The first week of the nationwide lockdown , which has left many facing job losses, uncertainty over salaries, forced isolation and stressed households, has resulted in a steep rise in violence against women. The National Commission for Women (NCW), which receives complaints from across the country, has recorded a more than twofold rise in gender-based violence.
The total complaints from women rose from 116 in the first week of March (March 2- 8), to 257 in the final week of March (March 23-April 1). Complaints of rape or attempted rape have risen sharply from two to 13, while cases of domestic violence have increased from 30 to 69 over the same comparative period. Simultaneously, there has been an almost threefold increase in police apathy towards women’s complaints with the NCW receiving 16 complaints on the issue as compared to six earlier, as the police are busy enforcing the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 .
Similarly, complaints relating to the “right to live with dignity” too have doubled, rising from 35 cases to 77. Such cases could pertain to discrimination on the basis of gender, class or caste or all three of them combined.
Activists believe that these cases may only be the tip of the iceberg, as many women will not be able to reach out because of restrictions on movement as well as a lack of privacy within homes.
Jagori, a Delhi-based NGO, which runs helplines (011-26692700 and 08800996640) for women victims of violence has in fact experienced a 50% drop in calls.
“Women need to be at ease to make calls for help,” said Jaya Velankar, Director, Jagori. “They need privacy, when they are certain that they will not be discovered by their family. But when the entire family is at home, it is difficult for them to call the helpline. There is no time and space for her to reach out for help. But that doesn’t mean that violence has stopped,” she added.
“There is evidence that in situations of crisis or calamity there is an increase in violence against women. There is a lot of anxiety in people’s minds, uncertainty whether they will find a job, whether there will be pay cuts, there are hardships such as in accessing food. In a patriarchal society like ours, men find women easy targets for venting their anger,” Ms. Velankar explained.
It was in order to address an anticipated rise in violence against women that France announced that it would pay for 20,000 hotel bookings and contribute €1 million to organisations that fight domestic abuse as well as set up assistance points at supermarkets and pharmacies.
Senior advocate and women’s rights activist Vrinda Grover said that while the strict lockdown was being enforced to check the spread of coronavirus in the country, it would close women’s avenues to escape violence such as by relocating to their natal homes or contacting the local police. “Lockdown can’t mean that you save me from a virus, but you expose me to other forms of violence,” said Ms. Grover. “The police is not the first port of call for victims of domestic violence and, therefore, alternative arrangements have to be put in place. This will be a very long lockdown and the government must ensure resources to help women in distress, health services to women and abortion are included as essential services,” she added. Ms. Grover said that civil society groups would be making a representation to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on this issue on Friday.