbers and shelter homes, the current issue is that these facilities have become unapproachable due to the lockdown. It has become impossible to reach police stations or for the social workers to reach the victims or organize travel for the latter, adding to the atrocity and suffering. Since the police are already over-burdened with the COVID-19 health duties, the protection extended to the victims of domestic violence keeps descending on the priority list, if at all it is prioritized. Further the misery escalates as since the jurisdiction of these cases lies with the lower courts, in this extraordinary pandemic situation, the courts are operating only for emergency cases like bail pleas, raising the redundant question as to the priority of domestic violence cases again.[vi]

Judicial and State Response:

Pursuant to the lack of State protection afforded to the victims, various High Courts have addressed this issue and given guidelines. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court through suo moto cognizance of domestic violence cases during lockdown and gave guidelines to the State to create a special fund and arrange informal safe places for victims like grocery shops and pharmacies to facilitate reporting of the cases, without forewarning the offenders. The Karnataka High Court also showed concern and inquired the State Government about the action taken on the issue. Further, on a petition filed by an NGO, the Delhi High Court gave instructions to the State and the Centre for taking protective measures for the victims of domestic violence. The court then reviewed the report submitted by them, where it stated the action taken includes raising awareness about helpline numbers, shelter houses and protection officers. More specifically, the Delhi Government has developed a protocol to deal with the domestic violence cases during this lockdown. As per the protocol, as soon as a survivor calls the helpline number, the complaint will be written down by the telecaller and a counselor will be assigned to the survivor for maintain a telephone communication regarding the offence. The counselor will conduct sessions for the same with the woman and her family, if desired. In case there is an instance of domestic physical or sexual assault on that woman, the counselor will report it to the police and render assistance in filing First Information Report (F.I.R). Additionally, the counselor has the duty to inform the Protection Officer in order for the latter to file an incidence report.[vii]

Conclusion and Recommendations:

COVID-19 has presented an extraordinary situation in every aspect. The resultant increase in the gender violence cases and its complicated reporting needs proper attention. The existing mechanisms to tackle this issue need to be strengthened and new policies need to be framed to deal with pandemic circumstance specifically.

The most important issue here is to make the domain of domestic violence as a ‘priority’ during this lockdown period. This prioritization would not only serve as ready protection policy, but also help in curtailing and discouraging the prospective perpetrators. Secondly, mass media can play a significant role too. The social media campaign of recording social messages related to this issue has been carried on by various celebrities. Further, the media must publicize the identification of cases and the State action.[viii]

The most important role to reduce the number of domestic cases will be played the State. The State must increase the financial resources provided to the shelter homes and other facilities involved in protecting the victims. The help rendered to these distressed women must be treated as an ‘essential service’ by the government during this pandemic.

Further, the people must also be alerted about the risks of the domestic violence. The campaign of ‘Bell Bajao’ must be properly implemented. The neighbors and bystanders must not simply watch the perpetration of crime, but try to obstruct the same by acts like banging on the door or ringing the bell or calling the landline. The anonymity of such people must be maintained.[ix]

In conclusion, it can be said that these unique circumstances have yet again realized that the gap between genders has not been diminishing. Gender inequality is still a long-standing problem in India. Special circumstances like this pandemic help in discovering the lacunas in the existing systems and administration and point out the gaps that need to be filled. This pandemic has shown that there is a lack of gender-sensitive policies to deal with offences during emergencies. We, as the second most populous country in the world, need to be equipped more properly to deal with such issues efficiently and effectively. 

Reference

[i]Boram Jang & Khanyo Farise, Gender Based Violence during the COVID-19 Pandemic and economic, social and cultural rights (April 30, 2020, 12:54 P.M), http://opiniojuris.org/2020/04/23/gender-based-violence-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-and-economic-social-and-cultural-rights/
[ii] Arjun Kumar, Balwant Singh Mehta, Simi Mehta, The link between lockdown, COVID-19, and domestic violence (May 1, 2020, 1:41 P.M), https://idronline.org/the-link-between-lockdown-covid-19-and-domestic-violence/
[iii] Ibid
[iv] Bansari Kamdar, India’s Covid-19 Gender Blind Spot (April 30, 2020, 1:08 P.M), https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/indias-covid-19-gender-blind-spot/
[v] COVID-19, Domestic Abuse and Violence: Where Do Indian Women Stand? (May 1, 2020, 1:19 P.M), https://www.epw.in/engage/article/covid-19-domestic-abuse-and-violence-where-do
[vi] Domestic violence during Covid-19 lockdown emerges as serious concern (May 1, 2020, 12:57 P.M), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown-emerges-as-serious-concern/story-mMRq3NnnFvOehgLOOPpe8J.html
[vii] Ibid
[viii] Nalini Gulati, Covid-19: Lockdown and domestic abuse (May 1, 2020, 3:28 P.M), https://www.ideasforindia.in/topics/social-identity/covid-19-lockdown-and-domestic-abuse.html
[ix] Arjun Kumar, Balwant Singh Mehta, Simi Mehta, The link between lockdown, COVID-19, and domestic violence (May 1, 2020, 4:06 P.M), https://idronline.org/the-link-between-lockdown-covid-19-and-domestic-violence/

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Author: Sonakshi Singh Amity Law School, Noida. 

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