The nationwide lockdown has irrefutably proved to be a boon for people all over the country. The lockdown has not only helped curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus to a great extent, it has also nourished the personal lives of many. Ironically, there is a section of our society for whom the lockdown is proving to be a prison out of which there is no escape at this point. There has been a substantial surge in the number of domestic abuse cases being reported since the starting of this lockdown. Women are helpless and are unable to move out of their homes owing to the lockdown guidelines and are hence forced to suffer in silence. Since men are spending more time at home and with the added pressure due to lack of income, unemployment, and insecurity about the future or the fate of children, this has led to the increase in all kinds of abuse which has eventually made women and children most vulnerable to domestic violence.
Jammu and Kashmir High Court in this regard taking up the issue on its own motion issued notice dated 16.04.2020 to the Secretary, Department of Social Welfare, Government of Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, and Member Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir State Legal Service Authority, to furnish a report stating the steps taken in relation to prevention and protection from domestic or any other kind of violence being faced by the women on account of the implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Coram comprising of Hon’ble Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajnish Oswal taking up the issue suo moto, stated in the order about the United Nations’ directions to all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19 and also provide shelters and helplines for women.
The Hon’ble High Court in the present matter directed the Government Authorities to provide the following measures:
- Creation of dedicated funding to address issues of violence against women and girls as part of the COVID-19 response by the Union Territories of the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh;
- Increased availability of call-in services to facilitate discreet reporting of abuse;
- Increased tele/online legal and counselling service for women and girls;
- Designated informal safe spaces for women, say grocery stores and pharmacies, where they can report domestic violence/abuse without alerting the perpetrators.
- Immediate designation of safe spaces (say for instance empty hotels/education institutions etc) as shelters for women who are compelled to leave their domestic situation. These shelters must be treated as accessible shelters.
- Giving urgent publicity to information regarding all of the above measures as also the availability of the facilities for seeking relief and redress against the issues of domestic violence.
- Increasing awareness campaigns on all aspects of the issues
The Secretaries of the Jammu and Kashmir Legal Services Authority were directed to call for all the cases regarding domestic violence that are pending with the police and thereby provide adequate safety and security to such complainants.
All the courts in the Union Territories were further directed to treat cases of domestic abuse as urgent and proceed with the matters in accordance with the circulars issued regarding the procedure to be followed to ensure social distancing.
As per a statement released by Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, 60% of women around the world working in the informal economy, earning less, saving less are at greater risk of falling into poverty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As per the statement nearly one in five women worldwide experienced violence in the past one year.
The Order moreover stressed upon the latest data released by the National Commission for Women which stated that a total of 257 complaints relating to crime against women, were received by its Complaint and Investigation Cell since the starting of the lockdown. The report further suggested an increase in domestic violence cases from 30 to 69.
At present the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 stands at 17,265 in India with 543 deaths in total. Worldwide, the total number of confirmed cases has been recorded to be 24, 04,249 with the total number deaths standing at a total of 1, 65,234.
In light of the abovementioned statistics, it is unclear as to when the lockdown will be relaxed and in such circumstances; the need for proper measures to be taken for the protection of women from domestic violence is of utmost importance.