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The shadow pandemic of domestic violence in India

The implementation of lockdown norms in India, to stop the spread of COVID-19 pandemic has become counterproductive for half of the population and has put the lives of women into the clutch of domestic violence. The word Lakshman Rekha as stated by the prime minister[1] to make people aware of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has become a 'shadow pandemic' of domestic violence for the women. Being home is not safe anymore, as perpetrators are also at home.

The onset of the lockdown has led to rise in the number of domestic violence cases. The data of the National Commission for Women shows that the number of domestic violence cases has spiked since the start of lockdown.[2]

This is further corroborated with the fact that Childline India Helpline has received 92 thousand calls on abuse and violence.[3] These data alone shows the sorry state of affairs and that immediate action is warranted on the part of the government.

Not to mention that most of the domestic violence cases are still not reported because of the lockdown, as it is difficult for women to reach police station or call protection officer due to the restriction placed on movement. The entire family is at home, so even a call is not possible because of lack of the privacy as everyone in India does not have the luxury of big mansions; some of them are living in small houses and sharing it with 10-12 family members.[4]

This dire situation has been rightly put in a word by the senior advocate and women's rights activist Vrinda Grover, Lockdown cannot mean that you save me from virus, but expose me to other forms of violence.[5] The havoc of domestic violence created by pandemic, administrative systems inefficiency to deal with and the recommendation and measures on how to cope with the shadow pandemic of domestic violence are discussed in this article.

Global pandemic and havoc of domestic violence

Forced cohabitation with the abuser due to lockdown and barricading by the police personnel have left women's and children with no escape during the lockdown. A restriction on movements for ordinary people is a necessary step that should be taken by any responsible government, but not at the expense of domestic violence. Closure of social spaces has given free hand to the perpetrator.

Empty roads, no one is there to hear that cry for help,
Asking strangers to help from window to save her
However, humanity has lost its way in the battle of Covid-19.


Undoubtedly, lockdown and social distancing have been proved to be the best way to minimize the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we cannot ignore the plight of women during the lockdown. Nationwide lockdown resulted in the surge of domestic violence cases everywhere in the world.[6]According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) conducted in 2015-2016, 1 in 3 women in India suffers sexual and physical violence at home.[7] Stay home stay safe slogan given by the government is an antithesis in the case of women.

As per the National Commission for Women latest report the cases of gender-based violence have doubled during the lockdown. There is a sharp increase in numbers, from 116 in the first week of March to 257 in the final week of March. Police apathy towards woman complainants has increased threefold compared to the first week of March 2020.[8]

This has happened because police personnel are busy in enforcing the lockdown measures due to Covid-19.[9] A point should be noted here that these numbers only reflect the cases on email, a vast chunk of women who reside in the rural part of India have no access to emails, so even this data represents a blurred picture of the real concern.[10]

Forget emails, women residing in rural parts of India do not have the money to recharge their phone to enjoy calling facility, the internet is still luxury for them, recharge shops are closed, it has added an extra layer of misery for them.[11]

Due to stringent nationwide lockdown, only essential services are allowed, and it appears that justice in case of domestic violence is not one of them. This apathy of government has trampled the victim's hope for justice. It does not matter how grave suffering is, but it does not concern government during this lockdown. To put it in more precise words, justice delayed is justice denied.

Another problem for working women is managing office work together with unpaid household chores at the same time. In India, the unpaid work burden on a woman is far more than a man. Dual responsibility is on women's shoulders.

The problem of women folks have been put in word rightly by the Annie raja from National Federation of Indian women, and she said that the problem is that the government had not considered the impact on families when it decided to impose lockdown. Our families are run in a feudal and patriarchal way. The works done by women inside houses are never discussed in monetary terms.

That leads to her subjugation and this further increase in a situation like a lockdown.[12] This sudden increase in cases brought everyone's attention to domestic violence against women. The United Nation also has to come forward and raise the issue.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutters has come out and openly said that many women under lockdown suffer violence where they should be safest in their homes. He urged all government to put women's safety first as they respond to Covid-19.[13]

The inefficiency of the current administrative system to deal with the shadow pandemic

It is a known fact from the history that violence has always increased against women during various kinds of epidemics and pandemics, but our current administrative system has ignored this and never tried to learn from past pandemics and epidemics with regards to the violence against women. Let us focus on the most recent outbreak of Ebola.

