Lockdown? Not For Domestic Violence.

We all have heard at least once of someone amongst our families, friends or known ones who have suffered some or the other form of domestic violence. Domestic abuse or violence means family violence or any other abuse in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. It has a broader meaning as it does not only include physical abuse but also includes verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive, and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse such as choking, beating, female genital mutilation, and acid throwing that results in disfigurement or death.

● To be more specific, Domestic violence is defined by Section 3 of the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 as “any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it:
  1. Harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or

  2. Harasses harms injures or endangers the aggrieved person to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or

  3. Has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or

  4. otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.”

India has a patriarchal set up wherein it became an acceptable norm to abuse women. The reasons for the crime against women are many but if we see from the feminist standpoint, we can clearly see the occurrence of domestic violence begins from the patriarchal setup, the stereotyping of gender roles, real or perceived, in society.

Even after, all these years of awareness we can clearly see a rise of this brutal act in this pandemic lockdown worldwide. According to the National Commission for Women in India, the number of domestic violence cases has shot up. Thus, there has been a sharp rise in the number of distress calls during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Only in Punjab, official figures reveal that twenty-one per cent increase in the number of crime against women in the state, with 700 cases of domestic violence alone. The number of cases has risen from 4,709 to 5,695 since March, with domestic violence cases going up from 3,287 to 3,993 during the lockdown period.

Such facts and figures are coming from all other states, on 20th May, the state government of Chennai informed the Madras High court that a total of 616 complaints of domestic abuse was received across the state from March 25 to May 14.

Although, we all know a few victims come up with their complaints and file cases in India. Even in normal times, women facing domestic violence in India rarely turn to the police. One-third of women in India's 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey(NFHS) said they had experienced domestic violence, but less than one per cent of them sought help from the police. But this lockdown has made it even worse. The country initially went into a complete lockdown from March 25 to April 14, which was later extended till May 31 and hence, several police, official and NGO helplines have witnessed a decrease in the number of calls they received during the lockdown period. For example, the Delhi Commission of Women (DCW) witnessed a decrease in calls related to domestic violence from 808 during March 12-25 to 337 during April 7-20. The Indian government has recognized this connection and the National Commission for Women has launched a Whatsapp helpline. This also shows the gravity and prevalence of the issue at hand. It has been reported that the number of complaints of domestic abuse rose by 53% in the first week of the lockdown (March 23-April 1) in India. This is clear that the issue needs urgent attention not only from the government but from all of us as it is high time to address issues that not only are criminal in nature but affect the larger society. Indeed, there are many acts and laws which are there for the victims of intimate partner violence but the law can only provide the support to victims to hold on to, it is only through a change in societal attitudes that victims can be empowered to reach out for those supports to hold on to them and to find their way out. As I mentioned it earlier, we do have many laws but what we need is awareness among the people that they know their rights and laws relating to them.

Now, Under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, harassment for dowry by the husband or his family is considered a crime. This harassment can be either mental or physical. Even though marital rape is not recognized as a crime in India, forced sex with one’s wife can be considered cruelty under this section. That's not it, this section has a wider meaning, it also covers any and all wilful conducts against a woman which drive the woman to commit suicide or grave injury or risk to life, limb or overall health.

Furthermore, the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005 prohibits a wide range of abuse against women. The scope of the Act covers women who are in a live-in relationship and are not married. A woman has the choice to be free from violence and has various options under this Act. She has a right to get an order of protection against her husband and his family, to continue living in the same house i.e. she cannot be thrown out of her matrimonial home even if she reports her abusers, to claim maintenance, to have custody to her children and to claim compensation. Under the Act and also under section 125 of the Indian Penal Code, a woman does not have to necessarily file for a divorce to have a right to receive maintenance from her husband. The nature of a married relationship is such that it makes it incumbent on the man to provide maintenance for his wife. A petition for maintenance is maintainable even in the absence of one for divorce.

You must have been wondering about the results of these laws and Acts and if not then you should! "Indian legal system has no 'teeth' to bite", you must have also heard of this. And that's true, there are many practical difficulties with their implementation such as the refusal of the police to file a case in some cases, the low rate of conviction in cases under Section 498A or the delays in the criminal justice system. Even if a victim decides that she will not bear their unfortunate miseries anyone, they have to take a long journey for justice.

Many are of the thinking that the lack of empowerment among women is the reason which fails to raise their voices. Well, we also have laws empowering women. For instance, the Hindu Succession Act, after its 2005 amendment recognizes that women have equal right in ancestral properties of their families: this is their legal right which is to get the same share as their brothers may get. For their self-earned properties, it is upon parents to divide or bequeath it in the manner they deem fit. We find that women are unaware of this property right and even if they are, they would not want to use these rights. Another link we make is with the issue of ‘Equal pay for equal work’. The Equal Remunerations Act, 1976 makes it mandatory for employers not to discriminate only on grounds of sex when it comes to paying their employees. The Act also mandates that employers cannot discriminate in matters of appointment on grounds of sex unless the "employment" of women for the job in question is prohibited by law. Similarly, the Act outlaws discrimination in matters of promotion, training, transfer, etc. There is another specific law against sexual harassment at workplaces so women can feel safe in their workspaces and can report any violations. It is also a provision to encourage the economic independence of women by ensuring they feel safe to come out of their houses to work. Recently, Nalsa chief and senior-most SC judge, Justice N V Ramana, said, "One of the critical areas which came to our notice was the rising incidents of violence within the family itself. We also saw increasing instances of child abuse. During such times, when the victims cannot reach us, it is imperative for us to reach them."

Even with all these laws and Acts, there are still many faults and important changes are needed in the laws and policies. But we also cannot put a blind eye to the attitude of society. They justify domestic violence and call it the right of a man.to beat his wife if the wife goes out without informing the husband, neglects the house or the children, argues with him, refuses to have sexual intercourse with him, doesn’t cook properly; or when the husband suspects that she is unfaithful or shows disrespect for in-laws. What is more shocking is that some women in this society are no less. They also support and accept this heinous act. As a society, we need to strengthen our social support system to create safe spaces where women feel comfortable to discuss these issues. We should simplify the laws and make them aware of their rights, we should support and encourage the victims to break the silence and to come and fight this social stigma.

Official Writer - Sneha Kumari

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