Is Domestic Violence the next pandemic in India?

“At any given moment you have the power to say this is not how the story is going to end.”

– Christine Mason Miller

By Dhara Tandon

India has always followed the path of patriarchal society. This age-long tradition has never died due to the circumstances and upbringing of youth in such an environment which glorifies it. Gender-based violence has never been a stranger to us and has been best identified with the isolation of the victims and exerting physical, psychological, and at times financial control over them. As the ongoing pandemic epitomizes global isolation, it is no mystery that the rate of reported domestic violence and gender-based harassment cases has also gone up.

Domestic violence has often been studied as an abusive expression triggered by financial stress, mental stress, fear, and of course, systematic patriarchy, that has furthered the cases of domestic abuses, and at times, even murders. The whole world is witnessing a sharp rise in the violation of women rights in the surge of pandemic. The national lockdown has reported more than 50% rise in domestic violence. A report prepared by NALSA documents showed that a total of 144 cases were filed in Uttarakhand alone followed by increasing cases in Haryana and New Delhi.

According to the official data of the National Commission for Women (NCW), domestic violence complaints have increased by 2.5 times since the nationwide lockdown began in India. In 2019, the commission received 607 cases between August-September, while in 2020, they registered 1,477 cases. As per the data provided by an NGO named Swayam (based in Kolkata), there were 22 complaints on average per month before the lockdown, which increased to 57 complaints on average per month through e-mails and helplines. Beyond socio-economic factors : Pandemics like Covid-19, though affecting all sections of the population, showed an adverse impact on women- owing to their limited education, mobility, access to work opportunities outside the home and ownership as well as negligible control over resources such as land and finance. According to NFHS-4 data, 71% of women whose husbands got drunk often encountered spousal violence- either physical or sexual. The situation has become worse during the lockdown.

About 86% women who experienced violence never sought help, and 77% of the victims did not even mention the incidents to anyone. The table shows that women who were subjected to both physical and sexual violence seek help relatively more than those who suffer from only one form of abuse.

Type of violence Never told
Told someoneSought help from a
Physical and sexual61.39.928.8

Causes of surge in cases

The sense of isolation and financial and medical anxiety coming along with the deadly pandemic and sinking economy have increased the frequency of terror within homes and most certainly challenged the concept of ‘escape’ for the victims. It is most likely that the number of domestic violence is much more than the real figure as one more factor exists which is liable for exaggerating this problem is that the victim is locked in with the abusers might not get access to a mobile phone and time to call for help. Most of the avenues which help them to fight the situations are impaired. The data shows that amidst this lockdowns the complaints of domestic violence have nearly doubled evincing the idea of patriarchy being dominant till today. Stress, the disruption of social and protective networks, and decreased access to services is exacerbating the risk of violence for women.

Another important aspect responsible for this surge in domestic abuse is domestic labor. Gendered roles all over the world have placed domestic work on women’s shoulders, which is socially and culturally often demarcated as “women’s work”. During this pandemic the work load of women has increased due to all the members being at home. With housekeeping staff being unavailable, the expectation is for women to do all the tasks and that too with full efficiency and productivity, and chances of violence increases if she fails to do so. Economic factor has also played a crucial role in surging this violence. A large chunk of women population is suffering from the economic dependence on the male counterpart. Researchers have long speculated that when one person relies on another for financial assistance, physical help or emotional support, the possibility that the dependent member in the dynamic will be mistreated or exploited increases. Economic dependency of one member could lead the dependent person to tolerate mistreatment because of a lack of viable living alternatives.

Domestic violence is in the form of rapes and sexual harassment as well and COVID-19 times sets out the classic example of it. 2 crore babies are to be born in India till December 2020. This is the highest number recorded so far. The question it raises now is that will all these babies be born with the consent of women? India still has not penalised marital rape. It may happen that the women during pandemic were subjected to force and since they are always considered to be subordinate and disempowered, they had to give in.

A major difference between our health emergency and gender-based atrocities is that there may never be a one-step vaccine to end the latter. One of the key reasons behind gender-based violence is propagating rape/misogynistic culture in our everyday lives as a widely spread norm.

Effects of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence tears lives apart. One in three women experience physical or sexual violence, or both, caused by someone known to them. It affects women, children, the family, and the community in general.

Effects on the victim

Physical effects
  • Bruises
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension
  • Broken bones
  • Involuntary shaking
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Menstrual cycle or fertility issues in women
Mental and emotional effects
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts
  • Depression, including prolonged sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to trust
  • Unmotivated
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling unworthy
Effects on the community
  • Children growing up without learning about positive and respectful relationships
  • Abusers going to prison
  • Higher rates of alcohol and other drug use, and mental health problems
  • Low self-esteem and questioning sense of self
  • Apprehensive and discouraged about future
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Effects on children

Of those women who experience violence, more than 50% have children in their care. Whether children experience or witness abuse, it can take a toll on their development. Domestic violence victims are not isolated to intimate partners. Children are at an increased risk for emotional behavioral problems regardless if they were directly abused or not. Children and young people don’t have to see the violence to be affected by it. Studies show that living with domestic violence can cause physical and emotional harm to children in the following ways :

  • Ongoing anxiety and depression
  • Emotional distress
  • Eating and sleeping disturbances
  • Fearful
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harm
  • Be aggressive towards friends and school mates
  • Feel guilt or blame themselves for the violence
  • Have trouble forming positive relationships
  • Develop phobias and insomnia
  • Use bullying behavior or become a target of bullying
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Academic problems

Children who are exposed to domestic violence in the home may have difficulty learning and limited social skills, exhibit violent, risky or delinquent behavior. There is a strong likelihood that this will become a continuing cycle of violence for the next generation. The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Children in the earliest years of life are particularly vulnerable. Children and young people need to grow up in a secure and nurturing environment. Where domestic violence exists, the home is not safe or secure and children are scared about what might happen to them or the people they love.

