12:10 GMT30 July 2021
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    Whether it be the rising rate of domestic and sexual violence or exploitation, or the increasingly onerous domestic responsibilities expected of them, the unsustainable challenges faced by Indian women have gone almost entirely unnoticed recently, and the continuing coronavirus pandemic has been largely to blame.

    Crime against women has spiked, with many cases going unreported in the country as it focuses on coronavirus. Domestic and intimate partner violence has increased globally to such an extent during the COVID-19 pandemic that the United Nations has termed it a "shadow pandemic".

    India’s National Commission for Women (NCW) said that its complaints from women reached a six-year high in 2020, having reached 23,722 - nearly a quarter of which were to do with domestic violence. The commission advises the federal government on policy regarding women’s rights and aims to provide a platform for issues ranging from sexual exploitation to employment.

    In March last year, the NCW said the number of domestic violence cases doubled within a fortnight after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a coronavirus-induced lockdown. Surprisingly, the NCW data also revealed that complaints received during the months of lockdown fell when compared with the beginning of 2020 (January: 538; February: 523; March: 501; April: 377).

    However, when the lockdown was gradually relaxed, complaints surged; in May there were 552 but in June there were more than 730. This data highlighted that although there was a rapid increase in domestic violence during the lockdown, few of them were reported.

    "A fall in the number of complaints could be because of a reluctance to put the family's breadwinner in trouble when money is short and the future insecure. Also, during a pandemic people fear being exposed to the virus by visiting the police station so women have a limited ability to file complaints. Therefore, lockdowns leading to a lack of access to legal facilities have prevented victims from registering a complaint against their abusers," celebrated lawyer Niharika Karanjawala told Sputnik.

    Karanjawala also said that constantly being with one's abuser could limit a victim's chances to seek legal help or file a complaint.

    "The pandemic and consequent lockdown cut victims off from their support systems. In many instances, victims confined to their home with their abusers will be isolated from friends and family whom they may have seen regularly under normal circumstances. It is important to bear in mind the fact that it is often these very support systems that encourage victims to speak out and seek help," she added.

    A study revealed that an estimated 86 percent of Indian women who suffer domestic violence never report it and 77 percent do not mention the incident to anyone.

    Moreover, as well as a rise in abuse, women have suffered a considerable financial hit because of the pandemic.

    According to the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy, a private research firm, the unemployment rate for women soared to 17 percent, which is more than double the rate for men. Of those who kept their jobs, many faced a loss in earnings. Furthermore, a growing number of women are finding it difficult to continue working because of their increased responsibilities at home and the fear of exposure to the virus while venturing to and from work.

    "In Indian society, patriarchal values are ingrained in women from birth. From the time they become sentient, girls are groomed to become 'good wives and mothers'. On top of that, lack of financial support, societal pressure, and stigma, etc are other factors which exacerbate domestic violence. Being confined to the house has caused tremendous pressure and frustration and this often finds a release in violence - both sexual and physical - against the vulnerable. In the present situation the repercussions of violence are higher as there is no escape," Prakriti Poddar, Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation, told Sputnik.

    Some experts have also blamed the increasing amount of "aggression" during the pandemic.

    "Everyone is locked up with each other all the time. Many have online classes going on, work from home, and an older person in the house who needs care. The stress of not knowing when the pandemic will cease, the focus of financial issues, all aggravate people. Even those who are usually moderate and mild-mannered might topple over the edge because of excessive pressure. In such a situation, what then happens is that the most vulnerable person (child, spouse, or an older adult) faces the brunt of aggression," Dr Kersi Chavda, Consultant Psychiatrist, P.D Hinduja Hospital & MRC, told Sputnik.

    Experts have also pointed out that there is still a lack of awareness about legal rights among women which makes matters worse.

    "Educating women about abuse - and the kinds of abuse - is crucial. Reporting domestic violence has often been cast in a negative light. The law moves slowly and it can take ages to get justice, and lack of social support adds to the misery. Women are not aware that domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse or dowry harassment. It is much more than that," Dr Shamantha K, a resident at the Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences department at Fortis Hospital Cunningham Road in Bengaluru, Karnataka state, said. 

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    Tags:
    domestic violence, women, India, COVID-19, coronavirus, SARS coronavirus
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