Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women has termed the gender-based violence running parallel to the COVID-19 crisis as a shadow pandemic . The deep rooted clutches of COVID-19 is causing far grave consequences than estimated which engulfs not only the medicinal aspect, but also on the domestic front. Domestic violence inflicted upon women within their households unfolds many repercussions in its victims such as long term mental trauma, serious physical injuries in a time when medical facilities are focused in battling the virus, increased unplanned pregnancies due to no access to birth control interceptive, fear amongst children who had to witness such sight, etc. amongst many. National Commission of Women in its report has stated that there has been a 100% rise in domestic violence amid COVID-19. Not only have problems such as unpreparedness and poor health infrastructure of our country come to the fore, the age old vices including that of domestic violence, have resurfaced.
THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT, 2005 :-
An Act that aims to address the evil of domestic violence against women and provides different mechanisms/authorities for the purpose of reporting the incidents such as Service Providers, Magistrates, Protection Officers. One of the most notable contributions made by the Act is the wide array of violence as defined under Section 3: Definition of Domestic Violence which includes physical, sexual, emotional or verbal, and economic violence. This beneficial legislation aims at ensuring protection of women and placing the victims out of the vulnerable position. Nevertheless, it has not been much of use during the current dire times. Along the gates of the Courts, the cries of women have been closed shut. Only matters that demand urgency and are of great essence are being taken up by the Courts virtually with little or sometimes no access of e-proceedings to the litigants. Alas, domestic violence matters do not see the light of the day because apparently they are not urgent enough to be redressed during uncertain times like these. The DV Act has undeniably contributed much to address the plight of women leading strenuous lives, dependent upon the mercy of their abusers and has been given wide and beneficial interpretations such as in the case of Hiral P. Harsora & Ors. v. Kusum Narottamdas Harsora & Ors. (2016) 10 SCC 165, wherein the SC quashed the term "adult male person" U/S 2(q) of the Act, thereby extending the remedies available to the aggrieved person not necessarily available against a male person, but also against the female relatives and underage family members. Notwithstanding the utility of this Act, the present contagion has brought to notice its ineffectiveness in the times of a pandemic. With the Courts functioning close to half of its capacity and the law enforcement agencies such as the police forces charged with the compliance of national lockdown, it makes one wonder how low the State and its machineries place the problem of violence against women in its priority list. Recognising the gravity of this shadow pandemic, an NGO named All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties & Social Justice recently moved the Delhi High Court to provide a mechanism for advancing a helping hand to the victims of domestic violence and child abuse. The petitioner has termed the uprise in abuse against women and children as "intimate terrorism". A two Judge Bench while addressing the matter directed the Centre and the Delhi Government to hold a top level meeting to arrive at measures for placing a curb on the ill practices of domestic violence and for the same to be implement strictly forthwith. Similarly, Karnataka High Court entertaining several PILs on the subject in issue posed questions to the State Government whether necessary actions were being taken in view of the provisions and remedies envisaged in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. The Karnataka Government answered in affirmative and informed the Court about the implementation of 'Santhwana' Scheme which aims at providing medical, mental and legal help to the victims. According to their submission, there are presently 193 Santhwana Centres fully operating 24x7 at district and taluk levels.
A WAY FORWARD :-
Firstly, Protection Officers should be granted movement passes during lockdown to perform checks and carry out rescue drive at homes from where complaints have been received.
Secondly, all-women Shelter Homes be established for placing victims of domestic violence adept with proper hygienic conditions and counselling facilities for the inhabitants.
Thirdly, arrangement of transportation meant exclusively for rescue operations and placement of victims at Shelter Homes or One Stop Centres.
Fourthly, functioning of 24x7 helplines that direct the aggrieved caller to appropriate help such as legal aid cells, professional counsellor. Further, such services be started up on other modes of communication including WhatsApp.
Fifthly, each State Commission for Women must carry out awareness drives in localities wherein the available helplines are publicised.
Sixthly, relaxation of restrictions in the operations of Courts from only taking up matters of extreme urgency to slightly less urgency, nevertheless of crucial nature including those of domestic violence.
Seventhly, granting of Residence Order to the aggrieved woman as recognized in DV Act, and removal of the abuser from the house premises to appropriate shelter home in lieu of the victim, paying heed to the unhygienic, unsafe and congested state of shelter homes.
Eighthly, respectable members of the society pursuing noble professions such as the lawyers, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, professional counsellors, mediators be encouraged to lend their services to those in need via video-conferencing, telephoning, WhatsApp, etc.
Ninthly, designate certain informal spaces for reporting of such instances by women such as grocery shops, departmental stores, dairy shops.
Tenthly, permitting women to move outdoors during lockdown to report incidents of domestic violence to the concerned authorities and sensitisation of police personnel towards this issue for smooth coordination.
The proportional rise in domestic violence cases along with those of Corona virus serves as a mirror to the society. The problem starts at home in exposing kids to differential behavior based upon their gender. This idea of suppressing women even in the subtlest forms make home in young boys that lead to abusive domestic cycle being repeated in future. Even after nth number of years of evolution, however educated or affluent a man is, in times of meagre restrictions, we find that his bottled up frustration is let out on a woman. Pandemic or no pandemic, every woman is accustomed to fight one since birth. Nonetheless, there exists a ray of hope that the State will play a proactive role in bringing long due justice and establish a society standing on the pillars of equality and liberty and that it does not take us another pandemic to extract the deep instilled patriarchal roots.
Views are personal only.