As India entered a 21-day lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus with a four-hour notice on March 25, Gulabsa Khatoon (name changed) had more to worry about than just the deadly virus. Gulabsa is a 24-year-old domestic help who lives in Kalyanpur block of district Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. A mother of two, she gets abused and beaten up by her alcoholic husband every day. He does not even spare the kids.
Before the lockdown was announced, Gulabsa’s husband used to work at the factory, and would return home in the night drunk and would immediately go to sleep. ‘I wish he gets back to work immediately so that we can live in peace,’ she told journalists.
During India’s lockdown, which is now in its fourth phase, there has been sharp increase as well as decrease in cases of reported domestic violence. The National Commission for Women (NCW) recorded 587 cases of domestic violence in the months post lockdown as compared to 396 complaints before the lockdown was announced.
Most complaints were made via email, as against phone calls and letters, prior to the lockdown. Some states also reported a decrease in the number of complaints due to the inability of many women to make complaints as they were restricted in their home spaces with their abusers and may not have access to a digital medium.
Many women who did manage to approach the authorities were shunned by a force overwhelmed by lockdown responsibilities.
Go home and sort it out
Parvathi* from Chennai faced this situation as she tried to report her case to the police. The 45-year-old cook has no choice but to stay at home with her abusive husband and get accustomed to the abuses and beatings. Before the lockdown was announced she used to run out into the streets of her slum to escape her husband’s beating. The neighbours would then intervene to stop her husband.
However, things are different during the lockdown. After gathering a lot of courage, she decided to run out one day and approach the police at the nearest and police barricade for help. But she was turned away by the policeman, who said to her that ‘the police and courts are shut for 21 days’ and asked her to sort it out herself.
The issue of domestic violence has not arisen because of the lockdown, or because of the pandemic. It’s just worsened now.
Take the case of twenty-nine-year old Sneha*, from Gurgaon, who has been in an abusive relationship for years says, ‘With both of us in jobs, going out everyday gave me a break from home. But with lockdown, things escalated for me,’ she told Love Matters in an interview.
Sneha has decided to leave her husband the day the lockdown ends. ‘It will be difficult but I can't live like this anymore,’ she added.
A new side
The lockdown has also imposed other kinds of pressure on families and relationships that were already fragile.
In an interview with Love Matters, Kanika* said, ‘This lockdown has shown me a different side of this person...my husband. He had a pay cut [due to the pandemic] and since that day his behaviour has been really mean towards me.’
The 35-year-old said that her husband started blaming her for not working on a paid job. When she gave birth to their child, she had left her job – a decision that she and her husband had jointly taken in the interest of childcare.
‘He ridicules me every day. I am really disturbed and it is affecting my child too,’ she said. Presently, she is even unable to take refuge at her parents’ place due to the lockdown and also because she worries about stressing them in their old age.
Not any more
Seema* from Pune is also sailing in the same boat. Financial crisis struck her when her husband lost his job recently. ‘I have seen a strange side of my husband since the lockdown. We had a love marriage and we both have been working since we met.’
She is still in her job and has been working virtually .But this only upset her husband more. ‘I told him that at least one of us has a job and that's a good thing at this time. I have been very conscious to not make him feel any less,’ she said.
However, her husband has been ‘very mean’ towards her and even refuses to do any work in the house. He even told her that she would have to manage both housework and office on her own.
‘I am so tired of multitasking. I tried many times to talk to him but he says really hurtful things. I am really mentally disturbed. I can't take his ego and attitude anymore. I have not spoken to him about separation yet but I think we cannot be together anymore,’ she concluded.