The Pandemic Paradox: Domestic Violence in Lockdown Period?
Around 20th April 2020, Kerala State Women Commission reported a case of extreme neglect and abuse in which the victim’s brother informed that his sister and her daughter had been hiding in a forest in the Idukki district in Kerala after her husband debarred her from coming back home. The matter was investigated by the Kerala police, and the husband was taken into custody for the grave conduct.
In India, domestic violence has peaked 10-years higher during this lockdown period, with women and children severely affected by it and experiencing extreme forms of abuse and trauma. With a reported increase of 21% domestic violence cases in India in the lockdown period. The lockdown was imposed on 25th March 2020 and since then the National Commission of Women (NCW) has received more than 220 complaints, which has also indicated a 100% increase in domestic violence cases during this period. Also, the All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice in the Delhi High Court recently stated in a news article that helplines all over the country had received more than 92,000 calls about domestic violence and abuse just within the first 11 days of the lockdown. With many claiming that social distancing is an act of privilege as people get to reside in their homes. The current news points out fractured arms, bruised legs, damaged wrists, etc. and it is also important to understand that the statistical reports do not point out the true number of cases that are happening all over the country as many are still unreported and left unheard. A lot of women fear further clashes and unrest in their households if their husbands do get to know about the filed complaint against them which creates a lot of problems leading to a more tormenting environment. Women's helpline services are available but some of them only offer paid services. This has created another backlash as women belonging to lower-income groups and those working in unorganized sectors either do not have mobiles or sufficient money to recharge balance and openly talk about their problems. The cases that are reported to police have also been observed to be only from certain sections of the society who are literate, upper class, and have access to these resources and also the power to face current circumstances with appropriate needs. Due to the digital divide, the gap caused by a lack of accessibility and availability of infrastructures such as telephonic communication and the internet has hampered the reporting of the cases in rural women.
On contemplating why the cases have gone up, one can look at different perspectives to understand how this behavior promotes abuse among the households. Some of the reasons that can be attributed to the rising incidence of domestic violence include aggression, frustration, less satisfaction by the work done by their partners, a source of entertainment, acceptance of the submissive attitude, and withdrawal symptoms. When everything is at a standstill, people have lost their job which has heightened the economic distress in households. This has also been one of the reasons for rampant abuse because of the expectation of partners from each other and might not be appropriately communicating. Due to the typical gender roles of males and females in society, there has been a burden on both genders to take up extreme responsibilities during the lockdown period. This has created problems of lack of time for leisure as they are constantly managing household works like cleaning, dusting, cooking, and also the burden of ensuring good health of all the family members.
In Malaysia, the government started a new campaign called “House-hold happiness” where guidelines were stated for women to act as dutiful wives and put on makeup to do the chores. It said that women should not be frustrated and adopt the avatar of “Doraemon”, a Japanese cartoon character to reinforce infantile mannerisms and be passive consumers to do whatever their spouses expect them to. Although these posters were taken down after a lot of criticism, this happens to some extent out of the stereotypes across the globe during this pandemic.
In recent news reported by local newspapers, the Chief Minister of Orissa appealed to people to not overburden women with the household chores. The focus continues to remain on how women should not be further pressurized with the already existing work. It has also been observed that even though certain cases can be resolved through counseling and mediators amidst the lockdown but a lot of cases would require serious intervention.
Another news that needs to be highlighted is how all over the country, the prisoners have been granted parole due to overcrowded jails during the COVID-19 when social distancing is a necessity. This also means that many of them being violent perpetrators who were jailed for offenses for more than 7 years have been left on loose with abusive tendencies that keep surfacing within their households. In Malda district of West Bengal, Sona Mondol, a 26-year-old woman was strangled by her husband. In another incident in the district, another woman was allegedly murdered by her husband for objecting to his extra-marital affair.
Even with the reopening of liquor shops, different cases of abuse after being brutally hit by the drunken husband have been reported. A 39-year-old Delhi resident dialed the police’s emergency helpline number to report how he had slapped her son after alcohol consumption, broken fan, lights, and furniture. All the anger issues that result in a fit of rage after drinking has made women feel more insecure about their spaces at home.
Stating facts, the UN agency, Sexual and Reproductive health (UNFPA) has estimated that there would be a surge of 31 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide if lockdown across the globe continued for another six months. This would result in mental illnesses like depression, sexual disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and substance abuse on the peak for the ones who are suffering.
In France and Spain, pharmacies are also being trained to spot people facing abuse through code words, such as ‘mask 19’ for women who refrain from speaking openly, to indicate that they are being abused and want to seek help.
Many times, women feel unsafe to report the cases because of the further backlash of abuse by their in-laws, orthodox members of the society, and being labeled as ‘deviant’ from the ideal societal norms. It is important to imbibe confidence and help develop self-respect in them to eventually empower them to take a stand, report the abusers and not worry about how the outcome is going to damage the reputation society builds for them. Being trapped with violent or manipulative individuals could lead to long term effects of physical and psychological abuse with other humiliating behavior that demoralizes a person and expects them to function in a toxic home environment. With the victim being isolated from family and friends, their movements monitored, and restricted financial resources; loss of employment opportunities, education, or medical care, there is an immediate need to address these issues globally for the welfare of the society. Once the survivor contacts the helpline (181), the complaint will be taken down and then forwarded to a Counsellor who would establish phone communication on account of the lockdown. The counselor is empowered to conduct sessions.
News channels, radio channels, and social media platforms can be strategically used, similar to how the government deployed campaigns recommending physical distancing and hand washing to fight COVID-19. It is necessary to understand the importance of building an inclusive society that nurtures the growth of women, a good future for the children and is inspired to be the change and transform society.