CCTV footage screenshot

There is perhaps no need to underline the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has only intensified pre-existing social issues whether it is discrimination, exploitation, injustice or violence against the vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society. While we have spoken extensively on the migrant crisis that compelled thousands of migrants to flock overnight from the cities towards their remote villages and towns in the face of a sudden lockdown often on foot, without food or water, we have not talked enough about the plight of women amid the pandemic and especially the women who are being compelled to stay in abusive homes with partners who are violent and torturous. 

 

With little or no help at their disposal and no alternatives in terms of shelter and care, these women are compelled to continue living with males who beat, torture, assault and demean them on a day to day basis. Needless to add, when women find themselves in these extremely hard situations, they seek alternatives, but when they can’t find a reasonable alternative, they have to continue in such violent homes against their wishes especially when they are financially dependent on their male counterparts. It is in this context that we can say that the pandemic has exacerbated the deeply entrenched societal tendencies of violence, discrimination and abuse that defined the relationships between men and women in conflict/violence ridden homes. 

It is in this context that the issues of mental health gains importance. The ongoing pandemic has been a time when people have lost their sources of employment and have been confined to the four walls of the home for prolonged periods of time, in such a context, emotional and psychic breakdowns are on the rise and violence perpetrated by the stronger members upon the weaker/vulnerable members is on the rise. As a result we see that domestic violence cases have been constantly on the rise in the country. 

While women find themselves trapped inside homes with abusive partners and their vulnerabilities to exploitation and torture become even more pronounced amid the pandemic, it is important to understand that there is an inadequate availability of information on forms of help available or awareness regarding what a woman should do under such circumstances and this has deepened the crisis which women are finding themselves amid. 

Moreover, even when women have access to information on what to do in such situations or how to seek help, they may feel afraid/uncomfortable to expose their perpetrators because these men are members of the family and taking such a step may land her in far greater trouble within the family unit. It is in this context that a recent episode from Madhya Pradesh ought to be understood in the light of growing domestic violence against women amid the pandemic. 

Recently a video of a police officer from Madhya Pradesh brutally and very mercilessly beating up his wife surfaced on social media. The incident was reported from Bhopal and the police officer was  Purshottam Sharma, the additional director general of police. 

The video shows the police official dragging his wife around and beating her up as other members of the family try to pull apart the two of them. The woman is seen crying for help, as a dog, probably a pet of the family, barks in distress.  

While the video were doing rounds on social media and invited passionate reactions from people, the National Commission for Women asked the chief minister’s office of Madhya Pradesh to initiate immediate action against the police officer but was turned down in its appeal. CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan said that the “appropriate punishment” for the police official that was being demanded by the NWC couldn’t be given as this was a “family dispute” and not a crime. 

What is further surprising is that the police official in question, Purshottam Sharma came forward and defended his act by saying that they were married for 32 years and his wife was living and traveling on his expenses and that he was neither a violent person nor a criminal.

Reports suggest that ever since the news of the incident came into light, he has been dismissed from his duties and an FIR has been filed against him by his son. The incident highlights the intensity with which the pandemic has highlighted the pathetic condition of women who are being forced to share a roof with their abusive partners and brings to light the reality that domestic violence is a reality across economic classes and that contrary to popular belief, women are unsafe even within their own homes. 

It is in this context that the words of UN Chief Antonio Guterres resonate with the crisis of our times when he says that “Violence is not confined to the battlefield, and that for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes.” Reports from several nations of the world including the US, China, Australia, Malaysia and Lebanon show that domestic violence has multiplied amid the pandemic and many more women are now threatened in their own homes. It is true that while this pandemic is temporary and we may soon find ourselves in a world where there are no signs of the virus, the pandemic of domestic violence and abuse against women has been going on endlessly and we have not done enough to either deal with or tackle it. From the educated and elite homes to the poorest, domestic violence has been on the rise across the world, it should be our topmost priority to mitigate the crisis and take sufficient steps to check the situation with immediacy. Let us not forget that innumerable women across the world are finding themselves in greater vulnerability and helplessness and having to live with abusive partners amid the pandemic, and if the global community doesn’t work with urgency, the situation may only worsen for such women. 

 

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