As the coronavirus spread from its point of origin in Wuhan, China, late in 2019, the United Nations in April warned about the shadow pandemic, an increase in the rates of domestic violence against women. The terminology ‘lockdown’ itself is quite confusing and makes one feel stuck. This compounded with stress may produce a higher degree of aggression by the abuser towards the victim. The behaviour not only includes physical, sexual or psychological abuse but also include tactics such as forced child marriage. Women around the world are more likely to be offenders, partially because they are less trained and are less able to manage their lives than men. As more countries report infection in the lockdown, more domestic violence help lines and shelters across the world are reporting rising calls for help,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women said on 6th of April.
And as COVID-19 continues, so will the shadow pandemic. If this is not dealt with on time, it will also add to the economic impact of COVID- 19.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (India, 2005) defines “Domestic violence” as “any act of commission or omission or actions leading in physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and economic abuse” and this may range from calling names, insulting, humiliating, controlling behaviour, physical violence to sexual violence.
Domestic violence(DV) is one of the greatest human rights violations which existed even before COVID -19. As the governments, imposed lockdown to prevent this outbreak, the same restrictions have increased the risk associated with DV. 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner since the last 12 months.
THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT,2005
By virtue of this Act, all applicable laws and legislation from the feminist perspective of law is concerned with the issue of domestic abuse. It was considered “normal” practice to abuse women in the Indian patriarchal setup. Men are considered to be stronger than women and wealthier according to such an philosophy. They dominate women and their lives and can easily harm women as a result of this power play.
FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR RAPID GROWTH OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The Rapid growth of DV was mainly caused through multiple, interdependent causes :
• The stress of economic instability itself has increased alcohol consumption, and therefore increased the DV.
• Sexual assaults are most likely to increase during lockdown. India observed a rise in the pornographic viewing and selling of contraceptived and sex toys, which indirectly indicates an increase in chances of abuse of sexual rights.
• Some women can’t speak out about their perpetrators. A lack of family support can cause a woman struggle and feel like she has no option but to adhere to a relationship.
EFFECTS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ON VICTIMS
The psychological effect of mental and physical abuse on victims can be devastating in the following ways:
- • There is a sense of helplessness; often victims feel that this situation will never improve and in the long term this sense of hopelessness may cause suicidal thoughts.
- Self esteem in some cases may be lost and in the long run, depression and anxiety disorder becomes common. When faced with persistent household abuse, victims can not love themselves.
- Domestic abuse causes one to feel powerless and raise self-hatred.
IMPACT OF LOCKDOWN IN INDIA
India’s National Commission for Women (NCW) during the lockdown in India, saw a more than twice spike in gender based violence between 23rd March and 16th April Police apathy for women’s complaints has also increased threefold. Around 22-31 March, the start of the lockdown in India, the Childline India Helpline received over 92,000 calls for protection against harassment and violence. The extended confinement even held children at home with their abusers.
GOVERNMENT WORKING ON SEVERAL INITIATIVES
- The Secretary General called on all governments to make preventive and remedial action against violence against women a core element in the COVID-19 national response plans.
- • Help lines, psycho-social support and online counselling should be strengthened by using technology based approaches like SMS, social service networks and reaching people without access to telephones or the Internet.
- The police and justice systems must mobilize to ensure the high priority is given to cases of violence committed against women and girls without impunity for perpetrators.
- • The successful enforcement of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is the need of an hour. The above Act needs broad publicity across various media to raise public awareness. The establishment of temporary shelters should also be considered for arranging safe spaces (situated away from the abuser).
This domestic abuse that women are exposed to in society is primarily a product of India ‘s old patriarchal system. The degree to which it is the most unpredictable event in the entire world and in natural disasters, such as the corona virus; women face a hard time remaining indoors.
COVID-19 already checks us in the manner that most of us have never seen. The violence that arises now from this pandemic as a dark characteristic is a mirror and an essential challenge to our common values and humanities. But we rather then blaming the government, we should raise awareness of domestic violence and highlighting the different strategies through which complaints could be filed. Most of all, to counter this new reality, education, awareness and empowerment begin in a broader sense as the proverbs say WOMEN HOLD UP HALF THE SKY.
Muskan Jain, The Shadow Pandemic: An upsurge in Domestic Violence, Ex Gratia Law Journal, (October 21, 2020), https://exgratialawjournal.in/blawg/covid-and-law/the-shadow-pandemic-an-upsurge-in-domestic-violence-by-muskan-jain/.