Lockdowns lock women in abusive households

Domestic violence: Women suffering in silence

Society

June 22, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Lockdowns lock women in abusive households

The complaints of domestic violence received by National Commission of Women sharply rose from 2,960 in 2019 to 5,297 in 2020 (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

While domestic violence has been a global issue for long, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the following lockdowns has trapped many women with their abusive partners creating a much more dangerous and hapless situation for them.

“A lady came to us with a complaint of domestic violence, but everytime we talked to her she changed her story, she was really scared, and our first response was to get her out of her house to a safe place. We took her to a psychologist and after two-three sessions with the psychologist she was finally stable enough to tell us the full story, we found out that her in-laws had forcefully aborted her child a couple of times, which hampered her mental health. After much persuasion and counselling she decided to file criminal complaint against her husband and mother in law,” Snehlata, programme director, Azad NGO Delhi, a nongovernmental organisation working for women’s rights tells Media India Group.

The number of domestic violence cases rose exponentially after the first lockdown to curb Covid-19 was imposed towards on March 25, 2020. The number of complaints of domestic violence received by National Commission of Women sharply rose from 2,960 in 2019 to 5,297 in 2020.

Over a year since then, the numbers keep on rising. The NCW continues to receive over 2,000 complaints every month of crimes against women with nearly one-fourth of them related to domestic violence. According to the latest data, NCW received over 1,463 complaints of domestic violence against women from January, 2021 to March 25, 2021.

Underreporting of domestic abuse

Even though reports of domestic abuse against women have increased considerably, experts have suggested they are still underreported owing to various reasons ranging from financial dependence to emotional abuse.

“In societies like India, with a patriarchal power structure and rigid gender roles, women are often poorly equipped to protect themselves if their partners become violent. Economic dependence has been found to be the central reason, without the ability to sustain themselves economically, women are forced to stay in abusive relationships and are not able to be free from violence. Due to deep-rooted values and culture, women do not prefer to adopt the option of separation or divorce,” Puja Roy, Counselling Psychologist at Goodlives, an organisation which aims to make mental health treatment accessible tells Media India Group.

“Lack of information about alternatives also forces women to suffer silently within the four walls of their homes. Some women may believe that they deserve the beatings because of some wrong action on their part. Other women refrain from speaking about the abuse because they fear that their partner will further harm them in reprisal for revealing family secrets, or they may be ashamed of their situation,” she adds.

The problem of underreporting has dangerously increased especially since the onset of the pandemic as women have been hesitant to report domestic violence because of lack of shelter as they feel they have no-where to go to.

“Providing shelter is the biggest challenge we face, especially during Covid-19.At this time there is no place for such women to go to, because of which this year we have observed an apprehension in women and the number of distress call have decreased. They haven’t been reporting because they cannot leave their homes,” says Snehlata.

Un-empathetic legal authorities

Even though many non-governmental organisations have been working tirelessly to help women suffering domestic abuse, lack of support from police and other officials makes their work even more difficult. While in most cases, women themselves are apprehensive of filing complaints due to deep-rooted patriarchal conditioning, unempathetic and ignorant police officers further break their strength.

“In my experience, only in 10 pc cases police takes these matters seriously. They usually say things like “it’s your family matter so solve it in the family,” especially during the pandemic when other problems are surfacing these cases are often ignored,” says Snehlata.

Right way of intervention

Organisations working with survivors of domestic violence say the removal of the survivor from the abusive environment the most important step of any intervention.

“An effective response to violence must be multi-sectoral; addressing the immediate practical needs of women experiencing abuse; providing long-term follow up and assistance, and legal solutions,” says Roy.

While there are laws and provisions in the Indian Constitution to protect women from domestic abuse, the conditions are likely to worsen due to the deep-rooted gender inequality and patriarchal thinking.

“Laws alone cannot help in preventing domestic abuse. What is needed is a change in mindsets. Since violence against women is both a consequence and a cause of gender inequality, primary prevention programs that address gender inequality and tackle the root causes of violence are all essential. All of us equally have a responsibility to build awareness and act on domestic violence,” says Roy.

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