The lockdown has placed us all indoors and it is a challenging time for the planet as a whole: and more so for some than others. Though the lockdown has been a much-needed step to contain the spread of COVID-19, it has and can have different impacts on different people mainly because lived experiences, the intersection of several identity attributes, and the different needs and necessities for different people. Reports of a rise in gender-based violence, as survivors are being forced to stay indoors in toxic environments, are coming in from all over the world - a very grave cause for concern.
In India, more and more homes are becoming breeding grounds for violence, and those that were already violent have only been aggravated. Seeking help against domestic violence is inherently complicated – and doubly so in situations of this sort because survivors may not be free to move out, may fear reprisals, may be silenced by extended members of family, or may even be immunocompromised.
In spite of the obvious correlation between lockdown and domestic violence, there has been no acknowledgement of the issue by the government. Though a WhatsApp helpline has been set up recently, there isn't much information available about its functioning or mandate. Also, there isn’t any planning towards providing safe spaces for victims of domestic violence to stay during the lockdown. Travelling requires going through bureaucratic police permission procedures which makes it difficult to leave for a safer location, such as natal homes, on short notice. Public transport facilities have been stopped completely. The added mobility constraints to an already precarious situation close the exit options that were previously available. These constraints in terms of redress coupled with the compulsion to remain in the home with abusers for an extended period of time makes the lockdown a terrifying and nearly fatal situation for victims across the country.
Survivors of violence encounter unique experiences that shape and inform their needs: while some may need immediate rescue and evacuation owing to the seriousness and grave danger involved in the situation, some may feel the need to find an empathetic ear to just be heard. Making a national helpline operational and functional, and staffing it with empathetic and trained personnel (who can observe social distancing and other COVID-19 contagion prevention measures) can go a long way in saving lives under lockdown.
In light of this reality, we call upon the government to, on an urgent basis, use the Nirbhaya Funds toward:
- Equipping the current helpline so that it can be fully functional and operate nationwide, with trained staff to respond to crisis calls from survivors.
- Create widespread awareness about it via ads and announcements in English, Hindi, and regional languages
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