Kolkata: Bobita Gogoi (name change on request), a twenty-four-year-old working mother used to work as a domestic help in Guwahati, prior to the lockdown doesn’t know how to provide for herself and her three children. Her chronic alcoholic husband has snatched all her savings to meet his drinking expenses.
“I am worried. I am at home, thanks to the lockdown. My savings have been snatched by my husband. With no money, I don’t know how I will pay my rent or buy the essentials for my household,” complained Gogoi.
The story of a Kolkata-based professional is no less grim than that of Gagoi. For forty-four-year-old Alankrita Mondal’s (name changed on request), an HR professional, things are not that smooth at her home. Mondal lives with her husband, in-laws and two teenage children, who refuse to help her in the daily household chores. “Now that the maid is not available round the clock, all household chores are to be done by me. Neither my husband nor my children help me in the daily chore. If anything goes wrong, they all collectively abuse me,” said Mondal, a resident of Sinthi More, Kolkata.
The abuse is not just limited to mental or physical domestic violence but also sexual violence. Julie Banerjee (name changed on request), a business woman living in a posh apartment in South Kolkata, is finding it increasingly difficult to protect herself from her husband’s sexual advances. “He is forcing me to get into frequent sexual contact with him. The mental trauma is increasing as lockdown is progressing,” said an anguished Banerjee.
And, mind it, this rise in domestic violence is not just limited to India. It’s on the rise, globally/Covid-19 Pandemic or ‘Shadow Pandemic’ as UN women term it, has led to an increase in domestic violence (verbal, physical, mental, sexual and economic) perpetrated by intimate marital partners. The lockdown has provided a strong platform for the abuser to practice intimate terrorism, as now the victim is helplessly trapped with the confines of her home.
Ashraful Amin Samrat, a social activist working with Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, pointed out that there has been a manifold increase in the number of domestic violence, both among rural and urban population of Bengal. “There have been fourteen cases of domestic violence that we have received through our helpline numbers and yes, the number is growing. These fourteen SOS calls have been received during the lockdown period”, said Samrat.
While, the state director of North East Network, Anurita Pathak Hazarika pointed out that the lockdown has definitely aggravated domestic violence. “We work with rural women of Assam. We have received six cases during lockdown so far, all related to domestic violence. We are offering psycho social care and counselling to such women. We have submitted our memorandum to the social welfare department to recognise our work as essential service,” said Hazarika over the phone to eNewsroom.
While, Shyamoli Das, counselor associated with Swayam of Kolkata, maintained, “Women belonging to the age group (15 to 50 years) are the worst hit. Even elderly women are facing the wrath.” Single unmarried women too, living at their natal homes are not being taken care of by their immediate family members are facing physical, ment al and economic trauma.
Nandita Deka of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Guwahati chapter added, “Most of the women belonging to lower rung of the society have chronic alcoholic husbands who run away with their partner’s hard earned money,” said Deka over phone from Guwahati. She added that there are many women who have not been able to call the organisation’s helpline number and inform them about their plights. “Many women don’t have the money to recharge their phone and call us. The limited or no movement outside home is another reason as they are locked up with their abusive partner who is hovering over their head 24×7. Even if their phone is recharged, how can they call us?” questioned Deka.
“In many cases, family intervention is made as mental health intervention is a necessity. Now that we cannot visit the survivor’s natal or marital home, we make conference calls where we talk to other family members,” informed Chandana Baksi, a psycho therapist associated with Swayam. In cases where the women are abused by her family members despite interventions by the NGO’s, police help is sought. The district protection officer is alerted as well.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) has received complaints of domestic violence from across the country, and has recorded a sharp increase in gender based violence during. Nationwide lockdown. As per NCW’s report, between March 23 and April 10, a total of 370 complaints related to women issues have been received by the panel. Of the 370 complaints, the highest 123 were of domestic violence. NCW has even launched a WhatsApp number 7217735372 to report cases of domestic violence. Kerala Government too has launched a WhatsApp number to report cases of domestic violence. The 24 hours helpline has been started by the Directorate of Women and Child Development.
Consultant Psychiatrist of NHS United Kingdom, Dr Baidyanath Ghosh Dastidar explained, “Though both men and women are affected by the economic slowdown, there is enough evidence from history that violence against women spikes during season of high unemployment. So during lockdown both men and women are suffering from immense stress and anxiety, as their future seems unsure. Fear of death too affects individuals. To combat all this in a healthy way, we need to include things that keep us busy and happy. Spend time reading, cooking or gardening. Even talking to kids is a very good stress buster. Exercises regularly at home. Follow all safety rules. If you feel stressed don’t watch any Covid-19 related news. And lastly talk to a psycho therapist or psychiatrist for help if you feel like abusing or exploiting others.”