Honesty, pride and self-esteem are crucial to the personal freedom of a woman. Social progress depends on the progress of everyone. Following words of the father of our nation must be noted at all times: To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?” – Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2017) 6 SCC 1.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is observed every year on 25th November. This day was first commemorated in the year 1999 following a proclamation from the United Nations General Assembly. This year’s theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect.” This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women will mark the launch of 16 days of activism that will conclude on 10th December, 2020, which is International Human Rights Day. The World Human Rights Conference in Vienna, first recognised gender-based violence as a human rights violation in 1993. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. It encompasses, but is not limited to physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation; physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere; trafficking in women and forced prostitution; and physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spread like wildfire in the entire world and is hardly showing any signs of disappearing anytime soon. Mental health problems are becoming more numerous, with the efflux of time, and lucid panaceas look like a distant dream. We have to become proficient in living with this deadly virus until a fruitful vaccination for COVID-19 springs up. The pandemic has brought various challenges before us and one of the most infelicitous challenges is the problem of violence against women which has affected their physical, mental, and social well-being during these unprecedented times. Between 1st March, 2020 and 18th September, 2020, the National Commission for Women has received over 4,300 complaints of domestic violence which means the commission has received a large number of complaints during this pandemic and this worrying rise in the number of complaints of domestic violence is a matter of grave concern. The increase in the number of cases of domestic violence during the lockdown is not only due to the corralling of people in their abodes but it is also due to various other factors such as mental sufferings, loss of jobs, frustration, reduction in income, alcohol abuse and restricted social support. According to the World Health Organization, one in every three women across the globe experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
In India, before the advent of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the victims of domestic violence were able to approach the court under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which provides for husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty. Therefore, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, was enacted to protect women from domestic violence. The Act aims to provide for effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution of India who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith. The Act’s primary objective is to protect a woman from cruelty or any kind of violence committed on her by her in-laws or husband at her matrimonial home.
Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Central Government and every State Government, have to take all measures to ensure that the provisions of the Act are given wide publicity through public media including the television, radio, and the print media at regular intervals. The officers of the Central Government and State Governments including the police officers and the members of the judicial services have to be given periodic sensitization and awareness training on the issues addressed by the Act. There has to be effective coordination between the services provided by concerned Ministries and Departments dealing with law, home affairs including law and order, health and human resources to address issues of domestic violence. Therefore, the Central Government and State Governments have significant duties under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, for the protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family. In Shyamlal Devda v. Parimala, (2020) 3 SCC 14, it was held by the Supreme Court that a petition under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, can be filed in a court where an aggrieved person, permanently or temporarily resides or carries on business or is employed.
It is a distant dream for the economically weaker sections of the society to lodge a complaint online or call a helpline number for reporting a case of domestic violence which adds more troubles to their already existing problems. Mental health effects of domestic violence are also on the rise along with the physical effects. Women are falling prey to depression, anxiety, and other problems which are affecting their psychological well-being. The government needs to take concerted steps so that effectual protection of women is encouraged, even in times of a pandemic, when women are not able to resort to courts or police stations. In Santosh Bakshi v. State of Punjab, (2014) 13 SCC 25, it was held by the Supreme Court that the complaint made by any woman alleging offence under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 committed by any member of the family, is to be looked upon seriously. It was further held that the police without proper verification and investigation cannot submit a report that no case is made out. The investigating agency is required to make proper enquiry not only from the members of the family but also from neighbours, friends, and others. After such enquiry, the investigating agency may form a definite opinion and file report but it is for the court to decide finally whether to take cognizance for any offence under any of the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
As the cases of domestic violence affecting the mental, psychological, physical, and social well-being of women are on the rise all over the world and in India as well, significant measures need to be taken to eliminate such a peril. Concerted steps have to be taken by the Central Government and State Governments to appoint such protection officers who are available at all times and can address the problems of the aggrieved victims constructively. Helplines have to made available at all times for the victims so that they are in a position to report complaints to the authorities for the redressal of their grievances. Numerous countries have taken important steps to curb the menace of domestic violence and cruelty in times of a pandemic but more such efforts are required, to make the world a better place to live which is free from domestic violence, cruelty, and abuse against women. The Government needs to designate places for reporting of domestic violence which may be formal or informal because the world is still under a strict lockdown and such places or shelters also need to be identified where women can stay when forced to leave their connubial homes. Publicity has to be given, highlighting the ill-effects of domestic violence and abuse, on the physical, mental, and social well-being of women and awareness needs to be the order of the day. In such a situation, mediators can play a vital role in curbing the hazardous effects of domestic violence. Mediators, through online mediation and their expertise, can use significant methods to teach the aggrieved victims such skills which are required to tackle the ill-effects of domestic violence on mental and physical well-being. Women without access to phones can be helped by the Government by employing such people in a region who can address the problems of the victims more lucidly. Online counselling sessions on mental health must be organized by non-governmental organizations, governmental organizations, etc., so that people are encouraged and motivated to lead a peaceful life at this disturbing juncture. These sessions have to be encouraged for women and girls to enable them to think positively at all times. Thus, we are all duty-bound to rise to the occasion and take sincere steps to curb the menace of domestic violence and its harmful effects so that another pandemic does not emerge in the words of Justice R. Banumathi, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India: –
“Stringent legislation and punishments alone may not be sufficient for fighting increasing crimes against women. In our tradition bound society, certain attitudinal change and change in the mindset is needed to respect women and to ensure gender justice. Right from childhood years children ought to be sensitised to respect women. A child should be taught to respect women in the society in the same way as he is taught to respect men. Gender equality should be made a part of the school curriculum. The school teachers and parents should be trained, not only to conduct regular personality building and skill enhancing exercise, but also to keep a watch on the actual behavioural pattern of the children so as to make them gender sensitised. The educational institutions, government institutions, the employers and all concerned must take steps to create awareness with regard to gender sensitisation and to respect women. Sensitisation of the public on gender justice through TV, media and press should be welcomed…Banners and placards in the public transport vehicles like autos, taxis and buses, etc. must be ensured. Use of streetlights, illuminated bus-stops and extra police patrol during odd hours must be ensured. Police/Security guards must be posted at dark and lonely places like parks, streets, etc. Mobile apps for immediate assistance of women should be introduced and effectively maintained. Apart from effective implementation of the various legislation protecting women, change in the mindset of the society at large and creating awareness in the public on gender justice, would go a long way to combat violence against women.”