The Rising Instances of Domestic Violence During Pandemic
By: Gaurav Kumar Yadav & Mantasha Khan* |
The nation has been going through a pandemic for quite a time now and Covid-19 is not only the major reason of suffering for people but it has also contributed to another pandemic in the name of domestic violence. Lockdown has been imposed all over the world so that people can be prevented from being infected with the virus and for protection of their right to a healthy life but it is disturbing to know that the same has been responsible for rise in the cases of domestic violence. Gender-based violence is being witnessed for a long time now and if we speak generally, those victims who are physically, psychologically, and financially dependent on the perpetrators are subject to such violence. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is a public health problem worldwide, and it affects one-third of women which takes place in form of physical, verbal, sexual, and economic violence. Section 3 of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 define domestic violence as any act, omission or commission or conduct of the defendant shall constitute domestic violence in case it:
(a) Harms or hurt or endangers the health, life, safety, limb, or wellbeing of the aggrieved person, whether mental or physical, and has a tendency to do so and includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and includes economic abuse and emotional abuse; or
(b) with a view to harasses, harm, hurt or endangers the victim or any other person related to him to satisfy by using coercive force for any unlawful demand for dowry or other property or valuable security; or
(c) Any conduct referred to in clause (a) or clause (b) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related thereto; or
(d) Otherwise, the victim is physically or mentally hurt or harmed.
It is the abuse and violation of human rights like (right to life and bodily integrity, the right against torture, inhumane treatment, and right against all forms of discrimination)which results in the destruction of physical, mental, and psychological health of the victim. In Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan, the Supreme Court emphasized the fact that the right to life included in its ambit the right to live with human dignity, basing its opinion on a host of cases that had been decided in favor of this proposition. The right to dignity will include the right against being subjected to offensive sexual acts. It will also include the right against libel. These two aspects of the right to life are mentioned in the definitions of emotional abuse and sexual abuse, respectively. The concept of emotional abuse as a form of domestic violence is a praiseworthy facet of the law. It is preferable for the individual to recognize the sexual abuse of the wife by the husband as a violation, especially as such sexual exploitation is not recognized by the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as an offence.
CASES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DURING PANDEMIC
As the pandemic has already affected the mental health of many people due to various reasons like unemployment, loss of close ones, loneliness because of isolation, the surge of domestic violence cases has worsened the situation. Anyone can be subjected to domestic violence like children, elders, and any other member of the family but the rate of domestic violence on women is the highest.
According to the report published by National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4) in, 2015-, 2016, one out of every three women has been a victim of violence. But according to various reports of newspapers, organizations, it was well-demarcated that the rates of domestic violence have increased after lockdown in India. According to the recent data of National Legal Service Authority (NLSA), the rates of domestic violence have increased all over the nation after lockdown. The Report of the Complaints Received by NCW in the Year 2020 shows that although there was a gradual decrease in cases of domestic violence at the beginning of the months of lockdown as it decreased from 538 in January to 377 in April but, it took a great surge in later months as the cases rose from 552 in May to 1034 in December.
Although no reason could justify the commitment of domestic violence, there are some factors that may have contributed to the increase in cases of domestic violence during the pandemic. In general, the reason why, some people resort to violence is their childhood trauma, preexisting personality disturbance, or substance abuse. During the pandemic situation, the economic vulnerability causes livelihood issues such as prolonged unemployment, reduced income, debts, job losses, and food insecurity. This has led to chronic stress, which is well known to play a significant role in causing poor mental health and psychiatric disorders. Extremely changed circumstances resulting from the pandemic can trigger or worsen existing conflicts at home. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2019 reports that a majority (30.9%) of all the 4.05 lakh cases under crimes against women are registered under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. Section 498A of the IPC is a criminal law that protects married women from ‘cruelty by husband or his relatives’. Despite such a huge number of crimes against women, the cases of domestic violence remain unreported.
The reason behind not reporting the crimes could be due to a lack of knowledge, mistrust of the police and justice systems, or poor access to legal help. Most of the women fear that their relations will get turmoil, and the financial dependency of some women over their spouses, especially during the period of lockdown made them vulnerable enough to not report the crime against them. The major problem has been created by the lockdown which made it more difficult for the victims of domestic violence to report it as there has been a restricted movement that barred women to move to a safer place, for instance, at their maternal homes. The most important support to women is of her natal family and lockdown made it difficult for them to contact their natal family because of the constant presence of those who do abuse them as getting access to a phone and calling for help or reporting violence might be a challenge in itself. Also, the lockdown has engaged the police personnel in enforcing the lockdown and patrols making it difficult for them to devote equivalent time and efforts towards the sufferers of domestic violence. However, not only in India but there has been a surge in domestic violence cases globally. It has also been observed in countries around the world, from Brazil in Latin America, the UK in Europe, Cyprus, and Italy, and China in Southeast Asia.
The UN- Women has named Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) as ‘shadow pandemic’ because the Covid-19 pandemic has only intensified the commitment of VAWG. And as per the report of UN- Women, nearly 243 million women and girls between 15 to 49 years were subjected to sexual and/or physical intimate partner violence globally in the last year. However, it is very important for the government authorities to direct their attention towards the injustice to which victims of domestic violence are subjected to. Till now, out of 206 countries only 48 countries (including India) have considered VAW/G-related services as an integral part of their COVID-19 response plans. For example, the UK government has clearly stated that women who go out to avoid or report will not violate the lockdown rules. Spain has also given permission to women to leave the house to report abuse without any fine. Women can go to the pharmacy and request a “Mask 19”, a code word to alert the pharmacist to contact the authorities. Similarly, in France, women are asking for help in pharmacies, and the government is paying for hotel rooms for the victims of domestic violence. It has been promised by the Minister of Gender Equality to open pop-up counseling centers in shops across the country so that women can come in while carrying groceries. The government has announced an additional demand of one million euros for anti-domestic abuse organizations to help them respond to increased demand for services.
In India too, for the period from April 2020 to June 2020, legal aid and assistance have been provided in 2878 domestic violence cases and petitions have been filed in 452 cases under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 as according to the information received from NALSA (National Legal Service Authority). Apart from this, in the month of April 2020, the Jammu & Kashmir high court took Suo moto cognizance of the rise in domestic violence cases amidst the nationwide lockdown. An order was passed for creating funds for domestic violence, designating places such as pharmaceutical stores and grocery shops where the cases of domestic violence could be reported without alerting the perpetrators. The order further declared certain spaces as shelter homes such as academic institution hostels, and ordered an awareness campaign to spread awareness on this issue. It also stated that these measures need to be urgently replicated across India if we are to effectively respond to domestic violence in the times of lockdown. However, despite all such efforts, domestic violence cases keep on increasing every day.
So, with the efforts of the whole community at large, along with handling the pandemic of Covid-19, it is also important to handle another pandemic of domestic violence which is also infectious for the social and peaceful life of the victims. Some measures could be taken like making the support services as in shelters, protection services, and helpline numbers easily accessible to the victims, equal attention should be given to the cases of surging domestic violence cases by the police, giving appropriate healthcare services to the victims of domestic violence and humanitarian response, etc.
* Gaurav Kumar Yadav is a student at the Faculty Of Law Integral University Lucknow.
Mantasha Khan is a student at Career Point University, Kota.