AUTHOR:

Prof. MOHD. ZAMA,
Professor,
D.E.S.’s Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune

CO-AUTHOR:

Ms. ANKITA BANERJEE,
Student,
Siddhartha Law College, Dehradun

ABSTRACT

When the government and the people in widespread are combating the Corona virus outbreak and leading a life under lockdown to avert the spread of COVID-19 for the last few months, many women worldwide, sarcastically, had to face a stab in domestic violence too. The ground behind this upswing happens to be a safeguard in-place initiative worldwide organizational shutdown related to COVID-19. The women and children who survive with domestic violence cannot get away from their abusers during the quarantine. The coverage of domestic violence against women and children is so vast that even at this time of natural catastrophe like Corona virus which is the most unforeseeable episode that has occurred globally; women and children are having a hard time staying indoors. This paper examines the current atmosphere prevailing in India and worldwide in relation to domestic violence vis-à-vis COVID-19 and what are the measures required to combat the double pandemic situation worldwide. Legal framework pertaining to domestic violence has also been covered. The role of the judiciary has also been discussed.

 

INTRODUCTION

“Confinement is a breeding ground for domestic abuse.”

-Marlene Schiappa

All over the planet, authorities have entreated citizens to stay back home and shield themselves and others from the new Coronavirus outbreak. People all over the world are maintaining the norms of social distancing and home quarantine. The ascending data suggests that domestic violence is acting like an opportunistic disease, prospering in the circumstances created by the pandemic. This adds to another public health crisis to the levy of the new Coronavirus.[1] For the domestic violence sufferers – the mass of who are women, children, lgbtq and individuals, home is a threatening place[2]. Amidst this pandemic of COVID-19, many countries have outlined a rise in domestic violence and as per the specifics collected; around 243 million females belonging to the age group of fifteen to forty nine were exposed to sexual or physical violence and intimate partner violence in last few months. It is well said by the Secretary-General of United Nations, Antonio Guterres, “Horrifying global surge has called for a domestic violence ceasefire”[3].

Pandemic, monetary diffidence, anxiety, scantiness community assets and unreliability have ushered to increased belligerence at home, which was formerly noticed during the Global financial crisis in 2009 and natural disasters such as the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, with abusers able to sway huge proportion of their victims everyday life.[4] Numerous victims find themselves secluded in threatening homes, unaccompanied by friends and family networks. A study by the sociologist suggests that, domestic violence increases whenever families spend more time together[5]. Now, with families in lockdown globally, hotlines are blazing up with various domestic abuse reports, leaving the government trying to label the crisis that specialists say they should have seen coming.

Here on the hand, the abusers encounters rise in economic compulsion and stress, increased their consumption of alcohol and drugs and purchase or cache guns as an extremity course of action. Specialists have distinguished an “invisible pandemic” of domestic violence during the crisis of COVID-19 as a “ticking time bomb” or a “perfect storm”[6]

ENVIRON PERSUADING IN INDIA

Women and the children are considered as the weaker section of the society. The pandemic has resulted into the untold sufferings of human beings, including women and children. Family is a social institution and the same must be protected by all necessary means. Domestic violence has been defined under section[7] of Domestic Violence Act[8] as any sort of conduct that harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life or well being of a woman during the course of domestic relationship. The Act is gender specific and protects woman only against domestic violence but amid the lockdown due to COVID-19, as the people have been advised to stay indoors, there is an increase in the cases of domestic violence against women.

India’s National Commission for Women (NCW) has noticed a huge rise in domestic violence against women during the phase of lockdown.[9] Around 587 complaints of domestic abuse against women were registered by the National Commission of Women between 23rd March and 16th April, a rise in 45% of cases from the previous 25 days.[10] Components aggravating the circumstances include the interment, economical stress owing to lockdown and unavailability of access to alcohol fuel up. There also has been an increase in police indifference in regard to women complaints, with police being busy with lockdown command.[11] Mrs. Rekha Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women, told the media that complaints are rising each day. She surmises that the figure of such cases would reach much higher, but many are going unreported because of the constant presence of the perpetrator at home.

