In the run-up to the announcement of the nationwide lockdown on March 24th, 2020, the government failed to craft strategies to address possible fallout in several areas. One such area that went unaddressed was domestic violence.
The term domestic violence is used in many countries to refer to intimate partner violence, but it also encompasses child and elder abuse, and abuse by any member of a household. While women alone don’t face domestic violence, the rates of violence and abuse directed at women are high, particularly from perpetrators known to them. According to the World Health Organization, one in every three women across the globe experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime; and at least 30 percent of all women in relationships have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their partners.
Domestic violence in India
According to the Crime in India Report 2018, published by the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB), a crime is recorded against women in India every 1.7 minutes and a woman is subjected to domestic violence every 4.4 minutes. It also topped the categories of violence against women according to the report. As per the data, 89,097 cases related to crimes against women were registered across India in 2018, higher than the 86,001 cases registered in 2017.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16 highlighted that 30 percent of women in India between the ages of 15-49 have experienced physical violence. The report suggests that among married women experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, an alarming 83 percent list their husbands as to the main perpetrators, followed by abuse from their husbands’ mothers (56 percent), fathers (33 percent), and siblings (27 percent).
On 22nd March 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced a nationwide lockdown for one day. This lockdown was subsequently extended for a week, then for 21 days, and finally, until 3rd May 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19. India declared COVID-19 a “notified disaster” under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Extended lockdown and other social distancing measures imposed to curb the pandemic made women more vulnerable to domestic violence. Women were fighting a shadow pandemic inside their homes.
National Commission for Women’s (NCW) data showed that domestic violence complaints doubled after the nationwide lockdown was imposed in India. Tamil Nadu Police reported an increase in domestic violence complaints. They received approximately 25 calls every day during the lockdown period and registered at least 40 such cases. Similarly, Bangalore Police reported a spike in complaints from 10 calls to 25 calls every day from the victims of domestic violence. These data from different sources indicate that domestic violence incidents increased across the country during the lockdown. On the contrary, organizations such as Jagori, Shakti Shalini, and AKS Foundation reported a decrease in complaint calls related to domestic violence. The decrease could be attributed to confinement at home, constant monitoring and controlling decision-making by the abuser, social isolation of victims from friends and family members, and reduced options for support.
Domestic Abuse: The Vicious Cycle
Understand that savagery happens regardless of gender, class, caste, creed, time, or place. Family, considered the primary support system, becomes the primary site of abuse and brutality. Sociologically, role allocation being chauvinist in nature has brought about the division of household work as “women’s work.” The change in the daily home routine and structure due to the increased amount of time spent by different individuals altogether increases the role strain and affects the ambiance of the house. Family in this context has been often termed by individuals as a “primary site of exploitation,” and the same trend has been seen to rise with the increasing number of days in lockdown. Women over the helplines in the country have stated restrictions in terms of access, food, and non-provision of masks, thereby making them use “dupattas and pallus” for respiratory hygiene, non-access to the ration card, liquefied petroleum gas, and clinics. Most of the women in the country do not even have access to phones for communication, as they have to depend upon their husbands, fathers, or brothers. The ineffectiveness of the law wherein marital rape is still not considered a criminal act adds to the insult. All these factors have a holistic effect on the affected person’s health and rights. Clearly, in times of monetary and financial recession, human behavior tends to be impulsive, reckless, controlling, and aggressive, and the brunt usually goes down the patriarchal power-hierarchy, so significant for India.
Here are a few factors contributing to the endless loop of domestic abuse, especially during pandemics.
• Lack of awareness of the availability of hotlines:
• Misinformation and role of social media:
• Lack of health care access:
• Lack of sexual and reproductive health services:
• Fear of the police/legal hassles and stigma:
• Difficulty in managing family:
• Objectification of women:
• Lack of livelihood:
• Knowledge–Attitude–Practice gap:
A cycle of violence:
Alcohol as a mood enhancer has a direct correlation with feelings of anger, frustration, and irritation. A man’s impression of the need to consent to the gender norms could be exacerbated by substance abuse, thereby shifting the focus on women. This then results in violence. Due to the vulnerabilities of women, the endless loop might continue from the women to offsprings, a further force from the family of origin, the expected normalcy from the family of procreation, and difficulty in the accessibility and availability of the legal aid services add to the problems.
The number of news items on domestic violence in the month of April – June 2015 – 2020 in Dainik Jagran.
Domestic violence, a prevalent problem in India, saw an increase during the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. This article explores the factors associated with an increase in domestic violence incidents during COVID-19 by applying the routine activity theory (RAT) framework. Data were drawn from the incidents of domestic violence reported in newspapers. Data were analyzed using content analysis and three major themes, i.e., three principle components of RAT—motivated offender, a suitable target, and absence of capable guardian—were drawn. Findings reveal that sources of motivation for domestic violence perpetrators during the lockdown were alcohol and unemployment. The symbolic value that perpetrators associated with women, lower inertia, visibility, and accessibility to the perpetrators made women suitable targets of domestic violence. Lastly, the shortage of police force and travel restrictions on formal and informal sources resulted in the absence of capable guardians. We conclude that changes in the routine activities of people during the COVID-19 lockdown provided more opportunities to the perpetrators of domestic violence.
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