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The Unheard Voices Of The “Shadow Pandemic”

Updated: Jun 16

Written By: Hridika Rao, Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi

History acts as proof that the bodies of women tend to face greater risk during emergencies of disaster and crisis. Covid-19 acts as a constant threat to the entire world, but fuelled by mandatory stay-at-home rules of social distancing, economic uncertainties, and anxieties caused by the pandemic, the world is witnessing an increase in domestic violence drastically, also referred to as the “shadow pandemic” by the United Nations Women chief.

In India, the Delhi Police reported an 83.4% drop in the cases of rape during the lockdown, but at the same time, the National Commission for Women reported a massive hike in the number of domestic violence complaints during the coronavirus outbreak.

The pandemic has brought everyone to the niche of their homes, restricting people from engaging in their exterior lives. Being forced to stay indoors, some men might experience a sense of restraint and powerlessness as a shock of their diminished masculinity, leading them to use primitive ego as their defense mechanism shields, which in turn, makes them retreat to coercive control within their locked doors. This was highlighted in the case where a man recently caused his wife a spine injury because he lost in a game of Ludo. The mere portrayal of anger and audacity in this case clearly exhibits the rise of violent cases against women. Increased consumption of alcohol has made people engage in physical arguments, even leading to demands of untimely intercourse from their partners. Due to a lack of access to contraceptive pills or sexual protections, women often feel forcefully assaulted against their own will, leading to multiple cases of marital rape.

Many women were victims of such brutalities even before the pandemic took over our lives, but due to the current self-isolating orders, it has deprived them of immediate support from their friends and families who they earlier resorted to for comfort and help. More than one-third of these cases go unreported because women are told by their elders, that they must bear the responsibility of saving their families and children. This bottleneck situation often leads them to become silenced victims of barbarity on a regular basis.

The plight of migrants across the nation has been extremely disturbing for everyone to witness. However, we often forget that with the ongoing move of the migrants, women are expected to always be ‘ready’ for any kind of intimacy required in that process as a “stress buster”, denying to which, could cause them extreme fear and threat by their partners. Due to low-income levels, the situation of Sex workers across the countries has become awfully stunted and inadequate. Their voices are often unheard and neglected, leading them to be involuntary recipients of physical and cognitive violence

Having said that, we must also remember the mental and emotional violence suffered by men during the pandemic, as they rattle with the worries of maintaining their livelihoods and keeping the families together. Their self- esteem and moralities are constantly questioned by their family members due to providing low income, making them feel dejected and undergo immense stress. Years of being told that they must be the ‘head of their families’, makes them worry and ponder extensively about the future, which results in high levels of anxiety.

It is extremely important for the government and its citizens to stop looking at domestic violence as collateral damage and actively take measures for reducing it. Taking inspiration from Spain, India should adopt the strategy of a “code-word” for women to use at pharmacist shops, which would act as a cry for help. The NCW released a 24/7 WhatsApp helpline number on April 10 to report these cases on an emergency basis during the lockdown. Police stations should have individual commanding operations unit for Fast-track response to these cases with psychologically trained staff. The government should aim to announce stricter laws against domestic violence and use the system of Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) in rural areas to make women more financially independent. Community health groups like ASHA and SHGs would help women in combating economic deficits and become self- reliant. The state should provide its citizens with specialised online psychological therapies for stress analysis and emotional unburdening programme involving internal catharsis, irrespective of gender, or age bias.

Most importantly, families should aim at working together indoors and focus on inducing gender amity and respect. Parents could use this opportunity to make their children aware of the consequences of such violence and instilling in them the realisation, that violence should never be normalised as a mere act of “frustration”. Domestic violence that is emerging now as a dark feature of this pandemic is a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience and our shared humanity. We must not only survive the coronavirus outbreak but emerge renewed with the citizens as a powerful force at the centre of recovery.

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