Tanvi Jain, a First year Law student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, discusses the legal and social framework to combat Domestic violence as an outbreak of coronavirus pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire globe to a standstill often referred to as “lockdown”. Persistent efforts and legislations are being devised to deal with the analogous crises of economic recession. However, India seems to have forgotten or ignored the psychological and social pitfalls. Domestic Violence is one of the camouflaged consequences of the current situation. National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data indicates that over 30% of Indian women have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused by their husbands at some point in their lives. The nation already has its women looted off of their opportunity. The lockdown has further left the deceived with no choice however to live under a similar rooftop as their abuser.
THE SHADOW PANDEMIC
India is already ill-famed for having a dismal rank of 112 in the Gender Gap Index of World Economic Forum. The reasons behind the surge betwixt the viral outbreak are deemed to be financial pressures due to unemployment, lack of access to alcohol, looming hunger, and poverty, solitude, etc. Even the World Health Organization asserted that alcohol can be one of the reasons contributing to the increasing severity and frequency of injury. The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres engaged the legislatures of the considerable number of nations hit with the viral fear to make strides in forestalling, warning by asserting, “horrifying global surge in domestic violence”. The National Commission of Women, in April, suggested a 100% spike in the domestic violence cases in India. This was quite obvious since the perpetrator and the victim have to reside under the same roof. However, a greater matter of concern is the dip in the reporting of complaints as compared to the past. The Delhi Commission of Women (DCW) witnessed a decrease in calls related to domestic violence – from 808 during March 12-25 to 337 during April 7-20. While no express end can be drawn, this is likely because of the nearness of the culprits in the house and the dread of further savagery inferable from the endeavours to report.
LEGAL AND SOCIAL FRAMEWORK
India introduced the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005. It facilitates protection and ensures remedy to the bracket of victims which encompasses all women who may be mother, sister, wife, widow, or partners living in a shared household. The perpetrators incorporate the husband, live-in partner, male and female relatives of the husband, and the live-in partner. The said legislation only provides monetary relief and damages and is primarily a civil law offering no criminal punishment. However, the entire court proceedings take place according to the Criminal Procedure Code. Hence, apart from taking aid through this act, the victim can resort to filing a suit under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. However, the law, in spirit, has not been successfully implemented. Also, a shift to an inquisitorial mechanism wherein the judge partakes and holds discussions with the Protection Officers, who are the personnel appointed by every state to ensure the safety of the victim and aid in fighting her case, is imperative in the contingency. However, this designation has not been taken seriously, wherein, the government officers appointed on district levels are handed over this function as an additional job. The act even though mandates the solving of the case to be accomplished within 2 months or 60 days, it is unfeasible for the courts already stacked up with pending cases.
In the wake of the said catastrophe, a petition was filed by the All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties Social Justice (AICHLS) in the Delhi High Court. The petition prayed for 11 reliefs in front of the court, urging the court to set about certain measures to control the upheaval. The court ordered the respondents, to take into consideration the petitioner’s suggestions such as extensive publication of awareness through mass media and temporary appointment of Protection Officers, and to come up with their measures.
The introduction or alteration of mere legislation or a judicial order cannot be averred as the resolution for the proposed issue. There are certain measures which are needed to be adopted by the society and local bodies for the effective abatement of the present massive quantum of domestic violence cases. More than 50 helplines have been started across the nation for this cause, by the police, women welfare bodies, and several non-governmental organizations working for women’s rights safety. However, access to such a resort proves to be weaker when locked up with the abuser himself. Hence, instead of just publicizing a phone number, regular and vigilant checking should be carried out by a qualified appointed Protection Officer. Also, receivers of the complaints have to be well and pre-equipped with remedies for all possible situations, understanding and polite. The National Commission for Women like Spain, introduced a portal, as well as a Whatsapp number for registration of complaints, but it failed to offer any succour to the oppressed women from the economically weaker strata of the nation.
The shelter homes and care centres established by the government, instead of acting as safe havens, can turn out to be a lethal means of catching and rapid spreading of the virus. Hence, instead of mobilizing the women, the abusers should be put into institutional quarantine accommodation. The Pune Zilla Parishad has decided to put men accused of domestic violence, into quarantine alone. According to a detailed study conducted by Professor Radha Iyengar at Harvard University, police action adopted to fight domestic violence increased the cases of homicides in intimate partners. The police department needs to ensure that FIRs or non-cognizable reports for such crimes are prioritized so that delay in action does not give rise to a further dreadful condition for the ones suffering. The Italian police have already concocted an app simplifying the reporting. Apart from the police intervention, professionals of the likes of psychologists, counsellors, lawyers, and even mediators can prove to be a vital asset in these times. Neighbours can be made entitled to a reasonable reward which may act as an inducement for reporting any such practice in the locality.
The concept of “One-stop centres” was introduced by the government in 2015 as a part of a Centrally sponsored scheme popularly known as Sakhi. Such facilities should be declared as essential services so that they can continue to bestow help to the victims. Certain informal complaint centres can be initiated in grocery shops, medical stores, banking institutions, etc. A similar approach is being adopted by France, wherein, the distressed are advised to report discreetly at pharmacies, which in turn would report to the police.
COVID-19 is a reality no one expected even in one’s wildest of imaginations. Confinement, as a means adopted to fight the contagion, further sowed the seeds of another setback to the well-being of the masses, i.e., Domestic Violence. The interposition of the police should be considered as a last resort only to be availed after counselling and reporting through helplines does not provide the victims the required help. Rather than relying on an archaic legislation, the government needs to institute a concrete framework facilitating streamlined monitoring at the grass-root level.
Tanvi Jain is a First year Law student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar
IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.