Gender-based violence has never been a stranger to us in India. It has been best identified with the isolation of the victims, exerting physical, psychological, and at times, financial control over them. As the ongoing pandemic with its lockdown epitomizes isolation, it is no mystery that the rate of reported domestic violence and gender-based harassment cases has also gone up.
A UN report has recently analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on women and urged nation-states to include prevention of violence against women and girls as a part of their COVID-19 action plan. With a sharp increase in domestic violence cases across the world, Phumzile Mlambo -Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, has termed this increase in violence as a “Shadow Pandemic“.
Indian Scenario :
In India, the number of domestic violence complaints received by the National Commission for Women has doubled from 123 distress calls to 239 domestic violence complaints, from March 23, 2020, to April 16, 2020.
The sense of isolation, the 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. Traditionally, Work, school, and homes sans the abusers were being different mediums of escape for women and children before the lockdown. Sadly they don’t exist anymore as earlier. The principles of fear and danger normally motivating abuses now result in the use of Covid-19 as an excuse to amplify their cases, unfortunately with spaces of escape blurring from the lives of victims.
In certain cases, in an effort to contain the victims at home, the abusers have been found to spread misconceptions about the pandemic, threaten not to provide financial help if the victim is reliant on them, do not pay medical attention if the victim demonstrates signs of the infection, and misuse alcohol and narcotics as an excuse to cope with the continuing stress.
The cultural dynamics:
An important distinction between our health emergency and gender-based atrocities is that to end the latter, there will never be a one-stop vaccine. As a commonly acknowledged practice, one of the main factors behind gender-based abuse is the promotion of rape/misogynistic culture in our daily lives. The list makes its way into the ever-growing violent attitude towards women, masked as racist dialogues and jokes, implicit elements of stalking culture in mass media, degrading words used by individuals who do not identify as cis men, etc.
Instead of concentrating on all sorts of toxic activity that falls on the misogynistic continuum, much of the attention is typically given to an offence that seems more substantial in nature, some one-dimensional corrective action that does not provide us with promising conclusions. In addition, the dynamics of power between a dominant and a dominant gender that typically accelerates toxic masculinity often justify the latter’s oppression.
There has always been an underreporting of the number of crimes against women, including during the time of the deadly virus. Despite being one of the most important steps taken by the feminist movement in India, ‘Me Too’ had many drawbacks in taking down the perpetrators and receiving all allegations and cases of violence against women in India at times. Although our culture has definitely kept many women away from raising their voices, infused with patriarchal terror, let’s also look at how it has influenced harassment structures in India.
Drawbacks of existing policies:
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 micro-aggressions, 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 this lack of seriousness, little focus has been provided to most of the systemic 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
While the verbal advocacy of ‘violence against women’ has often been used as a steady jargon, the ineffective political initiative on the ground increases the internalized discrimination against women.
The larger issue:
The consequences-based model of most of the systemic measures against harassment is another loophole explaining the underreported numbers. Our policies essentially follow a black and white, mechanical approach to deal with something as sensitive and traumatic as harassment. The state would either prove the person innocent or provide a negative consequence to the guilty. Many negative consequences, particularly capital punishment, merely assert an idea of the state solving a problem without actually ending the problem.
Without understanding what leads to similar oppressive cases around the year, a last-minute, short-term fix like punishing the culprit further sensationalize the issues and causes immense discomfort to the victim, especially when the abuser is close to them. A complaint lodged by a victim against their family members may negatively impact their family dynamics and may lead to increased chances of harassment. Moreover, the fear of victim-blaming, especially in cases against family members, is always lurking around.
The way ahead:
Our laws should be more victim-centered instead of dwelling on determining the number of consequences for the culprits. They should spend more time talking to and respecting the victims and developing impartial, simple, realistic, and recurring support and protection mechanisms that all victims can continue to reach out to without fear of their perpetrators being complicated. A more responsive, multi-dimensional problem-solving strategy can be used by representatives of these processes so that victims can feel understood and empowered instead of finding themselves overcoming another ‘battle’.
Anyone is capable of being an abuser and anyone is capable of being a victim. Gender-based violence is a systemic problem that needs to be understood holistically to derive an accurate solution. And a number of NGOs are already providing support to victims of domestic violence, but due to the lockdown restrictions, it is vital that the government takes the lead.
Author: Ms. Anjali Krishna