The crucial issue here is not the lockdown, but a window into the varying levels of domestic abuse women go through with men most times. The Corona virus lockdown could have been exacerbating the abuse, but that is just an excuse to behave violently and be more abusive. The issue with this lockdown is that this may curtail women from access to help. If a woman lives in an abusive environment, it is hard for her to access any kind of helpline or try and escape the scenario.
The National Commission of Women has recorded 476 cases throughout India just through e-applications alone during the first three weeks of lockdown. The NCW had in fact recorded 365 cases of abuse three weeks before the lockdown. The number of cases during the lockdown is touted to be underestimated since these were the online complaints alone from those women who had access to online. Only around 30% of the women across the country have an appropriate access to the internet and among these, lesser than half of them have free access that is not controlled or authorized by any men.
Lawyer and Women’s Rights activist Sudha Ramalingam had filed a Public Interest Litigation in the year 2018 pertaining to the increasing domestic violence against women in Tamil Nadu seeking measures for the implementation of the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2005. In her application, she has stated that the movements of an individual are highly restricted due to the lockdown. Although, the Government has implemented several successful mechanisms during this unfathomable situation, the one issue that remains ambiguous during this situation is the protocol that has been made available for women in distress and victims of domestic violence, says Sudha Ramalingam in an affidavit issued.
Sudha states that the NCW believes that there have been 257 complaints from women from which 69 of them are of domestic abuse. This, she believes is a very conservative estimate since many of them who are unable to reach out are actually locked at home with their abusers and cannot have an appropriate access to any sort of helpline.
“There is a lot of proximity for these abuses to occur throughout the day and night. The frustration of these men within the house is constantly being reflected on the women of the house or at least that is what they are taught to do. There is no extended family support or counsellor support considering the situation. Earlier men used to beat up women as a result of alcohol consumption. Now, men are abusing women as a result of unavailability of alcohol and withdrawal symptoms,” says Sudha Ramalingam.
Adding to that, Sudha states that several research studies across the world believe that an access to a police officer is harder since most of them are believed to be held up in enforcing the lockdown. The lack of availability of a public transport for those who wish to leave their home, hesitancy of shelter homes in accommodating these women in the absence of the Court orders and of course, due to the fear of infection are compounding the issue further.
What steps could be taken?
“Ensure that there are proper, functional, working numbers of protection officers available and are widely made aware throughout the district through every form of media available. These protection officers must be provided with special vehicles to rescue victims from severe cases,” states Sudha Ramalingam. Her affidavit further reads that there needs to be a wider accessibility across TN for online complaints and authorized provisions must be made accordingly. Government must approve of shelter homes and release all the contact information through electronic, print and visual media to accommodate the victims. Health service providers must treat those who have been physically abused on a priority basis.
So, what kind of domestic abuse cases are being filed in Tamil Nadu?
“Domestic violence cases are of many types. Firstly, there is economic/financial violence where the man does not provide the woman of the house with money. Even if he does, he would repeatedly question her of where it is and where it has been spent. He would also physically and/or verbally threaten and abuse her to bring in money from her parents. Secondly, there is physical violence which most of us are quite aware of. I remember receiving a complaint from one of my clients wherein the husband would sprinkle sugar water all over her for ants to come and sting her. Lastly it is the mental and the psychological abuse where one is constantly abused and threatened till they are helpless,” says Sudha.
What is the efficiency of the existing police officers in TN?
In states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, e-complaints, immediate reciprocation and urgent remedies on Tuesdays and Fridays are some of the measures that have been implemented. So, what is the status in Tamil Nadu, what is the scenario like. Mrs. Jayashree, Superintendent of Police, department of Crimes Against Women and Children, says that the department’s topmost priority is to resolve these cases. “Unlike the statistics provided, Tamil Nadu’s women have much more accessibility to phones and are able to call in times of distress. These statistics does not go with Tamil Nadu. We receive umpteen number of calls through SOS Kaval App, 100 and N91 which is being maintained by the social welfare department,” says SP Jayashree. She further adds that even though the victims are in a containment zone, the team reaches them through inspectors or any sanitary workers or those who go for well-being.
“You may see the officers allotted to the epidemic situation but that is very few of the many officers we have and the rest of them are working only towards the help and rescue of women as a top priority. The officers who have been dedicated to handle domestic violence cases are during their duty full-time. They reach the destination after receiving a distress call, they talk to them to come to a conclusion and/or a compromise and even put them through a counsellor if necessary. Our officers are being more efficient than ever by immediately rushing to the spot to help these women out,” she adds.
She further adds that the Police department is not combating any other form of violence right now since there is a dip and this has been their priority. “The officers rush to the spot, seek redressal od the event by effecting a healthy conversation between the man and the wife. They further teach the family members to respect the woman in the family considering the ongoing situation. If the violence or the abuse is serious we effect immediate arrest no matter what and we are doing everything in our capacity to protect the women being harassed by the husband and or in-laws,” concludes Jayashree.
Globally countries have recorded about 50%, 70% and 80% of cases – the number of cases registered are huge. However, in a population as large as this, the number of cases registered are below 500. Women are not even aware of or understand the concept of reporting their own families under domestic violence. There is a connect there and the concept is new to them. This creates a vacuum when it comes to cases being registered. Unfortunately, our women are still unaware about a Law such as this that could save them!
If you need help to save yourselves from domestic violence, text the NCW at 7217735372 or call 100 or contact the Police through SOS Kavalan App.