Naimisha Pradhan is currently pursuing law from O.P. Jindal Global law School in Sonepat. She has graduated with a Political Science degree from Lady Shri Ram College for Women. Naimisha is an avid reader, a dancer, a hockey player and a passionate student of International Relation, Public Policy and Law.
Towards the end of March 2020, India went into an inevitable and extensive lockdown impacting millions of its people. The detrimental consequences of the pandemic have not only been limited to the loss of life but also have severe socio-psychological consequences. As 29th May 2021, there have been 169 million confirmed cases of and 3 million deaths, reported to the WHO. The COVID-19 pandemic shut all individuals within four walls limiting it reach within its arm’s reach. With a lockdown of this nature, India saw a steep rise of almost fifty percent increase in the domestic violence complaints according to the National Commission for Women in the report of complaints received by them in 2020. The commission recorded an appalling number of 5297 cases under Protection of Women against Domestic Violence and 7715 cases under the Right to live with dignity in 2020 alone, with the state of Uttar Pradesh being the record holder.
Domestic violence is one of the most spiteful and appalling gendered crime of the society. Research has indicated the unavoidable aftermath of domestic violence, be it physical, sexual or emotional, with a defencelessness towards psychopathologies with possible physical injuries. Over the years crimes against women globally has become entrenched within the society with most common perpetrator being the intimate partner or husband. Universally, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by any perpetrator in their lifetime. Violence against women remains a major threat to public health and women’s health during emergencies. During this pandemic, crimes against women has significantly surged globally with 75% in Australia, 38.2% in Turkey, 32% in France, 25% in UK and other countries.
The narrative of such crime proposes that men or women have reduced interactions during their course of employment which create spaces for any violence or misdemeanour to crawl in whereas when the same are unemployed this violence records an increase in occurrence. According to Daniel Schneider, a professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, unemployment among men led abusive behaviour during the Great Recession of 2000s. His study also showed how men felt increasingly anxious and out of control over their jobs and financial security, resulting in a increase of dominance over their partners sometimes leading to the point of abuse a way for the man to assert his notion of masculinity. Rajiv Bhattacharya in his book Behind closed doors: Domestic violence in India, explains how the patriarchal philosophy is evident in almost every sphere of life, with the example of an Indian family where the male is referred to as the annadata (the giver of food), which interprets the male-worshipping and upper handedness theory prevailing.
When the victim is unable to leave the space shared with the perpetrator and get away from the abusive situation due to a strict lockdown in the initial months of the pandemic, the situation is referred to as ‘locked down with the abuser’, which were the circumstances in India 2020. Remarkably Ellsberg, and colleagues found that among women, temporarily leaving the abusive partner is one of the most common strategies to deal with violence. Given the entrenched gender norms in the society many women find it near to impossible to step out of their houses other than for their work, confining them to the four walls of their houses, whereas the men mostly have the privilege of movement free of any judgement or restrictions. As a result, such confinement to the place of conflict might also explain the brutality that women encountered in terms of physical violence and suicide cases. The connection between getting locked down with the abuser and surge in domestic violence cases is supported by the drop in reports of domestic violence in June and July, after the unlocking process started.
The National Commission for Women launched a WhatsApp number in the pandemic to give digital access to those who were in need of help or even assistance. The real issue which crops up here is the limited reach this facility has, as only 38% of women in India own phones and fewer have an internet connection, making this platform inaccessible to majority of women in the country. Even the postal offices have seen inconsistency in their deliveries given the situation which put the rest of the women who had the option of mailing their complaints. So what happens to those without the privilege of a phone, stable internet or free movement? Another issue which can be noted is that the natal family is usually the first point of contact for the victim. They are not only crucial in advocating the victim in filing a complaint but also facilitate filing of complaints to the police. The constant presence of the perpetrator makes it difficult for the victims to contact their first respondent which ultimately dissuades them from reporting to institutionalised channels. Lastly the inaccessibility and unavailability of the formal support system has been a major discouragement for the victims. The system under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act has not been identified as an essential service during the lockdown. Therefore, the protection officers were not able to visit households of victims, NGOs were not able to have physical interactions with them and the police officers being at the frontline in our effort to tackle COVID-19 were overstretched to help victims effectively.
The risks of violence that women and their children have faced during the COVID-19 crisis have provided an opportunity to improve and put in place efficient systems to protect women from violence. Reinforcing the health-care system and a systemic response should ensure that the intersectionality of race, geography, class and caste inequalities, gender, and sexuality is taken into account. It is important that specific needs of women are addressed and those who have faced violence if possible participate in the planning. In the protection of women, besides recognition of the structural nature of violence, the government should provide an integrated response that involves a collaboration of policymakers, the police, justice system, shelters, mental health and social services, technology experts, researchers, NGOs, and women survivors is the way forward in creating a comprehensive and inclusive action plan for pandemic and lockdown response to DV.