These are difficult times for all of us. Who could have imagined that the world will come to a standstill the way it has? It almost feels like we are living in a dystopian world from which there is no going back. The only brightness in all of this is that we are safe inside the comfort of our homes. So, even though we cannot carry on with life the way we used to and want to. At least we have our families and our homes to protect us and support us. And that is a lot to be thankful for. Especially when you think about those for whom their own house is a prison.
The idea of staying inside the four walls of your home might not be as comforting for everyone as it is for most of us reading this blog. People who suffer from depression. People who are away from their families. Those who depend on their daily wages to put food in their stomachs. And so many more whom we know nothing about. Amongst these are women who suffer at the hands of the people they nourish and protect. The people whom the society calls their family, are the people who torture them, physically and mentally.
If there is one lesson that we should all take from this pandemic, it is that we as humans are all dependent on each other for our collective well-being. And this isn’t relevant only during the time of crisis. We must help everyone in need. In this blog, we touch upon one such issue that has seen an exponential rise during this lockdown, domestic violence.
What do you understand by domestic violence?
For as long as I can remember, domestic violence has been an issue in India. According to a survey done in 2018, 27% of women in India have suffered some form of domestic violence. It is impossible to get accurate stats on this issue as most cases go unreported. In rural areas, where domestic violence cases are more common, these are reported even less. But what qualifies as domestic violence?
Domestic violence is generally understood as physical abuse. However, according to law, the definition covers various aspects of domestic violence.
- Physical Abuse
- an act or conduct causing bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health;
- an act that impairs the health or development of the aggrieved person;
- the act that amounts to assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force.
- Sexual Abuse
- any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or violates the dignity of a woman.
- Verbal and Emotional Abuse
- any insult, ridicule, humiliation, name-calling;
- insults or ridiculed for not having a child or a male child;
- repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person in whom the aggrieved person is interested.
- Economic Abuse
- depriving the aggrieved person of economic or financial resources to which she is entitled under any law or custom or which she acquires out of necessity such as household necessities, stridhan, her jointly or separately owned property, maintenance, and rental payments;
- disposing of household assets or alienation of movable or immovable assets;
- restricting continued access to resources or facilities in which she has an interest or entitlement under the domestic relationship including access to the shared household.
Although the list looks exhaustive, it fails to cover several aspects like psychological abuse, threats, and stalking. As a result, so many women suffer through these problems and have no way of reporting it.
Rise in domestic violence during the lockdown in India
For many women, lockdown means living in the same house as their abusers. And the stress and frustration that comes with the quarantine are taken out on these victims. Around the world, there has been a rise in domestic violence cases being reported. In Europe, there has been a 60% rise in the reported cases. According to the World Health Organisation, “domestic violence often increases in times of crisis and is exacerbated due to restrictions and containment measures put in place to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. “We have an increase in reporting from almost all countries,” said Isabel Yordi, Technical Officer for Gender and Health at WHO Europe.”.
The National Commission for Women in India reported that between March 23 and April 16, the number of reported cases rose from 396 to 587. What is making matters worse is that because of the restriction in movement many women are unable to report the abuse. Let’s not forget women from financially weaker backgrounds are the most affected by domestic abuse. Many women depended upon access to phone services outside their homes to make the report. This has become impossible now.
Let’s not forget, that we live in a society where women are as unsafe outside their homes, as they are inside their homes.
How can we prevent domestic violence?
‘Knowledge is Power’. And what better place to begin than the law which tackles domestic abuse in India? The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005, enumerates the methods to seek justice available to victims of domestic abuse. The Act covers the procedures of filing complaints, the role of Protection officers, rights of the victim in matters of court, provision for counselling of the victim, and several other matters.
One might wonder, what is punishment under the domestic violence act? The punishment is given according to the appropriate provisions of the Indian Penal Code. It is important to note that domestic abuse is a non-bailable offence. And the Domestic violence act ensures that the victim is compensated fairly in terms of protection, residence, and monetary relief. Much of the information in the Act is relevant to lawyers and NGOs working to protect women from domestic violence. So, how can a victim seek justice? What is our role as individuals in this process?
Like I said in the beginning, this lockdown has taught us the interdependency of humans on one another. Don’t turn a blind eye towards a victim of domestic abuse. You never what one courageous action on your part might do for someone in need. Here’s a list of helpline numbers that can be of help to a domestic abuse victim, or any woman in need of help:
- 100: Police helpline number
- 181: Women Helpline number
- 011-23237166, 23234918: National Commission for Women
- Call any NGO in your vicinity which works in this area
- Every state has a dedicated helpline number for women which can easily be found online.
Don’t think that lockdown is a safeguard for women’s safety. The decrease in rapes in the streets is being offset by abuse at home. And now, as much as ever, we need to stay strong and stand by one another. Women alone can lift one another.