In the democratic republic of Congo, North Kivu, a rapid assessment shows that sexual and domestic violence has been increased against women during Ebola Outbreak.[14]

This is an example which shows that the world needs to take positive steps to protect women and girls worldwide during the epidemic and pandemic situation. Government has planned lockdown and implemented throughout the country have taken every possible step to safeguard people. However, the administration has miserably failed to take stringent measures to deal with the cases of violence against woman.

We must know that in case of violence at home, it is tragic to live with abuser inside the four walls of the house when no option for escape is available to the victim. When the situation was normal women could seek the opportunity to make a call and inform about the violence they are facing. In severe case, women are taken out the marital home, either sent to parent's home or nearest shelter home, but due to fear of Covid-19, many shelter homes are not ready to admit anyone during this crisis.[15]

The current situation warrants that National Commission for Women must come forward and take a concrete step to mitigate the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Protection officers under the domestic violence Act, 2005, should be asked to perform their duty and relaxation should be granted to them in order to make them eligible to perform their duty.[16] The National Commission of Woman's chairperson has briefed media that because of the lockdown, women are not able to reach out to the police. They do not even want to go to the police because they are afraid that once their husband comes out of the police station, he will again torture her and she cannot even move out.[17]

National commission for Women recently launched WhatsApp SOS alert number for women to encourage and come forward and report the domestic violence.[18] The Odisha government has taken a path-breaking step that domestic violence victims will not have to visit the police station to complain during the lockdown. On receipt of the telephone, the police will reach the spot/home to collect complaints/FIR and take necessary action. They can also approach police through Odisha Police Citizen Portal and Sahayata Mobile App.[19]

Conclusion and measures to deal with the 'shadow pandemic' of domestic violence

When we talk about the victims of the domestic violence, it is tough for them to seek help and complain against the perpetrator because they somewhere deep inside their heart have the fear that what if they will not get help and will be returned to home.

There is all possibility that intensity of violence might increase and perpetrators may close all communication channels for them to reach the authority.[20]Iti Rawat, founder of women entrepreneur for transformation (WEFT) organization, which works for women's empowerment, launched a campaign red dot initiative where a citizen can identify domestic violence victim by seeing Red Dot on the palm of victims and can inform police or NGO.[21]

The Bell bajao is also an anti-domestic violence campaign launched by the breakthrough in collaboration with the ministry of women and child development on August 20, 2008, this campaign aims to promote individuals actions against violence. It is high time that such a campaign is put to use, and a new campaign based on this model can be launched.

Women activist and senior advocate Vrinda Grover said that the police are not the first port of call for victims of domestic violence and, therefore, alternative arrangements have to be put in place. This will be a very long lockdown, and the government must ensure resources to help women in distress, health services to women and abortions are included as essential services.[22]

This is an extraordinary time of pandemic where seeking help is the toughest job for women in these tough times. It is a responsibility of government to ensure that the victim should be provided with essential legal assistance and protection against violence. National commission for women launched WhatsApp SOS alert that should be popularized. Still, half of the women who reside in the rural part of India are not aware of such a scheme.

The need of the hour is to promote online counselling sessions for domestic violence victims. The Victims should be given a random call to keep an eye over the abuser. Recently petition is filed in Supreme Court by an NGO called All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS), and it has made some great suggestion like allow relaxation in lockdown for reporting the cases of domestic violence.

Wide publicity of all helpline numbers through TV ads, social media, newspapers, on news channels, the radio, SMSs, Tele-Calls, Appointment of Nodal Officers should be done.[23] The government must ensure that help should reach to every last victim of domestic violence during this COVID-19 pandemic.

