From womb till coffin women are prone to act of violence. Violence against women begins with a sex-selective abortion caused by the son-preference attitude of parents, takes the form of heinous practices like female genital mutilation, child abuse, and mal-nourishment during her childhood, aggravates to various forms of abuses during her adolescence, reach its peak on stepping womanhood, which continues till her death bed. In other words, being born female makes her vulnerable to the act of violence.
Social menaces like poverty, illiteracy, violence affects both men & women, but its severity is more experienced by women. Of all human rights violations, violence against a person is the drastic one due to the severe consequences ensued. Violence against women is analogous to terrorism; whereas the latter is an unlawful use of violence against civilians which is a crime against humanity, the former targets women and her human rights. Like a lethal weapon, violence can cause fatal outcomes including death, and can have both short term and long term effects on her health. If violence against women were deemed contagious disease it would be nothing less than a global pandemic, being a common threat faced by women across the globe, yet, the least recognized human rights violation in the World.
In an ideal setting, for a fetus, her mother’s womb and later her parent’s arms are her safest shelter. On reaching womanhood shared household with her intimate partner is the safe place where she spends the rest of her life. But in reality, each shelter has turned to a place of vulnerability and specifically shared household has turned to a place of domestic violence. A study by the World Health Organization indicates that globally every one in three women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime and WHO recognizes domestic violence as both women’s human rights violation and major public health problem.
Domestic violence is both ‘cause’ as well as an ‘effect’. Domestic violence is the effect because it is the result or consequence of various ‘factors’ and ‘experiences’. Therefore while analyzing the root causes of domestic violence, we presume that man is not inherently violent, it is certain factors and experiences that make him perpetrator of violence. Therefore in the absence of the following factors & experiences instances of domestic violence would curtail:
- Illiteracy: The Sustainable Development Goals recognize the importance of providing education to all, especially to girls and women, as it can effectively reduce the intergenerational inequality faced by women. Providing education is no more a concern of economic growth but it is a matter of human rights. Denial of education especially to women makes them unaware of their rights and they bear the abuse silently as a matter of their ill fate.
- Witnessing violence: A child who has been witnessing and experiencing violence in his family becomes used to it and later in life he tends to become a perpetrator of violence. Also, a bed rocked myth is planted in his mind that women are possessions that men can control and she is sub-ordinate to him. This myth is the major cause of domestic violence resulting from physical and mental abuse.
- Economic inequality: Unequal distribution of wealth is the primary cause of economic inequality among genders. The best example to illustrate this factor is the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which recognized the right of the daughter in the coparcenary property as she would, had she been a son and she shall be allotted the same share as is allotted to a son. Needless to say, the situation before 2005 can be understood without any explanation. The second reason causing economic inequality is the broad gender wage gap. As a result of lower income levels of women, they ultimately become economically dependent on men.
- Alcoholism: This is the major factor that causes as well as catalyzes domestic violence. Alcohol use adversely affects the cognitive and physical function of a person and he tends to resort to violence instead of resorting to non-violence resolution of conflict. Alcoholism is the major cause of a peak in the number of domestic violence cases in India during the lockdown. As the beverage outlets are closed alcohol addicts have no access to alcohol which makes them violent and women become victims of domestic violence, the shadow pandemic.
- Ideologies of male sexual entitlement: The patriarchal idea that women are solely meant for reproduction and to provide sexual pleasure to men is a factor that causes domestic violence resulting from sexual abuse.
- Other factors: Antisocial personality disorder, marital discord & dissatisfaction, beliefs in family honor and sexual purity, etc.
Coming to domestic violence as a cause of women’s human rights violation and major public health problem, the consequences ensued from the act of domestic violence shows that it causes both short term and long term impact on women’s physical, mental, psychological and emotional health. Following are the consequences of domestic violence on women’s health:
- Domestic violence can have fatal outcomes like suicide or homicide.
- Sexual violence against women can lead to unintended pregnancies, abortions and can increase vulnerability to Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Domestic violence during pregnancy can cause miscarriage and stillbirth.
- Physical injuries resulting from physical abuse can cause severe pain and affects mental health as it can cause depression and post-traumatic stress.
Sexual violence, particularly during childhood, can cause behavioral changes leading to alcohol, drug abuse, and projects risky sexual behaviors in later life.
The object of discussing the impact of domestic violence on women’s health is to support the argument that women’s health and human rights are co-existing. According to the World Health Organization’s definition, “health is a state of complete physical, mental & social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Further, the definition of domestic violence contained in section 3 of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 states that domestic violence includes any act or omission causing physical, emotional, mental & economic abuse against women. A combined reading of both definitions would make it clear that domestic violence is a form of ‘structural violence’ which poses threat to both women’s health and her human rights and eradicating domestic violence would not only guarantee her rights but also improve her health status.