“Because of the lockdown, women are not able to reach out to the police. They don’t even want to go to the police because they are afraid that once their husband comes out of the police station, he will again torture her and she can’t even move out,” Sharma said.[12]

The Childline India Helpline received around 92,000 calls between 20th to 31st March, at the beginning of lockdown in India, seeking protection of children from violence and maltreatment.[13] Kavita Krishnan, an Indian women rights activist said that women told her that, if Indian government would have given a warning regarding the lockdown, they could have tried to move to a far secure location in time to avoid such abuses.[14]

The State of Uttarakhand in India, reported the highest number of domestic violence cases amidst the worldwide lockdown to combat COVID-19, followed by Delhi, West Bengal and other states, until 18th May.[15] It was perceived that most of the complaints were lodged against their husbands and few of them were against their father-in-law as well. Uttarakhand reported a 100% rise in domestic violence cases during the interval of lockdown.[16]  

In the second week of April, Delhi Police had a “total event count” of 2,446 that concerned the “event type: women”. Nearly, 2,500 women in Delhi dialed the emergency helpline number that activated the Emergency Response Support System of the state police. Amid all these calls, 600 calls were of women abuse, 23 calls reported of rape while the rest 1612 reported to domestic violence.[17] The Punjab State Commission of Women (PSCW) received at least 30 complaints each day regarding the incidents of domestic violence against women since March 22, 2020. These episodes indicate that events of domestic abuse during lockdown depend on the potentiality of the victims to lodge complaints when they spend domestic space with the assassin.[18]

A Keralian woman in the Idukki district during the lockdown, was reported to have been hiding in the forest along with her daughter, after getting ejected by her husband from their house. The episode came to the notice of the members of Kerala State Women Commission and an immediate step was taken, rescuing the duo and followed by the arrest of the husband.[19]

Around 70 cases of domestic violence were reported in the state of West Bengal as well including both from rural and urban regions of the state, by means of both physical and mental torment.[20] In the district of Malda, a 26 year old woman, Sona Mondal, was apparently throttled by her husband for 5 years. In another occurrence in the district, another woman was reportedly murdered by her husband for protesting against his extra-marital affair. Both the men have been booked. “There is hardly anything we can do at this moment. We have helped the victims to connect with the local police station, lawyers and local NGOs,” said Debaprasad Roychoudhury, an official of Association of Protection of Democratic Rights, a NGO.

 

STATES

  1. Uttarakhand
  2. Haryana
  3. Delhi
  4. Chandigarh
  5. Tamil Nadu
  6. Punjab
  7. Uttar Pradesh
  8. West Bengal
  9. Odisha
  10. Chhattisgarh
  11. Bihar
  12. Kerala
  13. Jammu & Kashmir
  14. Arunachal Pradesh
  15. Mizoram
  16. Maharashtra
  17. Himachal Pradesh
  18. Madhya Pradesh
  19. Tripura
  20. Rajasthan
  21. Manipur
  22. Andhra Pradesh

NUMBER OF CASES REPORTED

144

79

63

50

48

47

47

46

37

31

21

18

17

17

17

12

10

8

7

4

3

Legal assistance was provided in 90% cases (658).[21]

JUDICIAL RESPONSE

All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice filed a writ public interest litigation under article 226[22] of the Constitution of India in the High Court of Delhi pertaining to the increasing numbers of cases of domestic violence in the Country amid the lockdown due to COVID-19. The petitioner pleaded before the constitutional court to issue a writ of mandamus or any appropriate writ to all concerned authorities including the Union of India to ensure effective implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.[23] The petitioner has also referred to a status report filed by the Delhi Government highlighting that the number of protection officers is not adequate in the given circumstances.

The division bench of the High Court of Delhi speaking through Chief Justice C. Hari Shankar while disposing the petition has remarkably observed as follows;

“We expect from the respondents that the provisions contained in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, shall be effectively implemented by the respondents. All the help lines and WhatsApp numbers, etc.  which  are  mentioned  hereinabove  in  detail  shall  be  kept  functional properly  and  they  shall  respond  to  whatever  calls or  messages  they  are receiving. If the affected persons face any difficulties in reaching the Nodal Officers, or in any other respect, it shall always be open to them, to contact the  DSLSA,  which  assures  us,  that  they  will  take  all  due  steps  to  come  to their aid.”[24]

 

Therefore, the High Court of Delhi, realizing the degree of threat to the life and liberty of women in times of lockdown due to COVID-19, had already taken all necessary steps to curb the increasing incident of domestic violence against women. The administration must enforce the order of the court in letter and spirit of law.

 

IMPACT OF LOCKDOWN ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES IN INDIA

  • Under reporting of the cases: The National Commission of Women has recorded 291 complaints on cases of domestic abuse in March 2020, it is only receiving complaints through emails. Nonetheless the genuine reported cases are conceivably less in number. With retrenched potency and the police force being involved in confirming that the lockdown is duly followed, females are also losing their directions that could have safeguarded them from maltreatment and in maximal cases, death.[25]

Further on owing to the ubiquity of conservative communal norms and the disgrace that is laid on the survivors of domestic violence, such cases are being collectively unreported. Women belonging to poverty-stricken and vulnerable categories are not even able to file any complaints at this hour of lockdown.

