The pandemic has shut us safely in our homes. All are however not as safe as it would seem to be. The pandemic has led to a spike in domestic violence. With victims locked in with their abusers, for a large vulnerable group the pandemic has brought about unprecedented hardships.
Until just a few weeks ago, the country was under a comprehensive lockdown. Even as restrictions are eased, most of the country remains closed. These months of the pandemic has left the country shaken. However, the most vulnerable in this pandemic-lockdown have been the victims of domestic violence.
In April, this year, the UN Secretary General pointed out the global surge in cases of domestic violence due to the lockdowns imposed in most nations. This problem would be even more pronounced in South East Asian countries, which according to the WHO in 2019, had the largest incidences of domestic violence. A direct empirical correlation between the lockdown and incidences of domestic violence was also brought out by researchers at UCLA. It was found that the largest number of complaints, were received from areas in the ‘red zone’, ie. those that have the strictest lockdown conditions.
The J&K High Court recently took up suo moto cognizance of the issue. It ruled that all courts under its jurisdiction are to treat matters of domestic abuse as urgent. Justice Ramana of the Supreme Court also voiced his concerns over the increasing cases of domestic violence, in view of the pandemic. Lack of reporting is one of the major concerns when it comes to answering questions about Domestic Violence. As one ‘pre-pandemic’ study puts it, low rates of reporting of domestic violence could be attributed to societal norms as well as a perception among the victims, that they are alone in this experience.
With households becoming insulated silos, victims today face a greater level of estrangement with the outside world. As a result, several incidents might have already gone unreported. Agencies across the country are trying to tackle these issues and reach out to the victims. Locked up with their abusers, several do not even have the bare minimum required to lodge a complaint and take it to its conclusion. As we inevitably continue to be forced into our homes, it is legitimately feared that several complaints would still not see the light of the day.
The Government of Maharashtra has launched a web app ‘Stand Up Against Violence’ which is a joint collaboration between Akshara Centre’s Special Cell for Women and Children (TISS) and Women and Child Development Department of Maharashtra Government. It has been created to make accessible contact details of resource persons and activists who would assist victims in these troubling times. It includes mobile numbers of State and non-State agencies, service providers and women movement groups to respond to domestic violence at a subdistrict level. It makes this information available in division wise listings of Mumbai, Konkan, Nashik, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad and Amravati divisions.
It is imperative in these troubling times that we increase the avenues of assistance for the victims. Reaching out to them with assistance is the only way to avert a crisis that might have more far reaching repercussions than the COVID-19.
(Shivam Parashar is a law student at the University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi.)