By Vasanthi Swetha
Gender based violence has witnessed a global increase in the last few months with lockdowns in place due to the pandemic. Hubei province in China has seen three times increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. The National Commission for Women (NCW) reported a two-fold increase in gender based violence during the initial lockdown period. The UN clearly mentions that even before the pandemic, “in the previous 12 months 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner”. Similarly, transgender communities contoniously face several hurdles and this lockdown has only made it worce for they have been increasingly facing stigma, in addition to a drop in their incomes. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that the battle in itself is not new but the circumstances are.
The lack of a source of income and unemployment leaves so many individuals frustrated and has worsened the pre-existing toxic behaviours. The closure of TASMACs have also induced withdrawal symptoms, adversely affecting the other members of the family. Moreover, the fear created by the nature of the disease has also been a major contributing factor in triggering violence in households. India has been affected on various fronts due the rising domestic violence, apart physical violence, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, emotional abuse is also on the rise. Mental health of both perpetrators and victims have taken a toll and may be a dominant causal factor triggering violence of all kinds.
India has been working towards various mechanisms in order to deal with this domestic violence during this pandemic. The NCW have released more than 50 helplines. Regional district offices have also been functional to tackle the increasing violence.
However, time and again, the predominant problem in gender based violence is reporting. The victim most often does not have the required environment to initiate reporting, especially during a crisis like this. Besides stigma associated with gender based violence, the confinement increases risk of being caught while reporting and the repercussions thereon could be much more harmful. The need of the hour is sensitive, innovative ways to keep the victims safe and initiate timely action.
There are various scenarios that make this particular period difficult. One major concern during this period is the zonal impacts on gender based violence. The red zones, especially containment zones could have dangerous impacts on gender based violence, with highly restricted mobility. It is extremely important to pay special attention to such areas, since voicing would be much more difficult. It is also important to identify periods in which women can find space to report i.e. while fetching water, buying groceries, when the partner is showering, has gone out to find temporary work, etc.
Several researches have proved causal evidence of low income and unemployment leading to an increase in gender based violence (Cramer, 2010). This means we need to proactively probe areas where there is a lack of access to ATMs keeping in mind the Jan Dhan beneficiaries. We also need to keenly observe efficiency of the PDS system in distributing hard cash, denial of such rights due to inefficiency could also adversely impact during this time. Migrant individuals without ration cards bear the brunt of being stuck in a different state without resources, preemptive measures to identify violence among migrant families is also important.
There are a few ways in which our government, the NCW, the ministry of women and child development, regional NGOs, Self Help Groups can help improve the situation:
Discreet reporting mechanisms have been devised across the globe, for example the French government has engaged with pharmacies for this purpose, where victims can report to pharmacists regarding their situation. There needs to be innovative ways to make this function locally, like vendors, PDS workers who make home visits to provide tokens, milkmen/milkwomen. For example, in Tamil Nadu, Amma canteen workers can be educated to spot instances within their premises and be provided with mechanisms where they can immediately report. Grassroot level NGOs and Self Help Groups must be given guidelines, funded and supported well enough to create safe spaces.
Regional police officers have been vigilantly looking out for citizens who do not abide by the COVID guidelines, however we need to encourage and train our police personnel to be constantly on a look out for victims as well. They need to be trained enough to identify circumstances that they witness, even if they have the weakest evidence. It is necessary to have clear and simplified protocols for reporting.
Investing in shelters and safe spaces is of high priority, because it is not just reporting that is hard but what happens post reporting. Relocation is a hurdle due to several reasons such as lack of transport facilities and perpetrator’s constant presence. Setting up relocation and rehab centers and publicising the information can help people in need.
The phone call – corona awareness campaign is indeed appreciable. It has also attempted to fight stigma against affected patients. However, it is integral to publicise the level of gender based violence through such campaigns (i.e. through phone Calls, TV, radio, newspaper, panchayat officers) and the repercussions if identified as a perpetrator. This does not only help with information reach but also with reducing stigma associated with reporting.
The Public Distribution System maintains high contact with houses in different regions even during this time. It could prove useful to distribute safety kits/ first aid kits through ration shops. Moreover, during this time, access to health care for other ailments is accompanied by varied types of stigma and therefore this could be helpful in such areas.
Third party reporting becomes supremely relevant at this time, there needs to be simple mechanisms that encourage third party reporting. There is an existing stigma with third party reporting as well, wherein repercussions to the third party is overestimated or at times there is a sense of hesitance in involving themselves in someone else’s family issues. Campaigns and accessible apps encouraging third party reporting and usefulness of such reporting needs to be made visible.
The burden of reporting is always based on the victim, however, it is necessary to find new ways to ease and shift this burden. Raipur police have been constantly following with domestic violence victims to prevent and identify violence that may not be reported. They are doing this by taking stock of registered cases of domestic violence in the last three years and contacting them. This is done under a campaign called “Chuppi Todd”, which translates to “Break the Silence”. This is an innovative way that other states could also pick up. Similarly, random digit dialing is a methodology that has been studied and used by several researchers (add ref) , the primary reason for doing this is to have a representative sample. This method can be adopted by NCW or regional women’s cells to call random numbers and have trained individuals identify possible cases. Research proves that female callers have a higher response rate, hence using a team of trained female individuals to make such calls and to conduct short conversations may prove to be useful.
These are a few recommendations, however, all over the world there have been multiple pathways that are tested to deal with this battle against gender based violence. The one conundrum that still exists is the simultaneous prevalence of increase in reportng in some places and decrease in some other places. Italy has marked a sharp decrease in reported cases of gender based violence during their as the circumstance also curb reporting. This means the actual level of cases is much more than the reported level. The unreported cases are extremely dangerous and hence government representatives, NGOs, policy makers and researchers need to be invested in identifying such patterns to develop feasible and practical solutions. One thing that could be helpful for the above mentioned bodies to work towards solving the problem is timely release of sex and geographically disaggregated data. Facilitating publicly available anonymised data through MOSPI or NCW gives problem solvers a better start, for the times ahead of us.