Domestic Violence: The Parallel Pandemic
The upsurge of domestic violence cases all around the world with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has now become obvious. With retreating work responsibilities and disappearing finances, patriarchy has once again taken a valiant turn. Every one in three women faces domestic violence globally. In India, 86% of women who were victims of domestic violence did not file complaints, while 77% of them, did not even bother mentioning their disposition. Of the mere 14.3% who sought help, only 7% reached out to relevant authorities but 90% of them, only sought help from immediate family.
Seeing the shocking increase in numbers, UN Women termed this spurt of violence and abuse, “shadow pandemic”, thereby meaning a parallel pandemic affecting women while the world at large deals with Coronavirus.
Domestic Violence Act, 2005
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, defines domestic violence an” Any act, commission or omission or conduct that 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 emotional and economic abuse.”
While the act recognizes within its ambit, sexual, economic, physical, verbal, and economic abuse. It now needs to include a new form of domestic violence, which is being seen surfacing in the technology fostered world. Namely, Digital violence: verbal violence over the internet, cybercrime, voyeurism, etc.
The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 preaches the appointment of a protection officer by the state government, in each district of the state. The protection officer, preferably a woman, discharges the duty of reporting domestic violence incidents to the magistrate. She also has the responsibility of ensuring legal aid to the aggrieved person under the Legal Service Authorities Act, 1987
After the imposition of ubiquitous lockdown, reaching out to protection officers has become difficult, hence the spurt of unreported incidents.
A recent Supreme Court judgment gave respite to domestic violence victims by ensuring them right to stay at in-laws' house under the “shared household” clause of the act. The original act is silent upon the issue of whether a woman’s in-laws’ property can be considered a shared household. Bringing clarity to the issue, the SC affirmed, a shared household can be a house owned by a joint family or any relative of the husband, provided that woman has lived in the house in a domestic relationship.
Resources available during the lockdown
Responding to the increasing number of domestic violence cases, the National Commission for Women(NCW) has launched an accessible Whatsapp helpline number +91 7217735372, in addition to some helpline numbers that are already functional (Women helpline domestic abuse- 181, Women in distress-1091). Moreover, the Ministry of health and family welfare has also collaborated with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences to provide psychological and psychiatric help to victims, through the helpline number- 080-4611007. 112 is an exclusive all India helpline number for immediate rescue and help for victims.
Current Situation and way forward
Domestic abuse is a predicament that leaves the victim in a Hobson's choice, approaching the legal machinery is not easy for every victim, considering how difficult it can be for poor and destitute victims to seek help from courts and legal chambers, a reformation in redressal system is invited. Including other forms of domestic abuse, namely digital or cyber abuses is also pertinent.
A number of factors, financial, alcoholic, psychological, and patriarchal are responsible for the increasing number of domestic violence cases when in the time of the pandemic, addressing each and every such issue cannot be feasible, the government needs to step up in collaboration with relief organizations, and police to mitigate this shadow pandemic.