End-Notes:
  1. Taran Deol, Revathi Krishnan, 'Modi draws LaxmanRekha' against Covid-19, says HT, 'India's locked & loaded' on ET, THE PRINT (Mar 25, 2020, 12: 22 PM), https://theprint.in/plugged-in/modi-draws-laxman-rekha-against-covid-19-says-ht-indias-locked-loaded-on-et/387706/.
  2. PTI, Spike in Domestic Violence Cases Since Lockdown, 69 Complaints Received: NCW, BLOOMBERGQUINT (Apr. 2, 2020, 7: 52 PM), https://www.bloombergquint.com/coronavirus-outbreak/spike-in-domestic-violence-cases-since-lockdown-69-complaints-received-ncw.
  3. PTI, 92,000 Calls on Abuse and Violence on Govt Helpline in 11 Days, THE QUINT (Apr. 8, 2020, 9: 58 PM), https://www.thequint.com/news/india/government-helpline-receives-92000-calls-on-abuse-and-violence-in-11-days.
  4. Dhwani Pandya, Mumbai Races to Keep the Virus From Asia's Most Crowded Slum, BLOOMBERG QUINT (Apr.7, 2020, 7:01 AM), https://www.bloombergquint.com/coronavirus-outbreak/mumbai-races-to-keep-the-virus-from-asia-s-most-crowded-slum.
  5. Jagriti Chandra, Covid-19 lockdown | Rise in domestic violence, police apathy: NCW, THE HINDU (Apr. 2, 2020, 9:04 PM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/covid-19-lockdown-spike-in-domestic-violence-says-ncw/article31238659.ece.
  6. Raphael Minder, Vivian Wang,Constant Méheut, A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Apr. 4, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html.
  7. Urvashi Gandhi, COVID-19: How is the global pandemic threatening the safety of women and girls, HINDUSTAN TIMES (Apr. 14, 2020, 3:46 PM), https://www.hindustantimes.com/sex-and-relationships/covid-19-how-is-the-global-pandemic-threatening-the-safety-of-women-and-girls/story-iVGTsCnwnyLL05xTIuQRsL.html.
  8. Jagriti Chandra, National Commission for Women records a rise in complaints since the start of lockdown, THE HINDU (Apr. 3, 2020, 2: 22 AM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/national-commission-for-women-records-a-rise-in-complaints-since-the-start-of-lockdown/article31241492.ece.
  9. Id
  10. Rishi Ranjan Kala, High gender disparity among internet users in India, FINANCIAL EXPRESS (Sep. 27, 2019, 12:54AM), https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/high-gender-disparity-among-internet-users-in-india/1718951/.
  11. Ananya Bhattacharya, Rural Indian women are lagging far behind their urban counterparts in mobile phone usage, QUARTZ INDIA (Apr. 27, 2017), https://qz.com/india/969565/rural-indian-women-are-lagging-far-behind-their-urban-counterparts-in-mobile-phone-usage/.
  12. Shemin Joy, Coronavirus Crisis: No lockdown for domestic violence, DECCAN HERALD (Apr. 26, 2020, 7:06 AM), https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/insight/coronavirus-crisis-no-lockdown-for-domestic-violence-829941.html.
  13. UNITED NATIONS, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061052 (Last Visited May.13, 2020).
  14. INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE, https://www.rescue.org/press-release/women-and-girls-drc-facing-increased-risk-violence-and-higher-exposure-ebola-start (Last Visited May. 13, 2020).
  15. PrajwalSuvarna, VarshaGowda, Coronavirus Lockdown: For domestic violence victims, getting help is tough, DECCAN HERALD ( Apr. 26, 2020, 12: 14 AM), https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/insight/coronavirus-lockdown-for-domestic-violence-victims-getting-help-is-tough-829942.html.
  16. Prof. Ajay Pandey, Surge in Domestic Violence Against Women amid COVID-19 Lockdown, INDIA LEGAL (Apr. 12, 2020, 12: 35 PM), https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/news/surge-domestic-violence-women-amid-lockdown-95833.
  17. Neeta Lal, India's Shadow Pandemic, THE DIPLOMAT (Apr. 17, 2020), https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/indias-shadow-pandemic/.
  18. AmbikaPandit, NCW launches SOS number for women facing domestic violence during lockdown, THE TIMES OF INDIA (Apr. 10, 2020, 9:06 PM), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ncw-launches-sos-number-for-women-facing-domestic-violence-during-lockdown/articleshow/75086273.cms.
  19. ANI, Victims of domestic violence need not to visit Police Station for lodging FIR: Odisha Police, BUSINESS STANDARD (Apr. 14, 2020, 11: 10 PM), https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/victims-of-domestic-violence-need-not-to-visit-police-station-for-lodging-fir-odisha-police-120041401682_1.html.
  20. Id. at 8.
  21. PTI, Using A "Red Dot", Women Report Domestic Violence Cases Amid Lockdown, NDTV (Apr. 4, 2020, 5:24 PM), https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/using-a-red-dot-women-report-domestic-violence-cases-amid-lockdown-in-coronavirus-pandemic-2206146.
  22. Id. at 4.
  23. Nilashish Chaudhary, Stop Intimate Terrorism: Plea In Delhi HC Against Increase In Domestic Violence And Child Abuse Cases During Lockdown, LIVE LAW (Apr. 16, 2020, 9:25 PM), https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/stop-intimate-terrorism-plea-in-delhi-hc-against-increase-in-domestic-violence-and-child-abuse-cases-during-lockdown-155351?infinitescroll=1.

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