For some, lockdown is captivity with an abuser

Updated: Apr 09, 2020, 07:43 IST | P Vatsalya | Mumbai

Experts fear a spike in cases of domestic abuse in the country as being locked up in the house all day long limits the scope for survivors to seek help

Amid a country-wide lockdown that has forced people to stay indoors, experts are expecting a spike in domestic violence.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) received 58 complaints of domestic violence in the first week of the lockdown. The complaints were received on email between March 23 and March 30. The actual number is expected to be higher as not all women have access to electronic communication or know how to use it.

Monika Tiwary
Monika Tiwary

The number may be higher if male survivors are taken into account, many of whom don't report abuse due to shame or stigma.

"More women are affected by domestic abuse globally than by Coronavirus. But, only one of them is considered a pandemic," said Atikaa Ahluwalia, the brand head of a jewellery label and a survivor herself. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2017 that one in three women worldwide (approximately 33 per cent) has experienced some form of physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.

Atikaa Ahluwalia (at the front) with her sister, Eina Ahluwalia. Pic/Arka Patra
Atikaa Ahluwalia (at the front) with her sister, Eina Ahluwalia. Pic/Arka Patra

Much like the virus, Ahluwalia says, most abusers emotionally and physically isolate their victims to the extent that leaving a toxic relationship becomes difficult.

Ahluwalia posted a video on Instagram, featuring her and pro-golfer Irina Abrar, talking about the potential impact of the Coronavirus lockdown on domestic violence, in light of their personal experiences. The discussion has been viewed over 3,000 times.

Sayli Jadhav
Sayli Jadhav

Psychologist Sayli Jadhav suggests some coping strategies to mitigate being stuck with an abuser all day long. "Engage as little as possible with your abuser. In some cases, this might end up aggravating the situation. So, do things on the abuser's terms if you must, for the time being."

Jadhav further explains that if you must pick an activity with your abuser, choose something that requires minimal interaction like watching TV together. "I try to steer clear of him because his mood swings have been quite unpredictable. Even a single mistake on my part means that he has an excuse to hit me," shared a survivor on condition of anonymity. Many survivors end up feeling like their home isn't theirs anymore as it stops functioning like a safe space owing to the quarantine.

Jadhav recommends picking a particular nook in the house and establishing it as one's own by monopolising it, to feel a sense of ownership over one's living space.

Living in constant proximity of an abuser, many survivors won't be able to access help. "We would get 20 to 25 telephonic cases per week before the lockdown. Then the number of calls dropped. This is because neither the survivor nor the abuser gets to step out. Restricted mobility means survivors have fewer chances to seek help," said Monika Tiwary from the Crisis Intervention and Counseling Center (CCIC) at Shakti Shalini, a Delhi-based organisation that supports survivors of gender-based and sexual violence.

The CCIC has curated a pan-India list of organisations which quarantined survivors of domestic violence can approach. "Most of the cases we have been handling are of a serious nature, involving extreme violence against women and the ensuing trauma. After the list was circulated, the number of calls picked up," adds Tiwary.

Resources for help

. Head to @einaahluwalia on Instagram to watch the discussion on domestic violence during lockdown
. Cehat organisation's helpline for survivors in Mumbai: 9029073154
. Shakti Shalini helpline: 011-24373737

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