  • Obsolete NGOs: The counselling centres are supposed to reach out to the complainant concerning domestic violence. But, amidst the lockdown the NGOs and Volunteer organizations that are generally the ways for women to report such abuses are not active for now.
  • Eroding of Gender Equality: The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-5 that be on the lookout for “eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women in the public and private spheres, and to undertake reforms to give them the same rights to economic resources and access to property by 2030” is being immensely compromised.[26]
  • An additional challenge has been the interlaced negative psychodynamic impact on mental health of women. This further grows with unemployment and financial burden on women.

 

CONCLUSION RECOMMENDATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS

Therefore, the numbers of cases pertaining to domestic violence have been increasing for the last couple of months due to the COVID-19 and the victims have been subjected to all sorts of humiliation including human rights violations. The factors which are contributing to the present issue of increase of domestic violence during quarantine are unemployment or unwaged, exasperation, reduced earning, availability of limited resources, unavailability of alcohol and limited communal support further adds up to the cause. Lack of social support has also been one of the major reasons for increased cases of domestic violence.

The victims of domestic violence must not tolerate this offence otherwise this may lead to a vicious cycle of abuse. It is the duty of each of us to keep an eye open for the signs of violence around us and immediately report to the police. There are also many numbers of helpline available for reporting offences including domestic violence and the same must be resorted to as quickly as possible. The National Commission for Women must also come forward with some alternative to address the issue pertaining to domestic violence.

The number of protection officers appointed under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 must be increased, at least during the lockdown period. These officers must also be allowed to move during the period of complete lockdown so that the victims can easily approach them since the media of mobile phones or any other electronic devices are, in many cases, not available to the victims. Moreover, special provision of facilities as to the safety and security of the migrant women workers who are working miles away from their home town must be made by the state governments since these women are more likely to fall in the trap of abusive man leading to the violence of domestic violence.

Amidst the lockdown, home is considered as the safest place. However, all homes are not safe for women, particularly those who are living in urban slum areas. Most of the slum areas in the urban India have already been declared as containment zone to arrest the spread of coronavirus and, therefore the administration must be more vigilant in these areas, since majority of the cases of domestic violence in slum areas are not reported. Therefore, with the help of these suggestions, the gap in the State’s response to address the menace of domestic violence during the pandemic can be fulfilled. Last but not the least, we as a responsible member of the society must change our mind towards women and, in fact, this pandemic can be a good lesson for us to make our society a gender free society where everyone including women and children must feel free.

[1]Amanda Taub, “A New COVID-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide”, The Indian Express, 7th April, 2020 available at https://indisnexpress.com/article/world/coronavirus-domestic-abuse-violence-lockdown-6351643/

[2] Caroline Bettinger Lopez and Alexandra Bro, “A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of Covid19”, Council on Foreign Relations, 13th May, 2020 available at https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/double-pandemic-domestic-violence-age-covid-19

[3] United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.

[4] Kristy Johnston, “Covid19 coronavirus: Domestic violence is the second, silent epidemic amid lockdown”, The New Zealand Herald, 12th April, 2020, available at https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12324237

[5] Aviva Parvez Damania, “Lockdown and rise in domestic violence: How to tackle situation if locked with an abuser”, The Indian Express, 17th May, 2020, available at https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/life-style/lockdown-rise-of-domestic-violence-how-to-tackle-situation-if-locked-with-abuser-national-commission-for-women-6406268/

[6] Thomson Reuters Foundation News

[7]The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Section 3, “Definition of domestic violence.-For the purposes of this Act, any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it – (a) 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 (b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view 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 (c) 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 (d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person. Explanation I.-For the purposes of this section,- (i) “physical abuse” means any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person and includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force; (ii) “sexual abuse” includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman; (iii) “verbal and emotional abuse” includes- (a) insults, ridicule, humiliation, name calling and insults or ridicule specially with regard to not having a child or a male child; and (b) repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person in whom the aggrieved person is interested. (iv) “economic abuse” includes- (a) deprivation of all or any economic or financial resources to which the aggrieved person is entitled under any law or custom whether payable under an order of a court or otherwise or which the aggrieved person requires out of necessity including, but not limited to, household necessities for the aggrieved person and her children, if any, stridhan, property, jointly or separately owned by the aggrieved person, payment of rental related to the shared household and maintenance; (b) disposal of household effects, any alienation of assets whether movable or immovable, valuables, shares, securities, bonds and the like or other property in which the aggrieved person has an interest or is entitled to use by virtue of the domestic relationship or which may be reasonably required by the aggrieved person or her children or her stridhan or any other property jointly or separately held by the aggrieved person; and (c) prohibition or restriction to continued access to resources or facilities which the aggrieved person is entitled to use or enjoy by virtue of the domestic relationship including access to the shared household. Explanation II.-For the purpose of determining whether any act, omission, commission or conduct of the respondent constitutes “domestic violence” under this section, the overall facts and circumstances of the case shall be taken into consideration.”

