Locked-down: Domestic Violence Reporting in India during COVID-19

Locked-down: Domestic Violence Reporting in India during COVID-19

With a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the world in the past few months, several international organisations took cognisance of a global rise in Domestic Violence (DV) cases as a result of physical distancing regulations and its subsequent lockdowns. Many countries reported a 15-30% hike in the number of distress calls received from women who were confined in closed spaces with abusive partners.

Studies, over the years, have shown a direct link between times of crisis like these and interpersonal violence. Pandemics provide for an enabling environment of fear and uncertainty that may exacerbate diverse forms of violence against women. Moreover, economic insecurity, financial instability, and isolation are also some of the factors that contribute to making domestic violence even more prevalent.

Unfortunately, domestic violence cases are underreported across the world, especially in times of global emergencies like COVID-19.

Women worldwide consider informal channels as their first point-of-reporting in the case of domestic violence. The first respondent is often the family and the police the last.1 In India, the National Family Health Survey-4, conducted in 2015-16, revealed that 33% of married women in the age group of 15-49 experienced physical, sexual, or emotional spousal violence. Of these women, only 14% sought help and 77% never spoke about it. Among those who sought help, 65% reported to the natal family and only 3% reported to the police.3

The 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns

The grasp of domestic violence perpetrators has tightened in times of the pandemic in India. Abuse victims are distanced from their regular support systems making it difficult for them to call out for help. On 24 March 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the Novel Coronavirus. Within a fortnight, the National Commission of Women (NCW) reported a 100% rise in complaints of domestic violence cases. A nationwide WhatsApp number was then launched by the NCW to provide an alternate method for women to report domestic abuse.

While there was an evident spike in the number of domestic violence cases in India at the point in time, strangely enough, the NCW monthly data spoke some alternate truth. It showed an overall decrease in the complaints received during the months of lockdown in comparison to even the initial months of 2020 (Complaints received: January: 538, February: 523, March: 501, April: 377). However, the gradual relaxation of the lockdown saw a subsequent surge in the complaints. While 552 complaints were recorded in the month of May, June saw over 730 complaints. This data shows that while the concern of a rapid increase in the domestic violence cases during the lockdown was valid, the instances were not actively reported.

Barriers to reporting amidst a pandemic

The series of COVID-19 lockdowns in India diminished the opportunities of reporting of domestic violence cases. Here’s why:

  • Restricted movement: The lockdown incapacitated women by preventing them from moving to safer places in cases of violence and abuse. With men and women cohabiting together for longer periods, the privacy of women plummeted and instances of violence rose.
  • Handicapped mediums of communication:  The Whatsapp number launched by the NCW had a limited reach as only 38% of women in India own phones and fewer have an internet connection, making this platform inaccessible to majority of women in the country.
  • Reduced contact with the natal family: Natal family is usually the first point of contact for the victim. They are not only essential in supporting the victim in filing a complaint but also facilitate filing of complaints to the police. The constant presence of the perpetrator made it difficult for the victims to contact their first respondent which ultimately deterred them from reporting to institutionalised channels.
  • Unavailability of the formal support system: The machinery under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act had not been identified as an essential service during the lockdown. Hence, the protection officers were not able to visit households of victims, NGOs were not able to have physical interactions with them and the police officers being at the frontline in our effort to tackle COVID-19 were overstretched to help victims effectively.

While the nationwide restrictions have been relaxed, various state and district level lockdowns are invoked every now and then, allowing the pandemic of domestic violence to sprout alongside. We must not count violence against women as an inevitable outcome of a crisis but improve the otherwise delayed policy implications to address the situation.

References

1.  Jacob, Suraj, and Sreeparna Chattopadhyay, Speaking of Abuse The Pyramid of Reporting DV in India, ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY  53–62, 54  (2019)

2.  Johnson, H. & Ollus, N. & Nevala, Sami (2008) Violence against women: An international perspective 10.1007/978-0-387-73204-6 (2008).

3.   National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16: India. INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR POPULATION SCIENCES (IIPS) and ICF 2017. Mumbai: IIPS.

 

About the authors: Shubham Kumar Jain is a final year law student at Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi. Kanika Arora is a second-year law student at Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi.

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