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Smriti Irani Denies Increased Domestic Violence In Lockdown; Here’s Some Data For You Ma’am!

Posted: June 12, 2020

Union Minister Smiriti Irani has denied claims that the lockdown led to an increase in cases of domestic violence against women. But is it true?

According to a report published in Times Of India, while addressing a TiE talk event hosted through a virtual platform on Sunday, Union Minister Smriti Irani was questioned about the increase in domestic violence during the lockdown, and the inability of the survivors to make complaints.

On this, the Minister said, “It is false. Every state has a police line functioning. We have one-stop crisis centres across every district of every State.” She further added that it’s not like every man is beating a woman in his house in India, and that the government is doing its part, having provided rehabilitation facilities not only for women but also for children.

Now I want to ask Smriti Irani: Ma’am, haven’t you read the news? Because neither the fact that domestic violence has increased during lockdown is false, and nor is the point that women are facing trouble lodging a complaint.

Domestic violence scarier pandemic than COVID-19

Studies have shown that emotionally stressful events, like the 2008 economic crisis or any natural disaster, are a reason for a surge in aggressive behaviour at home. So owing to the pandemic and the lockdown between the beginning of March and April 5th, the NCW received 310 reports of domestic violence.

According to the recent data released by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), since the beginning of the lockdown to May 15, there has been a huge spike in the number of domestic violence cases in all states of India. (As reported by Times Of India). Leading this list was Uttarakhand, with a total of 144 cases of domestic violence reported.

Another fact is that during the lockdown, the NCW has been receiving complaints through helpline numbers, email, and online portals. Due to the sudden ‘unexpected’ rise in the cases during lockdown, the NCW also had to launch a WhatsApp number in April to register complaints.

So one thing is for sure – that domestic violence became a pandemic of its own during the lockdown.

Why was there such a huge spike?

No way to escape

It’s not new for men to beat up women in their household. The thing that was different during the lockdown was that there was no way to escape. Both men and women were locked in their houses, which prevented women from being able to escape their husband’s beating.

No distraction for ‘frustrated’ husbands

Another factor was no distraction for the husband. Although it is a proven fact that alcohol consumption does lead to domestic violence, interviews with survivors suggest that the ban on alcohol increased frustration in the minds of their husbands. So if he’s frustrated he’ll take it out somewhere, right?

Phone/ internet needed to make a complaint

Now even if the government and Smriti Irani suggest that they have done a lot to suppress domestic violence during the lockdown, was the ‘effort’ fruitful? Not really.

The Union Minister very proudly mentioned that they have launched an email facility, helpline numbers, WhatsApp complaint numbers, an online portal, etc, to protect women facing domestic violence. What the Minister forgot over here is that all these facilities are only available if a person has access to the internet and phone.

No access to phone

According to a UNICEF report, only one-third of the women in the country have access to the internet. Also, just 43% of women as compared to 80% of men have access to a private phone.

This lack of access is evidenced by a report published in News18 which states that there has been a drop in the number of calls to NGOs since the lockdown began. According to Swarna Rajagopalan, a political scientist and the founder and director of Prajnya Trust, “A lot of Indian homes have one phone, and most often that does not belong to a woman.”

So in a situation like a lockdown where the only way for a woman to complain about domestic violence is through phone, how do you expect her to do so when she doesn’t even have one? Also even if she has a phone it’s very difficult to call for help when your husband or in-laws are always watching you. Especially women of the lower socio-economic strata who live in a one-room house with no privacy to make a call.

Many NGO reports suggest that this is the very reason why a lot of domestic violence cases during the lockdown have remained un-reported.

What could have been done?

Now the bigger question here is that in a situation like this what more could the government have done? Well for starters it could have been a little more sympathetic!

Firstly the ability to report domestic violence, especially for women of lower-income should have been looked at better, keeping in mind practical challenges.

Secondly, for the ones who report there should have been proper and practically implementable measures to help women escape their abusive partners.

Third, after witnessing the sudden spike in cases, proper funds should have been allocated at the local level to help women fight domestic abuse. It’s a proven fact that women approach local civil societies and NGO’s more to seek help if abused. So the government should have roped in civil society organisations, counsellors, mental health organisations, and other service providers to come to the aid of people facing domestic violence. The government should have also worked with these organisations, provided them with financial aid to work during a crisis.

Fourth, there were numerous campaigns about social distancing done on radio, social media and TV to spread awareness. Something similar could have been done for spreading awareness about domestic violence too. But sadly our government and women leaders like Mrs Irani specifically don’t look beyond their privilege to consider domestic violence an actual problem.

Sadly, all these things were neglected by our government. 

Learn from other governments

During the lockdown, many countries faced a spike in domestic violence. Indian policymakers should have at least learned something from their contemporaries.

In France and Spain, pharmacies were trained to identify people facing abuse through codewords, so that people who are not able to call a helpline or register a complaint, can approach essential services to inform the authorities about any kind of abuse.

The states in our country didn’t even learn something from another state. Jammu and Kashmir is the only place in the country which passed an order creating a dedicated fund to address domestic violence. The order also crucially, designated spaces such as pharmacies and grocery shops where victims could report domestic violence.

In the end, it’s necessary that not just that there should be enough and proper government action, but that citizens also help each other. Citizens need to more responsive towards each other and listen to each other. Neighbours should intervene if they suspect abuse, using tactics such as banging on the door or ringing the bell. As a society, we also need to provide women with a more comfortable environment to speak up.

It’s not that domestic violence did not increase during the lockdown. But one thing is for sure – that during the lockdown the silence of the already silent victims just got deeper, and maybe too deep to reach the privileged ears of people like Smriti Irani.

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