The COVID-19 pandemic brought the whole world to a halt and forced everyone to lock up and stay home. While this was the only solution available to prevent the spread of the virus, it caused the rise of another crisis. Ever since the lockdown began, countries across the world have reported a sharp rise in cases of domestic abuse. In India alone, the number of cases reported this year are the highest the country has seen in the past 10 years. The National Commission for Women alone has received over 4,300 reports of domestic violence between March and September.
There is a direct impact of disasters on women, especially in the form of domestic violence. Emergencies are known to exacerbate domestic violence. Domestic violence is not limited to marital relationships or relationships in the nature of marriage. Women have also reported abuse by their husband’s parents, siblings and members of their extended family.
The reasons behind this rise in domestic violence are a mixture of economic, social and emotional factors. Several studies have shown that marital conflict is often exacerbated by stress caused by loss of family members, livelihoods, home and limited resources. The lockdown caused vast unemployment across the world, leaving people stranded at home without an income, causing a great amount of worry and uncertainty. The additional and unique factor of being isolated at home and having no option to go outside, heightened tensions within the family. Such factors are seen to increase violence by husbands and intimate partners within the family.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005 recognises three forms of domestic violence; emotional, physical and economic. The rise in cases of domestic violence is seen across all socio-economic classes however it impacts them in different ways. Domestic violence seems to be felt deeper in lower-income households where houses are smaller and living conditions are more cramped. Other members of the family and surrounding neighbours are made to witness the violence more closely which causes a detrimental effect on children and the elderly.
Domestic violence cases are very difficult to report largely due to financial constraints and restricted mobility. Women are also often hesitant to file complaints due to the high cost of leaving the marriage or family, which many cannot afford due to financial dependence on the abuser. In these cases, women are also seen to make excuses for their husbands or partners and understate the extent of the abuse. There is also a deep stigma attached to domestic violence, which causes surrounding people to distance themselves from and turn a blind eye to incidents of abuse which further isolates and traps women who are caught in the cycle of abuse.
Due to the restrictions caused by COVID-19, there is limited assistance given to victims of domestic violence. Women’s rights organisations fought to have police stations, shelters and other services for women to be listed as essential services and to be kept open for women to seek shelter in, to escape domestic violence at home. A number of states have thus opened hotline numbers that women can call to seek help. A complaint can also be filed with the District Magistrate of each town or city. Legal remedies, although available, are very difficult to obtain. The process is long and tedious which can take years to reach a resolution. Judges that hear these cases are mostly men whose mentalities still remain patriarchal and biased against women, which often gets in the way of justice.
It is thus all the more important to raise awareness of this sharp rise in domestic violence and to hold state authorities accountable for providing adequate services and remedies to assist women who are victims of abuse at home.