GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE: AN EMERGING PANDEMIC

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.

Introduction

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.[1] 

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.[2] 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[3] 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[4] 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[5] 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[6] 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[7] 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.[8]

The Court failed to take note of the fact that women in India[9] 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[10], 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.

Conclusion

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


[1]United Nations, SEXUAL AND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE, UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/sexual-and-gender-based-violence.html (last visited May 26, 2020).

[2]Dhamini Ratnam, Domestic violence during Covid-19 lockdown emerges as a serious concern, HINDUSTAN TIMES (May 25, 2020, 8:30pm), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown-emerges-as-serious-concern/story-mMRq3NnnFvOehgLOOPpe8J.html

[3]Most domestic violence cases in lockdown from Uttarakhand, Haryana: NALSA, THE INDIAN EXPRESS (May 25, 2020, 10:05pm), https://indianexpress.com/article/india/most-domestic-violence-cases-in-lockdown-from-Uttarakhand-Haryana-nalsa-6412084/.

[4]Court on its own Motion v. UTs of J&K and Ladakh, (J.&K. High Court: 2020). 

[5]Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, §11, No. 43, Acts of Parliament, 2006.

[6]India Council of Human Rights Liberties and Social Justice v. Union of India, (2020), SCC OnLine Del 537.

[7]Unnati Sharma & Zainab Sikander, Sufficient measures taken to defend domestic violence victims amid lockdown, AAP tells Delhi HC , THE PRINT (May 26, 2020, 9:30pm), https://theprint.in/india/sufficient-measures-taken-to-defend-domestic-violence-victims-amid-lockdown-aap-tells-delhi-hc/404290/.

[8]All India Council of Human Rights Liberties and Social Justice v. Union of India, (2020), SCC OnLine Del 537.  

[9]MOBILE GENDER GAP REPORT 2019, https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/GSMA-Connected-Women-The-Mobile-Gender-Gap-Report-2019.pdf (last visited May 24, 2020).

[10]Ivana Kottasová; women are using code words at pharmacies to escape domestic violence CNN(2020), https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/02/europe/domestic-violence-coronavirus-lockdown-intl/index.html (last visited June 16, 2020).  

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: A SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEM WITH COVID-19

Kapil Devnani, a first year student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur discusses the issue of domestic violence in the light of the COVID -19.

ABSTRACT

The main focus of this article is on the rise of the cases of domestic violence in the period of lockdown. Domestic violence is one of the biggest social evil that is ignored by the majority of people in our country, but there is an urgent need to cope up with this problem. It is like one of the pillars on which the progress and development of a nation depend. So, this article provides a decent overview of all the aspects related to the Domestic Violence and also provides some suggestions to curb this rise in the cases of Domestic Violence.

INTRODUCTION

This lockdown to combat the present situation of COVID-19 is a crucial step taken by the Government of India. But as we know, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This lockdown has brought many challenges in front of our nation, one of which is domestic violence. During this period of the lockdown, the cases of domestic violence have been increased rapidly. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has recorded more than twofold rise in the cases of Domestic Violence during this period. The total number of complaints filed for domestic violence in the month of April 2020 was 315, which was highest since last August. The unavailability of alcohol for addicts and the pressure of meeting necessities were the key factors because of which this rise in cases was witnessed.

DIFFERENT FORMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Domestic violence is not only limited to physical abuse, but it also takes various forms in different situations. Some of these forms are:

  • Physical abuse – Threatening or physical assault, including choking, hitting,punching and shoving, smashing objects, throwing objects, and assaulting children. 
  • Sexual abuse – Any unwanted sexual contact, it also includes rape.
  • Social abuse – Isolating partner from society (friends and family), controlling the partner’s movements when going out, denying partner access to the telephone. 
  • Psychological abuse – Verbal and emotional abuse such as humiliation, insults, threats, swearing, harassment, and put-downs. 
  • Economic abuse – Exerting control over household income by prevention the other person’s access to financial independence.
  • Spiritual abuse – Denying religious beliefs or practices to justify other forms of abuse or to force victims into subordinate roles.