[8] The Protection of Women From Domestic violence Act, 2005

[9]Lachmi Deb Roy, “Domestic violence Cases Across India Swells Since Corona virus Lockdown”, Outlookindia.in, 7th April, 2020, available at https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-rise-in-domestic-violence-across-all strata-of-society-in-the-coronavirus-lockdown-period/350249

[10] Scroll Staff, “Covid-19  lockdown: Domestic violence cases reported to NCW nearly double in last 25 days”, Scroll.in, available at  https://scroll.in/latest.959515/covid-19-lockdown-domestic-violence -cases-reported-to-ncw-nearly-double-in-last-25-days

[11] Dr. Vidyottma Jha, “Domestic Violence Amid Lockdown:  The Shadow Pandemic”, India Legal, 7th May, 2020, available at https://www.indialegallive.com/special/domestic-violence-amid-lockdown-the-shadow-pandemic-98540

[12] “India witnesses steep rise in crime against women amid lockdown, 587 complaints received: NCW”, The Economic Times, 17th April, 2020, available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-witnesses-steep-rise-in-crime-against-women-amid-lockdown-587-complaints-received ncw/articleshow/75201412.cms

[13] “Coronavirus Lockdown/Govt. Helpline receives 92,000 calls on child abuse and violence in 11days”, The Hindu, 8th April, 2020, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-lockdown-govt-helpline-receives-92000-calls-on-child-abuse-and-violence-in-11-days/article31287468.ece

[14]Statement of Kavita Krishnan- The Telegraph, 31st March, 2020 available at https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/lockdown-turns-into-captivity-for-women/cid/1760856

[15] Domestic Violence cases in India on the rise during lockdown”, The Times of India, 18th May, 2020 available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/love-sex/domestic-violence-cases-in-india-on-the-rise during-lockdown-says-report/articleshow/75801752.cms

[16] Reports by National Commission for Women (NCW)

[17]Dhamini Ratnam, “Domestic violence during Covid19 lockdown emerges as serious concern”, The Hindustan Times, 26thApril, 2020 available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown-emerges-as-serious-concern/story-mMRq3NnnFvOehgLOOPpe8J.html.

[18]Ibid.

[19]Ibid.

[20]Leena Gangopadhyay, “Rise in domestic violence cases during lockdown, says West Bengal Women’s Commission”, The Print, 11th May, 2020, available at https://theprint.in/india/rise-in-domestic-violence-cases-during-lockdown-says-west-bengal-womens-commission/418931/

[21] “Domestic violence cases in India on the rise during lockdown, says report”, Time of India, 18th May, 2020, available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/love-sex/domestic-violence-cases-in-india-on-the-rise-during-lockdown-says-report/articleshow/75801752.cms

[22]Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1950. Power of High Courts to issue certain writs (1) Notwithstanding anything in Article 32 every High Court shall have powers, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercise jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose (2) The power conferred by clause (1) to issue directions, orders or writs to any Government, authority or person may also be exercised by any High Court exercising jurisdiction in relation to the territories within which the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises for the exercise of such power, notwithstanding that the seat of such Government or authority or the residence of such person is not within those territories (3) Where any party against whom an interim order, whether by way of injunction or stay or in any other manner, is made on, or in any proceedings relating to, a petition under clause ( 1 ), without (a) furnishing to such party copies of such petition and all documents in support of the plea for such interim order; and (b) giving such party an opportunity of being heard, makes an application to the High Court for the vacation of such order and furnishes a copy of such application to the party in whose favour such order has been made or the counsel of such party, the High Court shall dispose of the application within a period of two weeks from the date on which it is received or from the date on which the copy of such application is so furnished, whichever is later, or where the High Court is closed on the last day of that period, before the expiry of the next day afterwards on which the High Court is open; and if the application is not so disposed of, the interim order shall, on the expiry of that period, or, as the case may be, the expiry of the aid next day, stand vacated (4) The power conferred on a High Court by this article shall not be in derogation of the power conferred on the Supreme court by clause ( 2 ) of Article 32

[23] All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice v. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 2973 of 2020.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ashwini Deshpande, “The Shadow Pandemic”, Quartz India, 16th April, 2020, available at https://qz.com/india/1838351/indias-coronavirus-lockdown-leads-to-more-violence-against-women/

[26] United Nations in India

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