Government Measures

The number of crimes against women has always been underreported, even during the times of the deadly virus. ‘Me Too’, in spite of being one of the most powerful initiatives taken by the feminist movement in India, had seen many pitfalls in bringing the abusers down and at times, receiving all complaints and cases of harassment against women in India. While our culture infused with the patriarchal fear has certainly kept many women away from raising their voices, let’s also look at how it has affected systems dealing with harassment in India.

With cases of domestic violence swelling every day, the situation is becoming very grim. Recently, to tackle the situation better the Delhi High Court has directed the Delhi Government to mull over the appointments of protection officers. The NCW also launched Whatsapp helpline numbers to protect them from harassment and in grave cases Crisis Intervention Centre (CIC) through counsellors accompany the aggrieved person and make possible the recourse to public authorities.

The policies addressing the safety of women that we’ve already had in place have had only little impact. While most of the reformations are under-developed, there are several issues like microaggressions, marital rape, etc. that don’t even have separate provisions to be dealt with. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) has reached out to some women but has largely been flawed with an exhausting procedure and no uniform protocol for service providers that the victims have to go through. Due to lack of seriousness, little focus has been provided to most of the systematic measures related to gender-based discrimination in India. In order to work around this, we need to treat it as a priority similar to other essentials of democracy with more detailed funds, exclusive attention and a more advanced strategy.

Instead of focusing on deciding the number of consequences for the culprits, our policies should be more victim-centered. They should spend more time talking to and understanding the victims and creating unbiased, easy, practical, and recurring systems of support and safety that all victims can keep reaching out to without the fear of things getting complex with their abusers. Leaders in these systems should have more sensitive, multi-dimensional problem-solving approach so that the victims can feel heard and supported instead of finding themselves overcome another ‘battle’.

How to Combat ?

Recognize patterns and seek help – Know the signs of an abusive relationship and how to leave a dangerous situation.

Recognize domestic violence

Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control. An abuser uses intimidating, hurtful behaviors to control his or her partner. It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You might be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who :

  • Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
  • Prevents or discourages you from going to work or seeing family members or friends
  • Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
  • Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
  • Threatens you with violence or a weapon
  • Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children
  • Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
  • Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
Don’t take the blame

You may not be ready to seek help because you believe you’re at least partially to blame for the abuse in the relationship. Reasons may include :

  • Your partner blames you for the violence in your relationship. Abusive partners rarely take responsibility for their actions.
  • Your partner exhibits abusive behavior only with you. Abusers are often concerned with the outward appearances, and may appear charming and stable to those outside of your relationship. This may cause you to believe that his or her actions can only be explained by something you’ve done.
  • You have acted out verbally or physically against your abuser, yelling, pushing, or hitting him or her during conflicts. You may worry that you are abusive, but it’s much more likely that you acted in self-defense or intense emotional distress. Your abuser may use such incidents to manipulate you, describing them as a proof that you’re the abusive partner.

If you’re having trouble identifying what’s happening, take a step back and look at larger patterns in your relationship. Then, review the signs of domestic violence.

Break the cycle

If you’re in an abusive situation, you might recognize this pattern :

  • Your abuser threatens violence
  • Your abuser strikes
  • Your abuser apologizes, promises to change
  • The cycle repeats itself

Typically the violence becomes more frequent and severe over time. The longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional toll. You might become depressed and anxious, or begin to doubt your ability to take care of yourself. you might feel helpless but you need to break the cycle right there and never let that happen to you again.

Humane Framework

We need a comprehensive nationwide campaign to bring awareness among the people and make them sensitized towards this issues. These issues must be highlighted through various modes like, radio channels, national news channels. These platforms must be strategically used in the same way as the government has used for washing hands and social distancing to combat COVID-19. Efforts like in France and Spain, where pharmacies are being trained in a way to identify the victim of abuse through code words like “Mask-19” for the people who cannot speak openly on social platforms should be adopted. The non-profit organizations, civil society organizations are a key to unlock the unawareness in the society. A lot of these organizations enable shelter needs, counselling, legal aid, medical assistance and many more. A laudable initiative by the UP Police has also been launched named as “Suppress Corona, not your voice” which encourages them to be vocal against the crime. As a responsible citizen of the country under Article 51-A of the constitution, we have certain fundamental duties to perform on our part of which one is “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.”

The Way Forward

There is no doubt in the fact that the judiciary even in these tough times has imparted its services in a very hardworking way by establishing virtual courts and ensured justice to the victims. But still the efficacy of policies and redressal mechanisms needs re-assessment in one way or the other. Not only the physical but also the emotional and psychological health is at stake when an act of domestic violence takes place against her. So, we need to build a safe and secure place for the women by ensuring checks and balances. These crimes are committed not only against the women but also against the democracy, humanity, natural laws and most importantly our legal system.

The “Intimate Terrorism” needs to be curbed as soon as possible before the human rights issue especially (women’s right issue) become a joke for the abusers in the time to come. The Government along with the NGO’s can protect the vulnerable section and help them to survive the pandemic by the setting up of emergency warning system so that women could reach out to the authorities without alerting the abusers. It is high time that we, as responsible citizens of this country start taking up this issue to as our priority.

To sum this up, Swami Vivekanand truly said, “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”

22 thoughts on “Is Domestic Violence the next pandemic in India?

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