Women’s Woe: Masking Insidious Domestic Abuse under Covid-19 Crisis

Written by Divya Sharma & Dr Anita Banerjee

domestic violence 2

Engulfing the globe under its grim, the unprecedented Corona Virus (COVID-19) has surprisingly shown an upsurge in domestic violence cases worldwide. India being the second most populous country has witnessed around 2.5 times spurt in domestic abuse cases since the nationwide lockdown in March 2020, which is the most prevalent form of crime often termed as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) that is a gender-based violence sabotaging women within the so-called safe shell of the house.

Having considered the horrifying surge in domestic violence and incidental emergency, the clarion call issued to all countries to prioritize women safety by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on 6th April 2020,  has been grossly discounted, resulting in domestic abuse cases affecting the overall well-being of the women. It not only reveals the apathy of the Government in addressing the shadow pandemic but also unfolds weaker institutional mechanism for reporting domestic violence cases.

Despite having piecemeal legislations protecting the rights of women against discrimination, violence and atrocities in 21st century, India is declared “the most miserable country for women safety” in “The World’s Most Dangerous Countries for Women, 2018” Report by Thomson Reuters Foundation. World Health Organization (WHO) with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South Africa Medical Research Council revealed that every third women (around 35 per cent) in India suffers sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Added to this, around 27 per cent of women since the age of 15 years battles against harsh violence in India according to the Fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2018) by Union Health Ministry.  For that matter, Uttar Pradesh with 59,445 cases in 2018 is declared the most unsafe state for women according to “Crimes of India-2018” Report released by National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) making domestic abuse the top gender- related crime in India. Most Populous State of U.P. is so understaffed (1:1000), exasperating the situation further where women are even more underrepresented. Additionally, the Global Gender Gap Index (2020) places India in 112th position among 153 countries, having   also dropped fourteen places from 2006, reflecting higher gender imbalances and ineffective policies in complying with the principles of rule of law which has led to impairment of women in the society.

The medical infrastructure in India has revealed that it is insufficient, if not non-existent, to meet the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic. While ordinary victims of physical or sexual violence were already exposed to a deficient societal evil, the pandemic unfortunately has degenerated their conditions with the likes of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abortion, miscarriage, suicidal gestures, gynaecological problems, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, to name a few, as reported by WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research (SRH). This can further be supported by Gender Inequality Index Rank 2019 placing India in 95th position in terms of health, worsening the conditions of women.

We are at crossroads in this pandemic times, highlighting the shortcomings of the existing institutional framework pertaining to women safety laws. The plight of women in India has been overlooked during current COVID-19 crisis leading to catastrophic situation caging women at home with her tormentor spouse, where she remains at the mercy of a person who should be behind bars in unfortunate cases. It brings to the fore our policy failure and lack of coherent National Strategy to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG3), without adequately addressing domestic abuse and access to affordable healthcare. It also speaks volumes about inefficacy of fixing priorities by the Government when the National Commission of Women does not even have Constitutional Status despite its duties falling under Fundamental Rights of women as a whole, perhaps carefully avoided to shield it from Writs directed at them, considering the rampant failure of laws to protect women from Domestic Violence. It is important to treat women in Domestic roles at par with the ‘essential services’ workers and the protection so extended must cover measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic and its responses. India, sadly, has abundant of laws relating to women’ safety, but has very weak mechanisms to enforce it, besides women centric laws has proved to be obsolete in the present crisis.

Interestingly, Sweden was ranked the best Country for women as per CEOWORLD, while India lags at 49. The French government has encouraged victims to discreetly seek help at pharmacies. The Italian government on the other hand has launched a new app, “YouPol” that will enable them to ask for help without making a phone call. Whereas most  Indian Women lack the access and awareness to technology, especially for destitute women, leaving no choice for her to spend on technological infrastructure, while prioritizing existential well- being of family as a homemaker. An illiterate woman in rural part of India cannot be expected to be as adept in seeking legal remedies as a literate Urban Indian Woman. Though the Government of India has sanctioned Rs 1,672 crores under ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ by the Ministry of Home Affairs for women safety, only 9 % or lesser have been utilised, abysmally showing lackadaisical approach of the states and union territories towards women security in the country. Government needs to pull up its socks.

However India is yet to devise pragmatic methods unique to Indian Women’s plight, to tackle domestic violence in this crisis, making it more cumbersome in a Patriarchy driven society. It is this patriarchy which manifests in coercive control over women, needs to be addressed at its root as the victims of domestic abuses are riddled with barriers unable to meet ends of justice, primarily because the system of justice has been unable to evoke confidence in such victims. The government, judiciary and the society need to work in tandem to uproot the demon before domestic violence turns into a pandemic. To live in a country “where the mind is without fear”, it is pertinent that women who constitute around 50% of total population should become “Nirbhaya” (Fearless) only then the “head will be held high” by our country in its entirety.

Divya Sharma is working as an Assistant Professor of Law in Andaman Law College, Port Blair).

Dr. Anita Banerjee is working as an Assistant Professor of Economics in Andaman Law College , Port Blair).



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