Discussing the ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ of domestic is essential because latter explains the root-causes of domestic violence, in other words, it raises an argument that domestic violence is the result of various factors and experiences while the former discusses domestic violence as a cause of major public health problem and women’s human right violation. Keeping this understanding let us analyze the existing scenario of lockdown and check on the adequacy of measures taken to combat domestic violence. The object is to find out whether the legal framework is addressing the root causes of domestic violence and makes an endeavor to eliminate domestic violence or is it merely remedial?
When it comes to the legal framework, “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005” is the special law which provides for effective protection of rights of victims of domestic violence. The definition of domestic violence under section 3 is not exhaustive and it covers all acts and omissions causing domestic violence which includes physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and economic abuse. The Act deliberate on how the law is set into motion in the event of domestic violence and it also sets out legal remedies available to the victim. In short, the definition, mechanism & remedies contained in the Act are sufficient enough to protect the rights of victims of domestic violence. But the question is how many are aware of the existence of this Act and legal remedies contained in it? The problem here is a lack of awareness. No much effort has been taken by the government to publicize about the Act, as a result, many are ignorant about the legal remedies available and the silent cry of victims remains unheard during the lockdown. In reality, the terror caused by the shadow pandemic is in par with the coronavirus pandemic.
Though not in a strict sense, lock-down is similar to house arrest. Lives of people are restricted within four walls of their homes. This along with fear of unemployment, economic instability, poverty & starvation builds up frustration and this rage is taken on women who were already vulnerable to domestic violence. Being locked down at their home, women are left alone with abusers and they don’t have access to friends or relatives for help nor can approach legal institutions. The victims are left with no choice other than to suffer silently. This situation is no different from leaving a lamb with a butcher in a closed room. Taking into account the silent cry of women the Courts, National Commission for Women & various State Governments have taken pro-active steps to protect the victims of domestic violence. Following are some measures taken:
- In furtherance to the order of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi, the women & child development department of Delhi NCR has opened 24*7 helpline service to help victims of domestic violence and when information is received immediate measures are taken to rescue victim(s).
- Honorable High Court of Jammu & Kashmir took suo moto cognizance of domestic violence cases amid lockdown, directed the Government to increase the availability of call-in services, to designate informal spaces for women where they can report abuse without alerting the perpetrators and conduct awareness campaigns.
- The National Commission for Women has introduced a special helpline number via what’s app and started accepting complaints via e-mail.
- Uttar Pradesh police launched “suppress corona not your voice” campaign to rescue victims of domestic violence and ensuring their relocation to shelter homes.
It is noteworthy that the measures taken are in a positive direction to curb the ‘effect’ of domestic violence. But, the measures taken are inadequate when we look at the statistical rising of domestic violence cases. Needless to say, the current measures are offering only temporary relief which is oriented towards rescue and rehabilitation of victims. The law is set into force only on the happening of domestic violence; i.e. when a woman turns to a victim. Simply put, the current initiatives are only addressing the effect of domestic violence and not its causes. It is similar to treating the symptoms instead of disease.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is not the sole solution to the issue of domestic violence. It is merely a remedial law that comes into action on happening of domestic violence. It doesn’t address the issues causing domestic violence, instead, it only provides for certain legal remedies that the victims can avail. In other words, the Act of 2005 deals only with the ‘effect’ of domestic violence and not its causes.
We cannot ignore the fact that domestic violence is the outcome of certain factors & experiences, without addressing which domestic violence cannot be eradicated. The need of the hour is a mechanism which simultaneously addresses both ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ of domestic violence. For dealing with the effect we already have an efficient legal framework in force which is Act, 2005. When it comes to cause part, what we need is a mechanism that comes into action before a woman turns to a victim of domestic violence, and for that, we have to strengthen the implementation of already existing social welfare programs for women, especially the ones focusing on providing education. In addition to it, conducting awareness programs through community organizations, organizing legal aid camps at regular intervals, reducing the gender wage gap, strengthening health care facilities, improving the employment prospects of women, promoting the idea of women empowerment as a collective responsibility of all is some positive measures which can be adopted to eradicate the causes of domestic violence. Joint action on both ‘causes’ and ‘effect’ would eventually eradicate this menace.
At last, we must acknowledge the fact that the shadow pandemic is the result of darkness within us. Let us lift the veil of shadow through tamaso ma jyotirgamaya by lighting our hearts & minds with virtues of humanitarianism which our great culture taught and together we will overcome both pandemics.