Abused and tortured, women send out SOS during lockdown

Urban areas, small towns and rural areas alike registered a surge in domestic violence cases during the lockdown. Senior journalist Sourav Sanyal shares his personal experience of dealing with SOS from battered women during the period

Help me please,Who Mujhe Maar Dalega (He will kill me), Can’t take this anymore.

This was a WhatsApp message which landed on my mobile from an unknown number from a lady living in a Howrah suburb near Kolkata. I have no idea how she got my number but helped her with some details regarding the National Commission for Women (NCW) who she could turn to for help.

The good news is, she was able to go ahead and file a police complaint. Her video with a deep cut in her lips and her bruised eye was shared with the cops as well and sent across to the NCW as well.

The bad news while she was happy at being able to lodge her complaint harnessing technology, there are millions of others who continue to suffer in silence: living a life of constant humiliation, servile subjugation and abuse, virtually imprisoned within the four walls of their homes with zero societal support and no information of who to turn to evading the blood shot eyes of the men of the household who see physical abuse as a mere extension of their physical prowess.

The Covid-19 prompted lockdown for sure will be remembered for more reasons than one. And one glaring aspect which cannot be overlooked or brushed under the carpet anymore is the exponential rise in cases of domestic abuse.

As per data recorded by the NCW, which incidentally introduced a WhatsApp helpline number 72177135372, domestic violence accounts for over 47 per cent of the complaints during the lockdown period. NCW chief Rekha Sharma has also constituted a Special Team to look into all complaints on a priority basis. There is simultaneously also a substantial rise in the number of complaints from women seeking their right to live with dignity.

women domestic violence during lockdown covid-19
The battered faces of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama created by the artist AleXsandro Palombo for his campaign, ‘Just Because I am a Woman’ I Courtesy: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP

While this data tells us about the gravity of the situation at hand, does it really tell us how grave the situation really is? In a typical low income group household setting in rural India, a woman’s access to a smart phone still remains a distant dream in many cases. The only phone that one has in the house is primarily with the man of the house and in some cases by children.

Let’s put some facts on the table. While India may have been successful in bridging the digital gap, the gender gap continues to be a cause of concern. As per IAMAI-Nielsen joint study, only 35 per cent of digital service users at an all India level are women. If the numbers are further dissected by urban and rural areas, the inequality is even more pronounced. Only 31 per cent of rural women are believed to have access to the internet vis-a-vis 40 per cent in urban areas.

And this glaring gap possibly explains why hundreds and thousands of women who are subjected to torture and scarred by physical abuse every single day, do not even have the knowhow or the wherewithal to reach out to available helplines. “My husband beats me up every time I refuse to have sex. He says that is my primary duty besides raising children. Who do I turn to?My parents say it is okay and women need to learn to live with it,” rues Anjana (name changed).

But to think of domestic violence and wife beating only a rural India phenomenon would be incorrect. Reports come in droves of women in big cities and small towns alike of women being subjected to physical abuse. For fear of ‘bringing a bad name’ to the family, social stigma and apathetic attitude of the police many a times, women continue to spend a life of indignity and suffering with the abuser pretending to the world outside that all is well.

While non government organization (NGO)s and support organizations need to do their bit to reach out to women in distress, society as a whole also needs to wake up to this dark reality. There are global movements against domestic violence which harp on a support system for victims of abuse. In India, do we have an accommodating support system to start with? Can parents be sensitized enough to tell their daughters locked in abusive relationships to come out with head held high? Can our justice delivery system ensure that exemplary punishment is delivered to these abusers? Can our schools start early by educating young ones to grow up to be sensitive human beings and ensure that women given the dignity they deserve? Can our police force be sensitized enough to ensure they listen to women with complaints and take appropriate action rather than being outright insensitive and dismissive?

The ball is in our Court!

Sourav Sanyal

is a senior journalist and comments on socio-political issues.

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