August , 2020
Domestic violence surged during lockdown
12:40 pm

Aritra Mitra

Lajjo lives in a desert village of Rajasthan and is married to a man named Manoj who is an alcoholic. The latter abuses and molests his wife every night. He mocks her for being infertile while it is he who is impotent. The powerful depiction of domestic violence through the character of Lajjo in the film ‘Parched’ (2015) has become all the more poignant in the lockdown period in India.


According to a report published in The Hindu, Indian women filed more domestic violence complaints than recorded in a similar period over the last ten years, during the first four phases of the lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic. In the 68-day period, between March 25 and May 31, there were complaints of 1,477 domestic violence cases, made by women. However, the report also stated that the equally frightening part is that 86% Indian women who were victims of domestic violence did not seek any help.

In the early days of the pandemic in India, a group of women activists from Delhi sent a letter to the Chief Minister sharing their concerns about the impact of the lockdown on women. They further suggested that the state should look into the matter so that women’s rights were protected. Nevertheless, the rise in the cases of domestic violence since then suggests that the situation has worsened. A report in states that it became clear that with the passage of time, being locked into a small space 24/7 with one’s family created its own tensions. The report further stated that these tensions were compounded with job losses, absence of a public space, and violence against the most vulnerable, usually women, children, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

The pent-up tensions resulting in violence against women once again established the inherent patriarchy of the Indian society. Ashwini Deshpande, an economist and a professor at Ashoka University, in an interaction with BBC News, said, “The abuser feels frustrated and angry because of lack of control due to the constraints imposed by lockdown.” She added that this prompts him to exercise greater control by abusing his partner and/or children, often with violence.

The sexual division of labour is explained by Nivedita Menon in her book ‘Seeing Like a Feminist’ where she writes, “Women are responsible for housework; that is, for the reproduction of labour power. The labour that goes into making people capable of working day after day (food, clean homes, clean clothes, rest) is provided by women. The woman of the house is expected either to perform these tasks herself, or be responsible for ensuring that a low-paid poorer woman does it.” Thus, in either case, domestic work is considered to be a woman’s primary responsibility and there is a tendency to ignore the economic impact of the domestic works performed by women whereas men enjoy a sort of monopoly over professional work. Menon also notes that the sex-based segregation of labour happens to be the key, to maintaining not only the family, but also the economy. She writes, “The economy would collapse like a house of cards if this unpaid domestic labour had to be paid for by somebody, either by the husband or the employer.” 

Media reports state that the police, who are the first responders, are usually known to be unsympathetic to women. And the force is further stretched during the pandemic, enforcing curfews and contact tracing possible cases. However, women rights activists are of the opinion that that is no excuse for not helping women in distress. Deshpande said that the governments need to classify support for them as an essential service so victims can be moved to safe spaces.

The reason why majority of the women do not lodge a complaint against the domestic abuses is highlighted by Ekta Viiveck Varma, Founder, Invisible Scars, in an interaction with the BBC News. She said that most of the time, women do not want to leave an abusive spouse, instead, they ask us how to teach them a lesson or make them behave better. This is because of the stigma attached to divorce in India. Only few families would support daughters who want to walk out of abusive marriages, especially if they have children. Further, to stay in a shelter home or with parents has become especially hard during the lockdown when transport has been limited. States need to make women's helpline numbers active and effective in responding to distressed women and in arranging help for them. 

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