During Corona lockdown, domestic violence cases double in India
The nationwide lockdown has made women even more vulnerable to domestic violence, as the National Commission for Women data indicates. NCW chief Rekha Sharma says that women are forced to be around their abusers for a longer period of time due to the lockdown. Around the world, as cities have gone under lockdown, the surge in crime against women is becoming a global trend.
On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak. Soon afterward, the country realised that the lockdown had left thousands of migrant workers and daily wagers stranded in cities. They neither had the means to return to their homes nor the money and the resources to survive the lockdown period. The Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border stood witness to the worst stories. Thousands of workers flocked to their home districts on foot without food and water. In the process, because of the mistake of the political establishments, migrant workers violated social distancing rules in their despair, and jeopardised the entire purpose of the lockdown.
While the government has finally woken up to contain and tackle the movement of the migrant population from cities, the National Commission for Women data indicates another ugly consequence of this lockdown.
Domestic violence cases are surging in India. This lockdown has forced many women to live in close proximity with their abusers, and for a longer period of time. They have no respite and no escape. They also don’t reach out to the police because they fear that it would make them more vulnerable.
Between March 23 and April 1, the NCW alone has received 257 complaints of crime against women through emails. These numbers could further surge as the data of offline complaints filed with the NCW has not been compiled yet. Notably, between March 2 and March 8, the NCW received far fewer complaints. To be precise – 116.
According to NCW chief Rekha Sharma, the domestic violence cases have doubled in this phase compared to the complaints filed with the commission between March 2 and March 8.
During the lockdown, the NCW has received 69 complaints related to domestic violence.
There is a six-fold increase in the rape and attempt to rape complaints filed with the NCW. During the lockdown, the organisation received 13 such complaints, compared to two complaints filed earlier.
One possible reason for the surge, as indicated by the NCW, could be the survivors switching to online ways of filing complaints. The lockdown has reduced an individual’s accessibility to police stations due to lack of transport facilities. Furthermore, it is likely difficult to get the space to talk freely on the phone in the home without being overheard, even if women have access to cellphones. Complaints related to stalking, dowry, and cybercrime against women have also witnessed a surge during this period.
The lockdown has created further hurdles for domestic violence survivors as they are unable to move away from their abusers and are forced to continue to live with their abusers, and for longer periods of time. Women are literally trapped at home with their abusers.
One such complaint has come from Uttrakhand’s Nainital district where the survivor is reluctant to lodge a complaint with the police. Sharing the survivor’s story, the NCW chief said, “In her complaint, the survivor said her husband is beating her, abusing her. She can’t travel back to her home in Delhi.”
Sharma further narrated how this survivor has been made vulnerable by the lockdown. “She doesn’t even want to go to the police. She is afraid that even if her husband is taken away by the police, her in-laws will be torturing her.” The Nainital survivor is seeking safe passage and a stay at some hostel where she could live until the lockdown is over. That speaks volumes about how vulnerable and insecure she has been feeling due to her husband and in-laws in what should be a safe space for her - her own home.
Another domestic violence complaint received by the NCW is from Punjab’s Mohali. The survivor is being harassed by her husband who is calling her “Covid-19”, adding that, “Because of you, I am suffering. You get out of my house.”
Due to the lockdown, vulnerable women are unable to reach out to the police. There is also the increased possibility of the husbands returning home and torturing them further even if they are arrested and then released.
“Earlier, the women used to go back out to their parents but due to the lockdown they are now unable to do so,” Sharma said, adding that these are peculiar complaints being received by the NCW. Restrictions on mobility have ended up making these women feel even more vulnerable.
It is important to note that these complaints were lodged through email. It is an indication that these complainants had access to internet and technology or had someone to help them out while filing the complaint with the NCW.
The helpline numbers - run by NGOs - for women to seek help in times of distress have a different story to share. For instance, distress calls to women’s organisation Jagori has gone down by fifty per cent. It is a Delhi-based organisation providing psycho-social counselling to women survivors of violence. The organisation said that a majority of women seeking help from them belonged to lower-income strata, and, due to the lockdown, might not even get a private space to call in order to complain about domestic abuse. “One has to be sure that no one is listening to their distress calls else they could be subjected to further violence,” Jaya Velankar, Director of Jagori, told Asiaville.
“The anxiety levels are high right now. There is a sense of job loss due to the lockdown as well. The women are also stressed. But it is our patriarchal set-up that has given men the right to beat women,” Velankar said. She further added that there are studies to establish that crimes against women and targetting of other vulnerable sections of society increase at times of calamity. “All our prejudices come out in more profound ways in these situations. In case of women, they are subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual violence.”
Velankar said that in order to ensure that women are able to seek help against abuse during the time of lockdown, the helpline numbers need to be identified as part of the essential services by the government.
Organisations like Jagori also argue that the government needs to add helpline numbers and messages against domestic abuse in the awareness campaign being run for the Covid-19 outbreak.
The global surge in domestic violence cases
Due to the Covid-19 global outbreak, cities around the world have gone under lockdown and there are restrictions on mobility. According to media reports, a surge in cases of crime against women is emerging as a global trend during these lockdowns.
As per a Washington Post report, Greenland’s capital banned the sale of alcohol as reports of domestic violence were surging, and Tunisia registered a fivefold increase in calls on its hotline number for reporting of crime against women. Countries such as France and Brazil have shown similar trends. The report says “Measures to control the spread of coronavirus are a nightmare for victims of domestic violence.”
The Guardian’s report also claims that there is a global increase in domestic violence cases during the Covid-19 lockdown periods. Activists are seeking the intervention of the administration to cope with this surge. For instance, in the United Kingdom, Women’s Equality Party’s Mandu Reid has demanded that the government enact emergency measures to protect women living in abusive homes, and give police powers to evict the abusers during the lockdown period.
Image Credit: Srishti Sharma/Feminism in India