Lockdown: The Womanly Perspective

An unannounced and uninvited virus arrived like a whirlpool into the lives of the humankind, upsetting the stagnant routine and forcing the governments over the continents to enforce lockdowns, isolating the residents. It took only a day or two for the cacophony of the busy roads to transition into the sweet dulcet of nature. Humans are survivors; they adapt, adjust, and settle into the new environment to their best of capabilities. This lockdown has been the witness to the above statement.

Other than the mortal danger people fear the onset of COVID-19[1], the internet, and the technologies have helped the masses to smoothly transition from workaholics to homebodies. The advancements in these sectors have helped several office-goers to resume their works from the safety of their homes; the social media portals have helped people to socialise virtually, helping them to retain their sanity. However, not all employments can be run through the internet. The virus has indirectly hit many different sectors and industries of which the economy has to take the toll[2]. This pandemonium, it seems, has also affected the crime scene[3] in the country as well as around the world. At one glance the concept of lockdown, which has technically minimised the human interaction[4], can be said to be an ideal condition to bog down the crime rates. In most of the cases, the ground reality defies the theoretical assumptions. The situation in these times is equivocal. The platter of crimes is diverse, ranging far and wide. Many of the crimes that require inter-person interactions, assemblies to be committed have dwindled in numbers whereas to balance the scales many of the crimes that do not have such requirements are flourishing. To mention a few, crimes like murder, kidnapping, theft, robbery, and pick-pocketing have not been reported in around the same numbers as those of last year. The fear of the virus runs deep enough to stall these inhumane incidents, and although the numbers have not reached zero, the numbers are considerably low. As mentioned earlier, many are changing the mode of their working to the internet, and criminals are not to be excluded. India, and many countries around the globe, has witnessed the complaints for cybercrime skyrocketing[5].

This fact does not come as a surprise, for an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. The lockdowns have given ample amount and opportunity to these criminals to use their intellect for the negative with a passion; in these lockdowns, they have also found themselves guinea pigs in the scared public. The catch is it is not only the public that the gun is pointed at; the governments are also at risk[6]. Another alarming issue arisen from the current situation is the sudden hike in the complaints for domestic violence. With people enclosed in their homes in this tempestuous time, scared and stressed over their dwindling finances and lost jobs, tensions run high. Push came to shove as the lockdowns have been extended many times, and the women are turned into scapegoats yet again. It seems that the women are actively bearing the burn of the lockdowns as the specifically cyber crimes against women are on the rise. The alarming rise in the cases of physical violence and domestic abuse against women is not to be discounted either. 

Domestic Violence

Indian culture has stood the test of time and is rich in its custom, values, sacred texts, and social habits. With time, the dynamics of a society change, and following this, over time, the status of women in Indian society suffered a heavy decline. According to Manu, a man has the power of physical correction over his wife, for according to the latter Vedas, a woman’s body is not hers to claim but she has to surrender it to her husband without an ounce of hesitation. The English laws, with the advent of British in the Indian subcontinent, were not any kinder to the womenfolk[7] either. Corporal punishment for disobeying wives was a right that many a husband exercised and enjoyed. The Indian lawmakers, it seems, enjoy irony as much as the Bard did. Though the Indian constitution does not discriminate based on sex and enshrines the right to live with dignity, it took thirty-three years for lawmakers to realise that ‘domestic violence’ was detrimental to women’s human rights and should be constituted as an offence. Section 498A[8] of the Indian Penal Code punishes the husband or any relative of the husband who subjects a woman to ‘cruelty’ with at most three years of jail and fine. However, the Indian Penal Code does not maintain the definition or the term ‘domestic violence’. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, enforced from 2006 was the first time the term Domestic Violence was graced with a definition. The abovementioned Act comprehensively defined Domestic Violence and safeguards the female victims of domestic abuse from her husband or any member from his family. According to the definition provided, the abuse can be physical, mental, verbal, emotional, and economic. 

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Though these laws stand strong and proud, the Indian average for domestic violence faced by married women is 33%. The NHFS-4 report also states that 77% of women who have faced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse have never told anyone, much less seek legal help[9]. The survey did not consider economic or verbal abuse, or the statistics might have been different. It is important to recognise that these numbers depict the routine lives before COVID-19 had entered and caused a tectonic shift in the family dynamics. National Commission of Women has reported a total of 1,436 cases of domestic violence, exclusive of dowry deaths and dowry harassment, in the months of March to June of this year[10]. Though no number is a small number, a total of 867 cases of domestic violence were reported in March to June of the year 2019[11]. The commission was expecting a surge in the cases of domestic violence during the lockdowns and has launched a WhatsApp number[12] to help women file complaints through single messages. According to one report at Al Jazeera, one out of six complaints is being registered through this method. The lockdown had mostly everyone locked in their homes, their safe havens. The abovementioned numbers, however, say that homes are not havens to many. Due to the nature of the lockdowns, a victim of domestic violence could not even leave her four walls to buy some time and ditch the abuse. The spike in the reports of domestic violence is not a geographically isolated phenomenon. Countries in every continent are witnessing a surge in the numbers of the crime. The birthplace of COVID-19, Wuhan Province of China had also witnessed triple the reports[13] of domestic violence in February this year than the last. The perpetrators and victims are stuck under the same roof, and domestic violence is the manifestation of old-habits, frustration, fear, and stress, showcasing the dysfunctional power dynamics in the families. Considering the royally increasing numbers of the reported cases, the government must not sideline the other issues emerging as by-products of the measures taken for COVID-19 and put them at high on their priority list.  

