This blog is written by Taqdees Fatima, a student of Ambedkar University, New Delhi. Taqdees frequently writes on issues such as gender violence, women studies amongst others.
Thomson Reuters released a report in 2018, that categorised India as the most dangerous country for women. The report received backlashes across the political spectrum and volatile media forces. It was considered as a report based on perception, and not on Data, a deliberate attempt to ‘malign’ the nation through a perception based poll.
Even if it is a ‘perception-based poll,’ that doesn’t invalidate the fact of ‘insecurity’ perpetuated in the psyche of women, internalising the fear and alternating the choices from workplace to home.
Renowned Women rights activist Kamla Bhasin who recently passed away, said ‘the focus should be on the result and not the methodology. While the methodology could have been more transparent to arrive at the conclusion, but there is unquestionably more to the report than the question of methodology.
NCW and her acting chairperson Rekha Sharma made the statement to reject the report. She mentioned the signs of progress India had made in countering the violence and making the place ‘safer’ for women. As more and more women are coming out and reporting and registering their ordeal.
Reporting gives a sense of data for the policymakers to intervene, and substantial evidence to claim and to be considered by the authorities to make changes at the grass-root level. The year after the report, a pandemic struck the Indian Subcontinent and the world shifting the paradigm and accelerating the gear in multiple directions.
The pandemic predicament
India dealing with administrative non-complacency and midnight decisions of lockdown left the marginalised in the doldrums. Migrant labourers walking barefoot from Mumbai to Bihar and other states with empty pockets and plates. COVID, 19 resurfaced all the disparities that were earlier brushed under the carpet, from income to internet to gender.
The pandemic was ‘mishandled’ and intentionally neglected due to the insensitive reporting nurturing the seeds of pre-existing communal polarisation. A handful of media reports did cover the social, political and economical ramifications of the crisis. But, the ‘sensationalisation and polarisation’ by the mainstream media eliminated all the space to analyse the intricacies and the entanglement unfolded in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The heart-wrenching photography of Danish Siddiqui captured many people behind the stories, but the ‘shutter’ within the walls barely captures people.
Gender violence against women is deeply rooted in the history of the Indian Subcontinent, the disaster exacerbates the various forms of it. Disaster hits the structure of any country and the lives of people economically, politically and socially.
They are intrinsically connected to each other, as the shadow and the Sun. Although there is little research on the connection between the two. But, Natural Disasters such as earthquakes, Hurricanes and Tsunami etc. resulted in intensifying interpersonal violence.
Gender-based violence is a Human Rights violation, it includes intimate partner violence, non-intimate partner violence, domestic violence, or other forms of violence. Women are disproportionally affected by gender-based violence.
While gender-based violence is not confined to ‘domestic violence’ but in India, it is one the most prevalent violence committed against women, including marital rapes. 27 countries around the world recognise marital rape and India. Intimate partner violence increases the chances of HIV, STD and other sexually transmitted diseases and vaginal discharge affecting the mental and reproductive health of women.
Emotional abuse which includes depriving the women of the custody of the child has been the least discussed. Intellectual abuse has barely received any attention as the patriarchal society relegates women to secondary positions. Intellectual abuse is depriving women of participating in the decision-making process.
The lockdown has undoubtedly increased the burden of managing both the workplace and the home simultaneously. Multitasking and daily chores gradually affect mental health and stress resulted in reproductive health and the cycle going on.
The recent Netflix drama MAID encapsulates the ‘intimate partner violence and seeking shelter within an overly hyped ‘American dream.’
According to the United Nations Population Fund, one in every three women experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, been beaten up, coerced or abused in any forms of gender-based violence .
GBV can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, intellectual or mental. Class, caste, religion, gender, the intersectionality doubles the violence and the process of seeking justice. GBV is prevalent in ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries, irrespective of location or geography, violence is rooted in all forms.
The UN women in its report on the shadow pandemic used the terminology to express the alarming concern on GBV during the pandemic. Shadow pandemic refers to the pandemic within the pandemic that ensued. Gender-based violence is engraved in a patriarchal society where the imbalance of power is apparent and seems to be perpetuated at all levels.
The United States of America and Italy have reported the rise in gender-based violence with the orders of strict lockdown, gender-based violence in India followed the same pattern of violence with the advent of lockdown and quarantine measures.
The demand for public transportation, safe road and working space has always been raised.
Reports suggest the decreased mobility with strict lockdown, sexual assault and rape cases decreased as well, but the lockdown is the conundrum that tells about the ‘stay home stay safe’ paradox
The NCW created WhatsApp helpline numbers for women to seek help and file complaints. It reported that the number of complaints of domestic violence increased during the lockdown from 2,960 in 2019 to 5,297 in 2020. The NCW received the highest number of complaints of crime against women in six years in 2020, one-fourth of them were related to domestic violence.
NCW chief Rekha Sharma said, ‘the women were unable to reach the police station because of the lockdown, and even if the police intervene or release the husband after a few days of detention, women don’t own house that makes them dependent on their perpetrators. Women in many areas are dependent on their husband’s cell phones for communication, the helpline number recorded the rise in the complaints, but it doesn’t seek to recognise such dependency.
During lockdown, the mediums of filing complaints are online registrations, emails or the use of social media. The medium is exclusionary that needs further intervention.
Meena Kandsawmy in her book, When I hit you writes about her ordeal and how she was trapped and isolated for months without internet or social connection.
The internet disparity is another dimension that touches upon the exclusionary help-seeking mechanism festooned with haves and have-nots.
Professor Rukmini Sen writes, A women’s rights movement in Kolkata raised the slogan, ‘neither matrimonial house nor parental house, women want their own house.’
There is a need to rethink the idea of ‘domesticity’ or the ‘stay home stay safe’ paradox of living with a partner and always at the risk of ‘bearing the brunt’ When the idea of home is in oscillating between violence and refuge. Such slogans need deeper interventions and concrete policy reforms.
The data on intimate partner violence in India is comparatively less than the developing countries. A Kolkata based feminist organisation Swayam is a Kolkata based feminist organisation that analysed new cases of women who approached their main crisis intervention centre in January and February 2020, during the lockdown in April and May 2020 and post lockdown in June and July. All age groups approached the centre during the lockdown, from all age groups. There was a 55% of increase in the complaints of domestic violence during the lockdown. The economic status of women affected the process of seeking help, as the availability of basic food and essential items were not fulfilled during the pandemic. In that context, reaching out to organisations seems arduous.
Gender violence not only increased but intensified. The pre lockdown violence by partners was ‘mild’, including verbal or slapping, that intensified during the lockdown. Needless to say, the isolation proved more opportunities for the dominant to display the power and control within the four walls. The severe injuries and dowry deaths are ‘normal’ in our structure. The lockdown affected the already sluggish economy but within the framework of ‘interpersonal relationship’, it has a multidimensional aspect to push women on the periphery. As violence is not only a bodily injury but it has a direct connection with the workforce. Gender-based violence seems to connect globally erasing the boundaries of developed and developing. The need of the hour is to create more information and substantial data for policymaking at national and international levels.
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