On 11th March 2020 Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, which spreads mainly through close contact. COVID-19 is a new coronavirus, meaning it is unlikely that one has natural immunity to it. The new term that has entered the coronavirus vocabulary is ‘community spread’, this means that people in specific areas have been infected even if they do not know how and from where they contracted the virus. With a disease which is highly transmittable and can have lethal results, many countries including India underwent lockdown, it is an inevitable step taken by the government across borders to curb the rising cases of COVID-19.
The abrupt lockdown in India affected the normal lifestyle of the people, including mode of working and pedagogy. On one hand lockdown is bringing families closer whereas on the other there is a rise in the cases of Domestic Violence. Lockdown and domestic violence are interlinked. To understand this link it is crucial to have a concise idea about domestic violence because the Indian perception of domestic violence has been restricted to just physical abuse. Section 3 of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 defines domestic violence as-
- Physical abuse- includes physical force used against the victim in way which causes injury to her.
- Sexual abuse- any conduct of a sexual nature which abuses, humiliates, degrades or violates the dignity of the victim .
- Verbal and emotional abuse- ridicule, insult, humiliation, name calling especially with regard to having child, male child or threatening to hurt any person in whom the victim is interested.
- Economic abuse- A way to control the victim through economic resources. It includes: rigidly controlling the finances, making liable for every penny used, restricting the allowance, prevent from making independent choices.
Women are the main victims of domestic violence around the world, especially in India. In ancient India, women were treated with reverence but with the coming of Brahminical scriptures the downfall and various kinds of abuse of women commenced and continued long enough till oppression of women was normalized and their rights were seized. During the British era, some inhumane practices against women like Sati Pratha and child marriage, could come to an end with help of the British and Indian social reformers like Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and many others. The British introduced us to codified laws and also played an important role in giving birth to the most detailed Constitution that is the Constitution of India, 1950. Article 15 (3) permits ‘protective discrimination’ in favour of women according to which a state can make special provisions for women and the scope of this article is wide enough to cover the entire range of state activity including employment. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 is a civil law to provide more effective protection to the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the domestic household.
Domestic Violence against women is unfortunately a prominent reality of India which is a patriarchal society. Men are given more opportunities than women, be it in studies, jobs or even taking birth. Gradually things are changing, women are proving that they deserve to be treated as equal to men, not only on papers but in reality too, yet behind closed doors the reality of many women is nerve-wracking which includes one or another form of domestic violence. It is not limited to any place, society, caste, class or age. Domestic violence is among the gravest forms of human rights violation as it strips the victim of dignity and respect. Many women in India undergo physical, psychological, sexual or economical torture over trivial matters like not cooking on time or over solemn matters like dowry demands. According to‘United Nation Population Fund Report’ around two-thirds of married Indian women are victims of Domestic Violence and 70 per-cent of married women in India between the age of 15 to 49 are victims of beating, rape or forced sex. Even though majority of domestic violence cases include violence against the wife by the husband or the family of the husband, it also includes other female members of the family even the domestic help. With such appalling statistics it is evident that women irrespective of their relation to the man are being ill-treated.
Dr. Ghebreyesus said that COVID-19 is not just a public health concern, but a crisis that will touch every sector and it is true, with the lockdown in India 75% of the Indian economy along with its people was under lockdown, leading to major termination of jobs, ranging from white collar jobs to manual labour in houses, salaries being held to ruination of start-ups and other forms of economic loss in the lives of people due to lockdown. Abusers tend to get more intensely violent when they are at home for a long period of time and the economic stress in the families has also contributed in exacerbation of domestic violence. Moreover, due to lockdown, few people visit each other, that means there is increased isolation, henceforth leading to escalation of domestic violence. Fewer visitors to the household may mean that evidence of physical abuse by the partner or family member goes unnoticed. The insights of expanding violations against women is shocking, where women are exposed to violent assaults for instance female infanticide and foeticide, medical neglect, child marriages, constrained marriages, sexual harassment at home and at work places etc. In all these cases women are considered as the aggrieved individual.
During lockdown in India, many cases regarding domestic violence are going unreported because it is not easy for the women in India to lodge an FIR as there are strict curfews imposed on some parts of the states. The police who are generally the First Responders are known to be negligent to women in rural areas. Now, many of the victims do not even register the complaint against the perpetrators because of the stigma attached to divorce in India. According to India’s national family health survey only 14% of women who experienced violence have sought help and the rest 86% did not even bring it up. The reason that has led to a hike of cases at this time is because the abuser feels frustrated due of lack of control over his lifestyle and this prompts them to exercise greater control by violently abusing their partner. Sometimes victims face difficulties in reaching out to commissions or NGOs as the perpetrators are always nearby. Furthermore, in low-wage households, husbands are more abusive towards their partners. Women who are financially dependent on their counterpart tend to suffer more. Not only the middle and the lower class face this problem but it is also prevalent among the richer sections of the society where women are financially independent.
Women can seek shelter under Section 498A of IPC which states that the husband or relative of husband of the woman subjects her to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was implemented by the government to protect women form the perpetrators. In the landmark case of Savita Somabhai Bhatiya vs State Of Gujarat And Ors, the Supreme Court held that Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act not only ensures protection to the married women but it also secures the right of a live-in relationship couple, and also under Section 125 of the Indian Penal Code, a woman does not have to necessarily file for a divorce to have a right to receive maintenance from her husband.
However, the authorities need to take effective measures by not only publicizing the help-line numbers but through vigilant and regular checking of suspicious houses during the ongoing pandemic. Moreover, the victim may approach professional counsellor, mediators and even psychiatrists through internet platforms for help. The authorities can also adopt an approach by initiating informal complaints in nearby medical, grocery, or stationary stores to whichever the victim visits frequently. This way all protective measures must be proclaimed as a significant support to protect the domestic violence victims.
In a nation with profoundly established patriarchal morals, where women are supposed to tolerate everything that is tossed in their way, immense violence against them is expected. With the extension of lockdown, the sentence of confinement for the victims only gets prolonged. A lot of women feel helpless and hopeless with the situation that they are stuck in. Battling these beasts who prey upon the frangibility of women is as salient as handling the pandemic. The government and law enforcement offices need to comprehend the severity of the issue. We have to ensure that these victims are not overlooked while the battle against the pandemic goes on.
About the authors
Anshala Verma and Riddhiman Roy Choudhuri are 3rd year students pursuing BBA LLB from KIIT School of Law.