"The Lockdown is a huge downside for victims exposed relentlessly to their abusers"
When the Prime Minister announced a nationwide lockdown on March 23, 2020, a nascent thought that found its way into the vertices of my mind was the circumstances that victims of domestic violence will now find themselves in, especially since the victims will now be forced to spend each day with their perpetrators.
After all, being confined at home with their abuser makes victims more vulnerable, because there is no escape.
I pondered; will this lockdown be a huge downside for victims who will be relentlessly exposed to their abusers?
Further introspection led me to the realisation that now, especially since these victims will be spending all time with their abusers at home without any respite, which they would otherwise most often get due to work, social concerns etc. will it not lead an explosion in domestic violence across India?
On Friday, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that stay-at-home orders and quarantine measures taken to try to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic will likely lead to an increase in domestic violence.
"Sadly there are reports of an increase in domestic violence since the COVID19 outbreak began. We call on countries to include services to end violence as an 'essential service' that must continue during the response" Dr. Tedros added.
Escalation In Number Of Complaints In India
To have unpleasant thoughts and watch them unfold into reality is unsettling indeed. Be it as it may, in the last few days, various news reports have been awash with escalating numbers of domestic violence cases in India. In one week (from March 23 to April 2), National Commission for Womenreceived a total of 256 complaints, including 69 domestic violence complaints by women. Further, the commission has claimed that the number of complaints received has doubled since COVID19 took center stage in India. What is even more worrying is that there has been a more than a double rise in online complaints of police apathy against women during the lockdown.
Escalation In Number Of Complaints Globally
Unfortunately, these numbers are the grim reality globally. In France, domestic violence has risen by 36%since the beginning of the lockdown. In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morisson announced a 75% rise in Google searches for help since start of the lockdown. In the UK, calls to the national abuse hotline went up by 65% last weekend.
Even though the glaring reality is outright disappointing, there is an urgent need to ramp up efforts by policy makers in these unprecedented times.
Indeed, there is a crisis that the world is currently grappling with, but unprecedented circumstances also call for unprecedented decisions.
What Approaches Are Being Adopted Internationally?
From an international perspective, countries have been adopting a pro-active approach in tackling escalating complaints of gender-based violence, especially in these unexampled circumstances.
Apropos this, since victims are unable to move out freely (due to fear of being reprimanded by authorities) and report violence or make calls (as they are constantly exposed to their abusers at home), prevailing discourse has led to finding solutions.
In France, the government has announced that it will be paying for victims to stay in hotels. Notably, "pop-up counseling centres" will be installed in shops in the hope that women out buying groceries will be able to access them easily.
In the United Kingdom, the police are encouraging victims to use what they are calling a silent call: by calling the emergency number 999 and then dialing 55 the police say that they will recognise the call as "a cause for concern".
In Australia, the government has given a $142 million boost in funding to tackle domestic violence.
What is India's Approach At Tackling Escalating Complaints During The Lockdown?
Currently, systematic steps have not been taken in order to tackle the issue at hand in India. Even though, a number of NGO's and individuals have come out in support of domestic violence victims across the nation and made helpline numbers and email ID's available for victims wanting to reach out for help, no policies have been formulated in this regard. Women centric helplines for reporting crimes are definitely active but no strategy has been laid down by the Government(s) at tackling this huge crisis.
What India Can Do?
Anitha Bhatia, UN Women Deputy Executive Director on March 26, 2020called on government's across the globe to pay heed to the impact of the pandemic on women's health & Safety. While emphasizing on the need for adopting a pro-active approach which includes prioritizing women's personal safety while responding to the pandemic, she highlighted that the conditions of lockdown - isolation, social distancing, restrictions on freedom of movement— are, perversely, the very conditions that feed into the hands of abusers who now find state-sanctioned circumstances tailor-made for unleashing abuse.
Therefore, till India is able to come up with an action plan to deal with this issue while dealing with the crisis of the pandemic, some immediate steps in the interim are the need of hour.
One of these steps can be upping the availability of shelters, specifically for women & children who are victims of abuse and making hotlines as well online counseling & psychological support a priority.
Moreover, since women and children are more prone to being victims of violence at home, restrictions on their movement must be lifted, so that they are able to approach authorities or escape an abuser.
There is also an urgent need to allow support channels like NGO's that work in this space to be allowed to respond easily and this must come under the aegis of "essential services" and should be notified at the earliest.
Regular checks in slums are a must and social workers must be given easy access to travel to these areas during the lockdown, mostly because migrant workers who are women may not be in a position to even report the abuse due to lack of access.
Views of the Author are personal
Ankit Kumar, "Domestic Violence", Mail Today, April 3rd2020
Supra note 3.