Naina Bora and Devika Bansal, both 3rd year law students of Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar discusses the surge in Gender based violence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic along with the directions given by the High Courts of J&K and Delhi on this issue.
Battling the pandemic outside and inside the house, domestic violence has seen a grave surge in the number of reported cases all over the world. Falling under the umbrella term of “Gender-based violence,” it’s been defined as “any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships” by the UN.
India ranked 125th by the UN Gender Inequality Index, has seen a consistent rise in the number of reported domestic violence cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent lockdown. This could be attributed to the tense situation created in domestic households due to the economic and social consequences of the pandemic. This includes loss of jobs and financial instability. It is pertinent to note that the recorded statistics might not reflect actual numbers given the lack of accessibility to reach the concerned authorities due to poverty.
During the second week of April 1612 cases of domestic violence were reported to the Delhi Police. National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) which aims to provide free legal aid and advice reported 727 cases of domestic violence. This article attempts to analyse the orders of the High Courts of Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi, which have addressed and given directions on this issue.
High Court of Jammu and Kashmir
On April 18, the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir took suo moto cognizance of domestic violence during the lockdown and passed an order suggesting a set of directions to be followed by the Government.
The Court noted the plight of women as a consequence of the lockdown due to the inaccessibility to online platforms by women coming from weaker economic sections of the society. It further laid down guidelines for government agencies in adherence to Section 11(a) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which accords a statutory mechanism to ensure the rights of women against domestic violence by ensuring the Government’s duty in publicising it’s provisions through public media.
The Court suggested the creation of a special dedicated fund to deal with the issue, increased legal and counselling service, designated informal spaces such as educational institutions to serve as accessible shelters for such victims. Furthermore, there may be certain designated spaces such as grocery stores and pharmacies where they could report such abuse without alerting the perpetrators. Due regard was given to an increase in awareness campaigns and for all the courts in the UTs of J&K and Ladakh to treat the cases of domestic abuse as urgent.
The High Court of J&K has taken a positive step by providing well-rounded directions which encapsulate solutions for various scenarios while keeping in mind their economic background and access to online platforms.
Delhi High Court
On April 24, 2020 the Delhi HC delivered a final judgment in a petition filed by the All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice. Considering the rising number of cases, the inadequacy of having 17 protection officers for the entire state was pointed out. Moreover, the helpline number had been published in two English newspapers, highlighting its limited outreach and the inadequate efforts of the Government to spread awareness via other forms of media. Further, the High Court failed to address the concern regarding the inadequate number of protection officers.
The Government informed the Court that all the directions issued earlier By the High Court, have been complied with, and shelters for such victims will remain functional. Moreover, other help lines, including 181, will remain operational for emergency rescue and support that includes psychological support. National Commission for Women has also introduced a complaints portal on its website along with a WhatsApp number. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued directions to all private satellite TV channels and FM Radio channels to broadcast the helpline numbers and the different ways a victim can ask for help. The Delhi Government has also recognized 14 NGO run women shelter homes. Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), has established a toll-free helpline number and a WhatsApp number through which the victims can get relevant legal advice and aid. Further, both these numbers have been brought to the attention of the public via radio jingles, advertisements in the newspapers, and distribution of pamphlets in mother dairy booths and chemist shops.
The Court failed to take note of the fact that women in India are 28% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 56% less likely to use mobile internet compared to their male counterparts. This renders the multiple help lines redundant to such victims. France, for example, has set up pop up counselling centres in places like grocery stores, where the victim can ask for Mask 19, a code word used by women to notify the authorities if the abuser is accompanying the victim. No such direction has been issued by the Delhi HC, unlike the J&K HC. Due to the close proximity between the victim and abuser, it might lead to the victim being unable to report the abuse; hence there need to be other measures to address this issue.
Most people are still not aware of the help lines due to the limited reach. The Government must also focus on victim rehabilitation centres and other facilities. Despite the special measures taken by some states, they have still failed to take into account problems of inaccessibility to online resources and the minimal measures taken to increase awareness. Although the problem of domestic violence is all-pervasive, other states have failed to take up such proposals. The Government must take cognizance of the fact that uniform measures are required to provide consistency in areas that lack solutions.
There should be a notable emphasis on measures beyond help lines while considering the socio-economic status of women in society. The increasing number of domestic violence cases is an indication that government agencies need to rise to the occasion and combat gender-based violence during and after the pandemic.
Naina Bora and Devika Bansal are 3rd year law students from Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar
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IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.