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Chandra wanted to contact a women's helpline to seek help. She is a victim of domestic abuse. Married 20 years with two children, she works as a nurse in a private hospital. Never before has she complained about her husband or in-laws. She says they have not been abusive towards her in these 20 years. So, what changed in 2020?
What changed in Chandra's life in the year of the global pandemic is more or less the same as many women all over the world. Their family members became the perpetrators of domestic violence. It is important to note that 'family members' does not necessarily refer to a woman's husband or in-laws, nor does 'abuse' refers to physical abuse only. Women face domestic abuse equally in their parental homes, sometimes from extended family members, and sometimes even from their parents. Similarly, abuse may be verbal, emotional or even sexual.
Take the case of Chandra, for example. Her husband had always been abusive - calling her names and ignoring her needs. But she ignored this behaviour believing this to be a common occurrence in all homes. It is only last year that he abused her physically. "I've always ignored his taunts and name-calling," says Chandra. "Show me a woman who does not face the same in her home. We're taught to ignore small slights to keep the peace at home. I think the problem started when my husband lost his job last year. Faced with the pressure of running the household, he was always depressed and frustrated. No wonder he took it out on me."
On being asked whether she has reported him in the past, "No, of course not!" said Chandra.
Before moving on to see how the domestic space has changed for Indian women during the pandemic, here's a quick glance at some global facts published by UN Women on their website:
- Globally, even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, 1 in 3 women experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner.
- Emerging data shows an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines in many countries since the outbreak of COVID-19.
- Sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women continue to occur on streets, in public spaces and online.
- Survivors have limited information and awareness about available services and limited access to support services.
- In some countries, resources and efforts have been diverted from violence against women response to immediate COVID-19 relief.
Though violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, it is more common than we think-statistically, one woman in three experiences physical or sexual violence all over the world. The perpetrators are usually their intimate partners. The scenario has worsened since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data and reports collected by front line workers show that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.
Exactly How Bad Are Things In Our Country?
Qhen the COVID-induced lockdown started in March, the number of domestic violence cases filed by women began to rise. According to a data-driven report by a leading Indian daily, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints during the lockdown than they did in the same duration of time in the last 10 years.
Though the number of cases is alarmingly high, it is safe to believe that many women like Chandra do not report cases of domestic violence. The reasons vary from fear of retaliation to the stigma attached to divorce in India. According to the report, even after this unusual increase in reported cases, a staggering 86 per cent of victims of domestic violence do not seek help in India, and 77 percent of women do not even mention the incident(s) to anyone.
Whom Should Women Reach Out To?
Knowing whom to reach out to for help is another factor that may be keeping women from seeking help. Out of the 14.3 percent of victims who sought help, only 7 percent reached out to relevant authorities such as the police, lawyers and social service organisations. A large majority of women, not knowing where to turn for help, sought help from family members. Additionally, there are fears surrounding unsympathetic behaviour from first responders like the police.
No doubt, there are many like Chandra in our workplaces, neighbourhoods or even in our homes. So, if you are someone seeking help for domestic violence for yourself or for someone you know, get in touch with the authorities.
For information and support on domestic abuse, contact:
- Police helpline: 1091/ 1291
- The National Commission for Women's WhatsApp helpline: 72177-35372
- NCW: http://www.ncw.nic.in/helplines .