As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced several countries into a lockdown, cases of domestic violence rose at an alarming pace all over the world. Many measures have been announced by the countries to reduce the spread of disease. However, even after taking a lot of measures, there have been negative consequences. According to, sociologist Marianne Hester, “domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations.”
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown, the number of domestic violence complaints received by the National Commission for Women (NCW) had doubled. The Delhi high court recently directed the state and Centre to take measures to protect women from domestic violence, following a petition filed by an NGO. The Centre, Delhi government and the national and state commissions of women submitted status reports on the action taken against domestic violence, including spreading awareness about helpline numbers, shelter or one-stop homes as well as appointment of protection officers, which the court reviewed on April 25.
Domestic violence has often been studied as an abusive expression triggered by financial stress, mental stress, fear, and of course, systemic patriarchy, that has furthered the cases of financial abuses, and at times, even murders. A report from NALSA showed that a total of 144 cases of abuse were filed in Uttarakhand alone followed by increasing cases in Haryana and New Delhi.
A major difference between our health emergency and gender-based atrocities is that there may never be a one-stop vaccine to end the latter. One of the key reasons behind gender-based violence is propagating rape/misogynistic culture in our everyday lives as a widely accepted norm. The number of crimes against women has always been underreported, even during the times of the deadly virus. ‘Me Too’, in spite of being one of the most powerful initiatives taken by the feminist movement in India, had seen many pitfalls in bringing the abusers down and at times, receiving all complaints and cases of harassment against women in India.
Another significant aspect responsible for this surge in domestic abuse is domestic labour. Gendered roles world over have placed domestic work on women’s shoulders, which is socially and culturally often demarcated as “women’s work.” Under lockdown conditions, domestic work can be especially taxing if it is not divided equitably.
While there are laws in place to protect against domestic abuse, it is not easy for the judicial system to break into the stranglehold of the patriarchal family. Neither is there societal will, as the following articles will show. In this reading list, we examine the laws and the redressal mechanisms available to women who are subjected to domestic violence.
Definition and types of domestic violence:
The term “domestic violence” includes elaborately all forms of actual abuse or threat of abuse of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and economic nature that can harm, cause injury to, endanger the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, either mental or physical of the aggrieved person. The definition is wide enough to cover child sexual abuse, harassment caused to a woman or her relatives by unlawful dowry demands, and marital rape. United Nations defined violence against a woman as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to a woman, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”.
Types of 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;
• an act that amounts to assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force.
2 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 ridicule 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, 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 by virtue of the domestic relationship including access to the shared household.
- Domestic Relationship: A domestic relationship as under the Act includes live-in relationships and other relationships arising out of membership in a family.
- Beneficiaries under the Act:
• Women: The Act covers women who have been living with the Respondent in a shared household and are related to him by blood, marriage, or adoption and includes women living as sexual partners in a relationship that is in the nature of marriage. Women in fraudulent or bigamous marriages or in marriages deemed invalid in law are also protected.
• Children: The Act also covers children who are below the age of 18 years and includes adopted, step or foster children who are the subjects of physical, mental, or economical torture. Any person can file a complaint on behalf of a child.
• Respondent: The Act defines the Respondent as any adult male person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the aggrieved person and includes relatives of the husband or male partner.
Consequences of Domestic Violence:
There are varied consequences of domestic violence depending on the victim, the age group, the intensity of the violence and frequency of the torment they are subjected to. Living under a constant fear, threat and humiliation are some of the feelings developed in the minds of the victims as a consequence of an atrocious violence. The consequences of the domestic violence in detail can be broadly categorised under – the Effect on the victim himself/herself and the family, Effect on the society and the Effect on nation’s growth and productivity. The ‘Effect on the victim’ has been further subcategorized for women, men, children and olds.
National Commission for Women (NCW) show that there have been 587 registered domestic violence complaints between 23rd March and 16th April which is a significant rise in the report between 27th February and 22 th March which was 396 between these months. The report also shows that one in every six complaints is launched via WhatsApp. NCW had published the email address of their officials to receive the complaints through their online portals as a lockdown measure as its traditional modes, i.e. post and direct registering to complain would be a difficult procedure in lockdown. But in India where the only 1/3rd of the women have access to the internet most of the cases remain unreported. It is so as victims do not get access to cell phones most of the time.
It is not that domestic violence against women has not been reported earlier. But amid Covid-19, the psychological factors are being affected to the most. The virus has mirrored the discrimination and oppression against women which exists in a male-dominated patriarchal society for centuries. Also, Covid-19 has struck the economy of the lower middle class and BPL families. A woman who was considered as a lower rung in many of such families after the lockdown had completely been economically empowered. Further, during the lockdown, women were expected to take up traditional gender roles, i.e. domestic work negligible contribution from men. All these have led to a woman being considered as second-class citizens. Thus, caged in a violent home the woman is being placed in such a situation from where it will be difficult for them to seek help. Thus, domestic abuse cases are certainly on a rise after lockdown.
While the government was putting all the blueprints of the plan together for COVID-19 the problem of domestic violence should have been prioritized. In India where domestic violence is one of the major concerns, it seems that the government has overlooked the mental health repercussions that will be caused by domestic violence during the period of lockdown.
Like various other countries, India should have taken the step to control the gender-based violence. For instance, in a country like France efforts have been made to find the solution to protect the victims from domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a historic immoral practice that continues to exist and remains hidden from the eyes of society for a long period. In the 1980s, India reorganized this as the human rights issue due to an increasing number of dowry deaths which resulted in the addition of Section 498-A. Section 498-A, states that the husband or his relative shall be punished for the term of three years and will also be liable for the fine in case of cruelty performed towards the women. With evolving law and society, it has been considered as the public health issue. Thus, the government is taking this matter more seriously than before and few campaigns are being made in support of women for domestic violence in this pandemic.
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