A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Delhi High Court seeks immediate steps to ameliorate the deplorable conditions being faced by victims of domestic violence and child abuse who are stranded with their abusers amid the nationwide lockdown.
The petition urges the Court to take cognizance of the issue and devise methods to address the same in light of data that shows an increase in cases of domestic violence since the imposition of the lockdown. The culmination of various factors ensures that a woman, who is isolated day in and day out with her abuser, bears the brunt of this unprecedented situation.
"Stress, potential job or economic losses, the disruption of social and protective networks, and decreased access to services all are essential factors. As distancing measures are put in place and people are encouraged to stay at home, the risk of intimate partner violence is likely to increase even further. Women may have less contact with family and friends who may provide support and protection from violence. Women bear the brunt of increased care work during this pandemic."
The Petitioner, an NGO called All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS), thus apprises the Court of the "horrific surge" in cases of domestic violence globally since the COVID-19 outbreak and details the devastating impact that such abuse has on the mental, physical and sexual health of women and children who suffer silently.
It is argued that the Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution provides for a 'dignified life', which is being denied to these victims. Given that the lockdown is an unprecedented one, women and children who are suffering do not have access to proper help. The reach of helplines put out by Women's Commissions are limited, access to police personnel and courts is restricted and accessing protection from friends and family too is remote.
Keeping the above issues in mind, AICHLS has made a few suggestions which may be implemented in exercise of powers under Sections 34, 51 and 65 of the Disaster Management Act 2005:-
· Appointment of Nodal Officers to attend distress calls by victims
· Setting up area-wise hotline numbers, to be made functional 24/7 which may be maintained by NGOs and the Delhi government
· Wide publicity of all helpline numbers through TV ads, social media, newspapers, on news channels, the radio,SMSs, Tele-Calls, etc.
· Offering free online or tele-counselling facilities for both the victim and the abuser
· Requisition or identification of certain properties by the State Government, in all zones in Delhi, to set up temporary shelters with basic facilities for victims of domestic violence. Wide publicity of the same
· Allow relaxation/exemption to any person who breaks the norms of the lockdown as a result of trying to report abuse
· Establishing a silent call or helpline number/facility or a code word (as agreed upon by authorities) which may be used to report domestic violence, as the proximity of the abuser during the lockdown may not allow the victim to make the complaint in any other manner
The High Court has been urged to consider these suggestions and order the same to reduce the sufferings of such victims.
The Petition is filed through Advocates Mithu Jain, Arjun Sayal and Vidisha kumar