No lockdown on domestic violence

Stay home is not stay safe for some

Society

April 16, 2020

/ By / Mumbai

No lockdown on domestic violence

Locked in during lockdown: Women are finding it more difficult to reach out for help in case of domestic violence (Representative image)

#StayHomeStaySafe is the tagline being aggressively pushed by the government to keep people indoors during the lockdown. However, to an increasing number of women in the country, just the reverse has become true as domestic violence rises.

Damini (name changed), a 38-year-old woman works at a local bidi (tobacco) manufacturer in Ahmednagar, a small city in the western state of Maharashtra, about 250 km east of Mumbai. On a given day, Damini earns between INR 90-150. The income, however small it may look, gives her financial stability and helps her in taking care of her small family that includes her three children, two boys and a 17 year old girl, and her husband. Her alcoholic husband is a daily wager employed at a fabrication shop.

Before the lockdown began, Damini could handle her husband’s drinking habits as most of the time both of them were at work. However, with the lockdown, Damini’s small world turned upside down, as deprived of alcohol, her husband became violent, abusive and even a potential rapist.

“Ever since the lockdown her husband was staying at home and on the fourth day of the lockdown he lost his temper as he could not get any liquor. The wife informed us that he had started watching porn sites and was expecting her to perform sex like he had seen in porn films. When the wife refused to obey as they shared the bedroom with their children, he beat up his wife,” Girish Kulkarni, founder of Snehalaya, an NGO that pioneered in working with HIV positive sex workers and their children in Ahmednagar tells Media India Group.

Her husband’s depravity was not limited only to Damini. He soon began looking at their daughter as an easy prey to satisfy his sexual desires. On March 30, Damini went to buy groceries with her two sons, leaving the daughter behind with her husband. At this time, the husband allegedly tried to force himself on his daughter. “The daughter screamed and ran to her mother for help. When the wife questioned her husband about his actions, he beat her and their daughter with a stick. Finally, their lives were saved only when their neighbours intervened. But instead of feeling guilty or remorse about his actions, the man kicked the mother and daughter from the house, while keeping their two sons with him,’’ adds Kulkarni.

On April 1, the mother and daughter reached Snehalaya. Even though both were subjected to violence, Damini has so far refused to file a police complaint against her husband, worrying about the impact on their family. ‘‘She thinks that she will lose financial support to manage her family if her husband is arrested,’’ says Kulkarni.

Damini’s is not the only case of domestic violence during the lockdown. Indeed the incidents are rising across the country. The National Commission for Women (NCW), which receives complaints of domestic violence from across the country, has recorded more than two-fold rise in gender-based violence during the lockdown. NCW says that the total number of complaints from women rose from 116 in the first week of March (March 2-8), to 370 from March 23-April 10. Out of the 370 complaints, the highest 123 were of domestic violence, according to the data.

Who will listen to the poor?

Even though it shows a significant increase in the number of incidents, the NCW data does not capture the entire picture as all the complaints listed by NCW had been received via email. Thus, it excludes women from the lower strata of the population who are most vulnerable and either are illiterate or do not have access to email. Also, during the lockdown they may not be able to get to the police as venturing out of homes has been strictly prohibited.  Organisations like Snehalaya are trying to help such people through their Snehadhar Helpline that is especially run for women in distress.

“After lockdown, we are receiving 14 to 17 calls on an average every day on the Snehadhar helpline about the different types of atrocities by women, almost double number before,’’ says Kulkarni.

“The calls mostly relate to violence by husband or in-laws. They also refer to sexual abuse as an effect of watching porn sites, torture, abuse of various types of their own children and torture by husband due to addictions of liquor and tobacco,” adds Kulkarni.

With rising cases in domestic violence, more and more women are trying to reach out for help. Kulkarni says he is getting more calls from women who want shelter. However, due to lack of transportation during the lockdown, he cannot help many. The ambulances that his shelter home has in now busy with relief work for covid.

“We are getting calls from all over Ahmednagar district. Hence, we talk to our youth volunteers, self-help groups, police and lawyers, to intervene and provide immediate assistance, till we can get the women to our shelter. Presently, we have 35 cases in our Snehadhar shelter home in our rehab centre in MIDC area in Ahmednagar. Only two cases in one stop centre (OSC) at Ahmednagar city,” says Kulkarni. OSC is a joint venture with government of Maharashtra for the same motive.

Kulkarni feels that the main reason in the increasing number of domestic violence cases is due to the men with addictions facing psychological challenges of withdrawal symptoms in the absence of easy availability of tobacco or alcohol. “There is a lot of frustration due to the lockdown. Most of the men are watching lot of sexual content online as well as porn films, affecting their mental state. Since most of the men are the sole breadwinners for their families, now with no jobs and money they are getting frustrated and taking it out on their wives and women in the family,” adds Kulkarni.

Indeed, data suggests that since the lockdown began, there has been a sharp uptick in the visits to pornographic websites. Though porn-watching has increased in most countries with a lockdown, in India the growth has been the highest. The average increase in porn-watching from India was 33 pc, three times that of the average rise worldwide, which stood at 10.5 pc, says a recent report.

Is anyone listening?

The NCW has shared a WhatsApp number to report cases of domestic violence. It says the number –7217735372 — is in addition to the online complaint links and emails which are already operational. “This is an emergency number for women facing domestic violence complaints only,” said an NCW member.The number has only been launched for the period of lockdown, the NCW said.

Providing helplines addresses only half the problem. The NCW and NGOs like Snehalaya ought to work now on reassuring women like Damini, who has found shelter away from her abusive husband, to take the next step and lodge a police complaint. When men see a real threat of landing behind the bars for their acts inside their homes  they may start thinking before raising their hand again. Only then will #StayHomeStaySafe will be true for women like Damini.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Avatar Girish Kulkarni says:

    This story has perfectly highlighted the grave social issue of growing atrocities on women and children during the lockdown period .

  2. Avatar Sarah Walker says:

    Great article! I’m writing a dissertation on the impact of covid-19 on domestic violence and hoping to use Snehalaya as a case study. Is it possible to find out where you accessed your data sources such as the NCW data as I currently can’t find it! Thanks so much.

  3. Avatar Varsha Singh says:

    Hey, thank you so much. The NCW data I got from several news reports. If you need contact for Snehalaya do let us know!

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