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Rise in domestic conflict during the pandemic

By: Akshita Bhardwaj* |





INTRODUCTION


As cities and towns across China locked down, a 26-year-old woman named Lele found herself entangled in more and more arguments with her husband, with whom she now had to spend every hour in their home in Anhui Province, in eastern China- as quoted in the New York Times.


On March 1, while Lele was holding her 11-month-old daughter, her husband began to beat her with a highchair. She is not sure how many times he hit her. Eventually, she says, one of her legs lost feeling and she fell to the ground, still holding the baby in her arms. This is the price a woman pays if her man stays at home most of the time now. “During the pandemic, we were unable to go outside, and our conflicts just grew bigger and bigger and more and more frequent,” she said. “Everything was exposed”, Lele quotes. Intimate terrorism is the term for such behavioral biases occurring due to frustration or monotony in the household which if escalates converts into the form of domestic violence which is a crime as per the laws of various countries. India also saw a surge in the number of domestic violence cases. In India, it is punishable under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Men do not realize the implications nor so even think about how helpless a woman would feel. Think about it, the only place in the world where you are supposed to feel ‘safe’ from all difficulties in life turns out to be the worst possible place for a person to stay. It is saddening to witness this kind of brutality against women, who are merely paying a price for staying in their homes now because their husbands cannot get to work and lash out their all their frustration at them. Women who were in their house before all this, during it and even after the pandemic. This is a grave concern regarding all the families that are facing a counter-reaction of spending more time with another. A lot of couples must be finding it difficult to spend this much time with their spouse as it has been years that they were not used to spend days and nights together.



PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT ON WOMEN AND CHILDREN


The everyday routine that has now been disrupted has led to severe consequences amongst the structure of a household. Parents and children are now spending more time than they ever have, and it would be safe to assume this change can only be appreciated for a short duration of time. Children and teenagers can also feel trapped in toxic households as so many children were able to keep their mental health in the balance as they were away from their families and now the notion of ‘having their own life’ has been compromised. What I mean by this is Intimate Terrorism is not only subject to women it can be subject to anyone living in that household who is facing a change in lifestyle. However, the person in power in the household which in the most are cases men; assert dominance over all other members. It is a helpless and unchangeable situation.


Everything boils down to the one fact that what can we as citizens, police officers, lawyers, government officials, peers, friends, parents, husbands, and wives do to spread the control of such behavior? It does not seem like a very easy question to answer. Even if we do everything in our power, will we be able to change the mindset of every individual who believes in the exploitation of power within their family? This seems to have stuck with our country. No matter what or how disastrous a situation may be; households within our country have their own evils and wars to fight before even getting to think about the need of the hour. What is even more concerning is the nature of such abuses. It is not only physical abuse and emotional torture, financial or economic abuse seems to hold a greater impact on people. Section 3 of the Protection of women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 gives the legal definition of “Domestic Violence which specifies it as:


a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well‑being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or

(b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or

(c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or

(d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.



INITIATIVES AND SUGGESTIONS


Abusers can tend to make people feel helpless by providing a realization that without them the victim would be nothing on their own. It is this feeling which forces people to accept abuse, accept defeat. Hence, there is an app called SHEROES which allows for direct counselling sessions with one specialist who has expertise in stress management.


Ankhee Gupta, a psychological counsellor believes from all her experience that the only reason a person is ever abused is that people treat them the way they allow themselves to be treated. If people can find adequate legal help channels or have any awareness regarding the consequences their partners can face, this can drastically decrease. It is just as simple as the absence of fear in the abusers in our country. Many foundations have been a knight in shining armor for such women by helping them come out of their toxic families. One such example is the Aks foundation, a platform that listens to the problem’s women face. Further, if required they even take legal action on their behalf if the problem continues to persist. Such initiatives got legal validation as well, through the landmark judgment of Bombay High Court in 2015 where the court observed that cases related to domestic violence can be resolved outside the court with the help of NGO’s and councillors. Barkha Bajaj, the executive director of this foundation got in touch with naree.com and spoke about their working. She stated the graveness in the problem, “80% of our calls are for domestic violence.” “Women often call out of confusion; they love their partners but are just fed up”. “They are bound to take action against this due to the stigma present of guilt and conscience in society”. She being a psychologist herself also clearly states-“you can only change someone who is willing to change”. Trying to rescue and change someone not worthy is an already lost battle[1]. And we can all agree to what she has said.


Women often live in the misconception that their men will change for the better but often spend all their lives under abuse for believing this. It basically all begins with sharing. Even if there is one person besides you who knows about this, they will make sure to make you realize this is torture and you need to get out of it. Women who keep it to themselves, suffer alone and eat up all their problems are the ones whose lives function on abuse. Just a slight argument or dissimilar interests about an issue and we know what the consequence is. All these helplines and channels can only be useful in the end if a person decides to go this path which most women do not. A fear of income, family, children, and livelihood makes them fear abandonment if they do not follow through with this behavior. This change in the mindsets, this change in the way women perceive their husbands can only be achieved if every woman no matter what social hierarchy she is a part of needs to be counselled and at least informed with the functioning of the current world and how can they bring the abusers forward, into the light. Social media and television are two platforms which are not accessible by all people in society and domestic violence is far greater in households that do not have such provisions and money. In such places, using banners and posters thoroughly in the neighbourhoods is of utmost priority. The radio is still used in poorer households and women spend a majority portion of their day listening to it. Every day, if the same message goes on repeat in their ears, we cannot assume that nothing will change. It is all about learning what you can do, should do and when should you do it.


Most of the women do not have the slightest clue regarding what to do. How can we expect them to call helplines? This is surely not a one-day process, but change begins with innovation. And I am extremely sure with the speed at which word of mouth passes in this country, if one woman in a poor household had her husband arrested for domestic abuse, all her neighbors and relatives will learn a thing or two. This is how one day every villager in that village would know that they can be arrested and put in a cell for raising a single hand on their wives.



CONCLUSION


This is not easy to conclude in any sense because this is a battle we have not even begun fighting. It is only those poor women who are fighting a battle that only has one winner. We as people can understand the pain that a person faces in such a time. We shall be the ones to take it forward. Tell our housemaids, our garden ladies, our fruit sellers, and all women we see to make sure that they know something of this sort exists and they can reach out whenever, however, and wherever. They certainly do not know they can. Once all these women are empowered, it is a matter of time before men realize that what they call a “little fight”, “argument” or “just a slap” can cause them to be in the worst possible place they can imagine. These women are ours to save, ours to love and ours to cherish for being the creators and keepers of this world. And obnoxious men would not realize this unless they are forced to. By brute force, you hit your wife; a police officer will hit you. Because obviously you are weaker than him. But wait, was that not the only reason you hit your wife? The weak and helpless will only be those things until they choose to be silent. Words are stronger and impactful than power and actions. Anyone in power can be brought down if there is enough evidence against them. And in this case, we do not even need much.

***


* The author is a student at The Northcap University, Gurugram.

[1] Shah, P. (2020, July 10). How To Find Domestic Violence Counselling, Helplines And Support In India. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from https://www.naaree.com/domestic-violence-helplines-india/ Image Source: https://tbsnews.net/thoughts/covid-19-and-domestic-violence-role-media-98377





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