Home Features India's lockdown sees a rise in domestic violence

India’s lockdown sees a rise in domestic violence

An injured Ramola* was brought to a hospital in the west Indian state of Gujarat. The 22-year-old was suffering a fractured rib after her husband kicked her for talking too long on the phone.

In the city of Sikar in the north-western state of Rajasthan, a man complained to the  National Commission for Women (NCW) that his daughter was being denied food by her in-laws.

These two were among 239 domestic violence complaints that the NCW received from March 23 to April 16 this year as the country fights the new coronavirus pandemic.

NCW chief Rekha Sharma said this is the highest number of complaints they have received related to domestic violence over a 3-week long period.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the lockdown will remain in place at least till May 3. The virus has claimed 519 lives in the country as of April 19.

Following the March 2 shutdown there has been a surge in cases of violence against women and girls being reported in India, Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, told LiCAS.news.

Kumari said they recently received a distress call from a young girl from Warrangal in the southern state of Telangana. The girl stated that she was being locked up in a room and beaten up for not agreeing to marry her first cousin.

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“We have alerted the Telangana state women’s commission. That is all we could do at this time of lockdown,” she said.

But there are many others, mostly the poor and vulnerable, who are suffering silently as they have no way to break through the home cordon, Kumari added.

Some of those concerned with the rise of domestic violence have used creative measures.

Iti Rawat, founder  of the Women Entrepreneurs For Transformation Foundation (WEFT), said her NGO has developed a ‘red dot code’ to help Indian women trapped in domestic violence.

Rawat said a red dot on the palm is a way that women can show they are in distress. “If she waves out of the window or anybody seeing her palm will know she is a victim of domestic violence,” Rawat said.

Launched in first week of April, the red dot code is being promoted via social media and other platforms. Rawat said that she knows of 40 cases of women using the code to seek help.

A near-empty street in Arambol, Goa during the 21-day quarantine in India. (shutterstock.com photo)

Young girls subjected to violence

Tahira Hasan, national vice president of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), said many young girls are also facing violence for reasons such as insisting on studying and not consenting to early marriage.

Some of them have phoned the AIPWA helpline seeking help but there’s only so much they can do.

“The government needs to come up with some scheme to help these people,” said Hasan. “At least a warning could be given on mobile phone networks asking people to desist from domestic violence,” she said.

“This way the aggressor will not have a feeling of impunity and hopefully this will put a check on his base behaviour.”  

Hasan said infrastructure such as shelter homes need to be established and

protection officers in place to help the victims with legal and medical aid.

A provision for protection officers was federally mandated by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 which has been criticized as being ineffective.

“If the act is implemented in letter and spirit we would have less numbers of domestic violence cases,” Hasan said.

But with the current Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP)-led government, women’s issues have always taken a back seat, Kumari said.

Dr Promila Batra, a retired professor of psychology who is now counselling COVID-19 and domestic violence victims, said that the causes behind the rise of domestic violence already exist at home. “It is just that they get precipitated as the man of the house has no outlet,” Batra said.

“Under the stress of lockdown some men will unleash anger over trivial things,” she said.

“Not everybody is equipped to handle the stress that includes taking care of family needs, fear of losing livelihood, isolation and a sense of worthlessness. All this leads to depression,” she said.

This problem is not unique to India alone.

In China, France, the U.K. and other countries, there have been reports of a significant increase in domestic violence cases since the imposition of lockdowns.

Pope Francis prayed for women who suffer domestic violence during the shutdown on April 13 during his Regina Coeli address.

*Name changed upon request.

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