LEGAL ASPECT OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN INDIA 

There is a separate Act that governs the cases related to Domestic Violence in India, and it is known as “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005“. This Act deals with all the provisions related to Domestic Violence broadly and aims to protect females from the brutality by any of her household man and his relatives. 

Apart from this, Section 498-A of IPC also protects the women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives. This Section also stipulates a punishment extending to 3 years and fine as may be decided by the court.

ROOT OF THIS PROBLEM

The main hurdle that comes in front of this nation to eliminate this crime is that most of the cases of domestic violence are not even reported because it is very hard for a victim even in the most supportive conditions to report such abuses and this can be proved by taking the stats of National Family Health Survey-III, published in the year 2005. According to this survey, about 37.2 percent of married women faced spousal abuse, but out of this only, 2% approached police stations to sought help. In rural India, this situation is worst because most of the woman in rural India are illiterate and are very much dependent on their husbands who discourage them from filing the complaints. The NGOs which were spreading awareness and acting as a mediator between victim and authorities, making it easier for women to come out of their house and report such abuses are also not able to work because of this lockdown.

LOCKDOWN AND THE CASES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN FOREIGN NATIONS

Apart from India, many other countries are also facing this surge in the cases of Domestic Violence. Katrin Goring-Eckardt (Germany’s parliamentary leader) in her speech mentioned this issue and said that she is concerned for those women who are trapped with violent partners in this lockdown. In the UK, Mandu Reid (leader of women’s Equality Party) has called for the policy or legal changes to reflect the increased risk to women and children in quarantine. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres also appealed to the governments to pay attention to this horrifying global surge in domestic violence which shows that it’s a “Global Problem” and there emerges an urgent need to protect the victims of Domestic Violence globally.

STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT AND ITS RESULT

To combat this problem, the National Commission for Women (NCW) launched a helpline number – 0721-7735372, which enables the victim to report the crime of domestic violence through a message on WhatsApp. The reason behind using WhatsApp was that it is easier for most of the women to connect on WhatsApp in comparison to E-Mail and this can also be proved by the fact that a total of 40 messages were received in the first two days after the launch of this helpline number. But, in our country, a good percentage of women do not possess smartphones and there is also a lack of availability of internet facilities in remote areas which makes this initiative unavailable for most of the women.

SUGGESTIONS

The Government must implement far-reaching reforms that are inclusive of all women in the country, whether in an urban or rural area. An immediate step should also be taken to spread awareness about all the aspects of Domestic Violence and awareness about the helpline number should also be spread by using various mass media platforms. The Government can also change the legal policies to cope up with this rise in cases of Domestic Violence and can also take steps which other countries have decided to combat with this problem like, in Spain, the Government has proclaimed that the women will not be fined if they leave their house to report abuse and in France, the Government announced to put victims of domestic violence in hotel rooms and it also announced a fund of EUR 1 million to relief organizations working against domestic abuse, to help them to cater the increased number of victims. 

CONCLUSION

The only place where we are safe in this present epidemic is our home but, we can’t even imagine the condition of those women who are not safe in their homes as well. The Government alone is not responsible for solving this problem, but we as a citizen of this nation also have some moral duty to save those women and help them in getting legal aid. Our society generally ignores this problem and pays no attention to this issue, but this issue is like a slow poison which will affect the development of the nation in a long-run, and because of this there emerges an urgent need to protect the victims of Domestic Violence otherwise, the marks of these domestic violence cases will remain for a longer period.


Kapil Devnani is a first year student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur


IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

CORONAVIRUS AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: SOCIO-LEGAL MECHANISMS TO COMBAT THE SHADOW PANDEMIC

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

INTRODUCTION

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.

CONCLUSION

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.