Domestic violence is a term mostly used for intimate partner violence which is physical in nature, often emotional abuse is not considered in any census. Domestic violence includes child and elder abuse or abuse by any member of the household. It is true that women alone do not face domestic violence but the rates of violence directed towards them are higher, one in every three women experience physical or sexual violence once in their lifetime (WHO).
The number of cases of domestic violence against women has increased after the government announced lockdown in March 2020. Between 23 March and 16 April 2020 - roughly the first three weeks of the lockdown - the commission received 239 complaints of domestic violence. This was a significant jump from the 123 complaints it received in the month leading up to the lockdown.
However, the stats only show the cases that were reported and due to the patriarchal nature of the society and unorthodox social norms, many of the cases have gone unreported. Soon after the lockdown, the National Commission for women got complaints through mail and post, they say the number would be much higher because many women do not have access to the Internet and the people who are locked in with their abusers will not be able to make phone calls or ask for help.
Like the unavailability of the data on the migrant deaths, the government seems to not have any data on this as well let alone the possibility of any help.
People who are locked in an environment like this would have a negative impact on their mental health, the controlling nature of the abuser with the act of any form of abuse and the inability to get any help significantly affects well being and mental health.
On 18 April, Tara - whose name has been changed on request - went online to search for helplines for survivors of domestic violence. It was a little more than three weeks into India’s lockdown, which began on 25 March. Her husband of 15 years had always been abusive - verbally, emotionally, and, at times, even physically. But she had her job, which kept her out of the house for most of the day, and her husband often traveled for work, which kept him away.
The lockdown, however, changed everything. “I live in a constant state of fear - of what could affect my husband’s mood,” she told me, speaking over the phone in a low voice after locking herself up in a room so her husband and mother-in-law wouldn’t hear her. She says both of them taunt and harass her. “I am constantly told I am not a good mother or a good wife. They order me to serve elaborate meals, and treat me like a domestic worker.” Unable to bear the abuse and the beatings, she decided to seek help. She found a Facebook page run by Invisible Scars, a support group, and contacted them. “We have been receiving numerous complaints, seeking help,” says Ekta Viiveck Varma, founder of Invisible Scars, who spoke to Tara. She says she laid out all the options available to Tara - register a police complaint, seek a legal separation, or even talk her husband into going for counseling. Tara says she warned her husband she would go to the police, and the abuse stopped for a few days but started again. Leaving, she says, is not an option. “Only God can save me,” she adds. “I can’t trouble my parents and my young child.”
(source BBC News)
When the relief plan for the pandemic was being made there were no provisions for mental health and violence against women by the government. India has a female population of 48.04% which accounts for almost half the population of this country but relief towards them is not the government's priority formally or informally.
Reaching out to people facing domestic violence and in distress needs to be classified as an ‘essential service’ by the government and when people are unable to file complaints through messages, post, or calls, essential services such as hospitals, grocery stores, and medical stores must be urged to help people get the necessary support and send their messages to the authorities if needed. In France and Spain, pharmacies are trained to identify help through codewords: asking for ‘mask 19’ is being used as a code for people who cannot speak openly, to indicate that they are being abused and are seeking help.
If you or anyone you know is facing domestic violence, reach out to the National Commission for Women’s emergency WhatsApp helpline (7217735372) that has been set up for the COVID-19 crisis.
Police helpline: 1091/ 1291
The National Commission for Women’s WhatsApp helpline: 72177-35372
Helpline for Shakti Shalini, a Delhi-based NGO: 10920
Crisis helpline for Sneha, a Mumbai-based NGO: 98330-52684 / 91675-35765
Reference: BBC News, IDR