Author Amol Verma


Introduction

The lockdown imposed in most parts of the world to curb the spread of Covid-19 has brought the economic activities to a standstill. Significant sectors of the economy have faced a major blow in their operations. Since the initiation of the lockdown, heinous crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery have witnessed a downward trend.  However, offences against women have surged steeply amid restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The rise in crimes against women such as domestic violence has witnessed a sharp increase as the pandemic has locked the victim and abuser together. The lockdown aimed to flatten the Covid-19 curve has in turn resulted in an atmosphere of misery and suffering for the majority of the women across the globe. Women’s mental as well as physical health has suffered collateral damage. The lockdown has highlighted and brought to our knowledge the loopholes that exist in the majority of the anti-domestic violence legislations. How to tackle the problem of crimes against women amid lockdown still remains a major challenge for the policymakers.

Increase in cases of Domestic Violence: Lockdown with the Abusers

Domestic Violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to assert control over the other partner. Domestic Violence across the world is also termed as intimate partner violence. It is important to note that domestic violence is not only limited to physical abuse but encompasses within itself the cases of emotional abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, economic abuse, etc. India has specific legislation to tackle the offence of domestic violence namely, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Section 3 of the Act defines domestic violence as-

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

History has it, that in difficult situations and emergencies, such as pandemics, the crimes against women tend to witness an upward trend.

An increase in crimes against women during the nationwide lockdown can very well be attributed to financial hardships and lack of social activities. The problem is further fueled by home quarantine norms, economic problems, and anxieties. The crimes against women have increased sharply in developed as well as developing countries alike. Nations such as China, the United States of America, India, Bangladesh, and Australia have reported increased instances of crimes against women.  The National Commission for Women (NCW), which is the nodal agency for protecting and promoting the interests of women, received hundreds of complaints through emails within a few days of the initiation of the lockdown.

As per the official data, the NCW received 587 complaints from March 23 to April 16. It is important to note that, 239 of the complaints were related to domestic violence. The commission had received 123 complaints of domestic violence between February 27 to March 22. The lockdown seems to have doubled the cases of domestic violence. The real figures are supposed to be more staggering as the victim is more often than not, deprived of any means of communication to report their miseries. Furthermore, the victims lack the courage to report cases against her abusers. Most of the time, the women are devoid of any options of help or rescue.   

The Response of NCW and Other Welfare Organizations to deal with the rise in Crimes Against Women

The NCW, as well as various NGO’s, have flagged the problem of the surge in cases of crimes against women since the initiation of the nationwide lockdown. They have on several occasions advocated that the lockdown has made children and women more vulnerable to domestic violence.

NCW has launched a WhatsApp helpline number where not only the victim but everyone having knowledge of the commission of any sort of crime against women can reach out and make a complaint against the abuser. Days after the launch of the WhatsApp helpline number, nearly 8,000 complaints were received by the NCW. Along with domestic violence cases, cyber-crimes against women have witnessed a sharp rise during the lockdown period. In response to this, the NCW had received 54 cyber complaints in April over the internet.

Moreover, AVON Foundation for Women in partnership with three renowned NGO’s namely – Shakti Shalini, Swayam, and Family Planning Association of India has launched the #IsolatedNotAlone Campaign to support the female victims of domestic violence during the times of lockdown. Furthermore, the foundation has announced USD $1 Million in new grants to frontline domestic abuse services to charity organizations across the globe. India is to receive nearly 94 lakhs from the grant. Shakti Shalini has formulated a response mechanism programme which provides legal aid and counseling services, rehabilitation services, and mental and physical healthcare to domestic violence victims. 

The Delhi High court also took cognizance of the situation of rising crimes against women amid lockdown and directed the Delhi government as well as the central government to appoint temporary protection officers in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 keeping in mind the needs of the changing circumstances.

Challenges at Hand

The actual number of crimes against women amid the lockdown is likely to be more as most victims don’t have the means to report the crime or even make a preliminary complaint. Not to forget, the women belonging to the lower strata of the society who earlier used to report any kind of mental or physical abuse by their counterparts through the traditional method of post. As the nationwide lockdown has been imposed the postal services have been shut. Therefore, leaving these women high and dry without anyone to their rescue. The lockdown has increased the hurdles for these women in making a complaint.

Even though the NCW Chairperson has asked all the women to report any incident of domestic violence, they may face by reaching out to the police, the possibility of the police being late in these women’s rescue can’t be ruled out. Given the grim situation due to the lockdown, the police force is already burdened with enough challenges at their disposal. The police force has been deployed in ensuring the strict implementation of the lockdown, social distancing norms, and essential delivery of services. Most of the workplaces, firms, and organizations have been shut due to the ongoing lockdown. NGO’s and Welfare organizations are no exception to it. Women Welfare Organizations, which are usually the torchbearer of women’s rights and interests, have become defunct amid the nationwide lockdown. The prevalence of a greater degree of stigma on domestic violence victims is another hurdle why the crimes against women are underreported. Most importantly, the women belonging to the underprivileged strata are unable to make complaints.

The Way Forward

In such a situation, declaration of helplines as an essential service by the state governments becomes a welcome step in addressing the miseries of victims of crimes against women. More resources, be it monetary or material should be made available to various welfare organizations, NGO’s working towards the protection of women’s interest. The role of media houses in sensitizing the public about crimes against women becomes all the more important.

Moreover, the sharing of household chores between men and women should be encouraged through advertising, short films, etc. Counselors, psychiatrists, and most importantly lawyers must come forward and provide a helping hand to the victims of such crimes. Mediation between the partners can also be sought by professional mediators. All this can be done over the internet through various social media platforms or simply through a phone call.

Even the citizens must take the issue of crimes against women heads-up and report any case of such crime they come across, as most of the time a female is devoid of the means to make a complaint or is unable to gather enough courage to make a complaint against its abuser. Most importantly, the abusers must be brought to trial and strict liability should be imposed upon the repeated offenders. Reaching out to the police should be the last option to explore in grim circumstances like these, as such action could prove to be counterproductive as currently, the policymakers are attempting to decongest the prisons in the wake of the growing infection of Covid-19.

Ultimately, it has become the need of the hour to adopt modern feminist ideas of gender equality and mutual respect between the partners into the existing legislation in order to put a permanent end to the crimes against women.


About the Author: Amol [2017-22 Batch] is pursuing B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) from Chanakya National Law University, Patna.


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