The Lockdown has led to an unprecedented increase in Domestic Violence cases around the world. The inadequacy of laws protecting women and the inability of authorities to offer security to these women during the Lockdown has majorly contributed to the surge of these cases in India.
By: Vaibhav Chaturvedi
A woman was found in Spain hanging from a third-storey window. While a neighbour rushed out with mattresses to help break her the fall, he reached late and the woman fell to her death. (1) The woman has been declared a victim of domestic violence, that has significantly increased in Spain, post lockdown. This is despite the fact that Spain had previously scored better than developed nations like France and the UK in EU’s Gender Equality Index. This makes for a growing realization that even developed nations exhibit brutal cases of violence.
The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”. (2) The incident from Spain, barely made it to the mainstream media. This puts up a real image of how downright sordid the situation for women around the globe has become during the lockdown. Most of these cases take place amongst married couples.
The National commission of Women (NCW) in India has recorded more than a twofold rise in gender-based violence during the lockdown period. An important aspect to be noted is that the NCW receives online complaints. This feature implies that the data signifies only the complaints received by educated, well aware woman with access to internet connection, that are in a position to register such complaints. Geographically, 65% of India still comes under the ‘rural’ category, lacking both; awareness as well as internet. This proves that the data is only an understatement of the actual number of gender-based violence cases unveiling post lockdown. Following the lockdown, it’s an arduous job for the NGOs as well, to reach out and help the victims.
Secondly, the laws related to domestic violence in India have been heavily criticised in the way they deal with marital rape. Forcing a woman into sexual intercourse does not qualify as a criminal wrong in India, only protection can be sought under provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
Currently, the Indian Penal Code exempts a man from the charge of rape if the victim happens to be his wife. The said clause, which appears in the IPC as Exception 2 to Section 375, states that “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” (3) Therefore, it is legitimate if any 16 year old girl, who is married, to be repeatedly forced into having sex with her husband. This exemption, which came in the seventeenth century as a product of colonisation, is commonly known as Hales’s Principle. It is unfortunate that we still follow the 200-year-old regressive principle that treats women merely like objects. The lack of women representation in the Indian parliament significantly contributes to such patriarchy driven laws.
Sexual violence causes serious short- and long-term physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems for women. These women also experience physical injuries as a consequence of violence. Women who had been physically or sexually abused are also more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection. With such a degree of stress, suicidal rates are also high.(4) Clinical guidelines by WHO state that Women’s right to sexual and reproductive healthcare should be respected, irrespective of the COVID-19 crisis, including access to contraception and safe abortion. The lockdown has specifically acted as a barrier when it comes to abortion. Reports say that it will lead to a significant rise in unintended pregnancies during this quarantine.
The example from Spain was of one town from the 193 nations. Helpless voices of women from India scream against the regressive laws. All of these injustices have already been shouldered by the notion of toxic patriarchy, perhaps this lockdown is making this situation worse.
It is inspiring to see that nations like France and Canada are setting up helpline numbers, separate shelters and counselling programs to reach out to these women who have been victims of physical and sexual violence. National leaders with mass appeal should address the issue for enhanced awareness. However, a change in mentality is required to make the institution of marriage, actually ‘sacred’.
(1) Stephen Burgen, Women killed in Spain as coronavirus lockdown sees rise in domestic violence, THE GUARDIAN (April 28, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/28/three-women-killed-in-spain-as-coronavirus-lockdown-sees-rise-in-domestic-violence.
(2) United Nations. Declaration on the elimination of violence against women. New York: UN 1993, https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.21_declaration%20elimination%20vaw.pdf.
(3) Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 375.
(4) Violence against women, World Health Organisation Report (November 2017), https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women.