Cyber Crimes

A relatively new member of the diverse family of offences, it has climbed the social ladder by featuring the infamous ‘bank details frauds’, known as phishing, on the headlines every other day. In the last few decades, the technology has been growing has exponentially, and so with it has grown crimes related to it. The Information Technology Act was introduced in the year 2000 to regulate the emerging wonders of modernity. As new technologies were introduced, their abuse was also a facet, and hence, the Information Technology Act, 2000 has been amended from time to time. Currently, many individuals, as well as countries, are finding themselves at the receiving end of these online criminals. It is not only phishing and virus attacks, but rumour mongers have also taken to social media. While phishing and virus attacks at one glance can be taken as harmful, the harm caused by rumours circulating on various social media applications cannot be ignored. A large number of cases of mob violence in India have been the result of baseless and terrifying rumours circulated on WhatsApp. At the time when a nearly unknown virus has attacked the humankind, the rumours can very much make people paranoid. This may lead to various mental, emotional, and physical health issues; these may also become the instigator of domestic violence. Rumours, in some instances, have lead to huge losses to various industries. Though the World Health Organisation has declared that COVID-19 is not spread through animals, the poultry industry[14] suffered huge losses due to some widespread rumours. 

Now that the cinemas and stores are not accessible, people are exploring the world of online shopping and subscribing to sites that stream movies. Often, as these actions need online payment, the spyware may steal the payment and other pertinent information from the user or ransomware may hijack the login details of accounts. Phishing attacks are not uncommon. Numerous people have received scam calls or messages at least once, asking for private information regarding bank details. It might be a surprise to many that even with a widespread knowledge of these scams, many vulnerable people fall for them every day. Again, cybercrimes against the womenfolk have multiplied. Sextortion and photo morphing, among many other crimes, are rampant during these tough times. National Commission of Women has reported around 268 cases of cybercrimes against women in the months of March to June while the last year[15], during this period, 139 cases[16] were reported. An empty mind is the devil’s workshop indeed. No crime is small but these cyber crimes against women do not cause merely monetary harm. These instances often become a turning point in people’s lives; these often lead to psychological trauma and tattered reputation. The society still does not understand the toxicity of victim-shaming and victim-blaming. The cybercrimes against women can be reported to the National Commission of Women. 

COVID-19 has brought not only a fatal flu but a whirlwind of social and habitual changes in the lives of people. Time is trying and testing everyone; humans are social beings and the urgent need of distancing is idiosyncratic but important. This time has provided us with ample time to review the applicability and practicality of many theories in every field. These caged criminals have also proven that the terrifying times don’t necessarily make everyone a Good Samaritan. The government should acknowledge and address the problems that have sprouted during the times of lockdown, for even though the health situation is dire, these budding situations should be nipped before they start another pandemic while we are fighting one already. 

Endnotes

  1. ‘About Covid-19’, World Health Organisation, http://www.emro.who.int/health-topics/corona-virus/about-covid-19.html
  2. Sandhya Keelery, ‘Impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Indian economy- statistics and facts’, Statista, June 24, 2020 https://www.statista.com/topics/6304/covid-19-economic-impact-on-india/
  3. Vishnu Varma, Ralph Alex Arakal, Tora Agarwal, Rahul V Pisharody, Debraj Deb, ‘Covid-19 Lockdown has some unintended gains- fall in crime rate, fatalities on road, suicide’, Indian Express, April 30, 2020 https://indianexpress.com/article/india/coronavirus-covid-19-crime-rate-road-accidents-suicides-6386519/
  4. Bi India Bureau, ‘What is Lockdown meaning and what to expect from it’, Bussiness Insider, March 26, 2020 https://www.businessinsider.in/india/news/what-is-lockdown-and-what-to-expect-from-the- lockdown/articleshow/74759615.cms
  5. Ronak D. Desai, ‘Cybercrime in India surges amidst Coronavirus Lockdown’, Forbes, May 14, 2020 https://www.forbes.com/sites/ronakdesai/2020/05/14/cybercrime-in-india-surges-amidst-coronavirus-lockdown/#46ca507b392e
  6. R.K. Diwan & Co., ‘COVID-19 Lockdown: Increasing Cyber Crimes in India’, Lexology, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f33f6b37-6b62-425a-852b-0be29cbe46a7
  7. Lord Wilson, ‘ Out of his shadow: The long struggle of wives under English Law’, The High Sheriff of Oxfordshire’s Annual Law Lecture, October 9, 2012 https://www.supremecourt.uk/docs/speech-121009.pdf
  8. Inserted by Act 46 of 1983, s. 2
  9. International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and ICF. 2017. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16: India. Mumbai: IIPS.
  10. National Commission of Women (Nature-Wise Report of the Complaints Received by NCW in the Year:2020) Available at http://164.100.58.238/frmReportNature.aspx?Year=2020
  11. National Commission of Women (Nature-Wise Report of the Complaints Received by NCW in the Year:2019) Available at http://164.100.58.238/frmReportNature.aspx?Year=2019
  12. PTI, ‘NCW launches WhatsApp number to report domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdown’ The Economics Times, April 10, 2020 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/ncw-launches-whatsapp-number-to-report-domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown/articleshow/75082848.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
  13. Sohini Bhattacharya, ‘Not all homes are safe during lockdown: The never-ending tale of violence against women’, Indian Express, April 7, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/web-edits/not-all-homes-are-safe-during-lockdown-the-never-ending-tale-of-violence-against-women-6351710/
  14. M. L. Melly Maitreyi, ‘Lockdown hits poultry farmers hard’, The Hindu, April 11, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/lockdown-hits-poultry-farmers-hard/article3314809.ece
  15.  Supra note X
  16.  Supra note XI

Setakshi Pratha | Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab

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