The lockdown hasn’t guaranteed the safety of women. Cases of domestic violence are on the rise, while rape cases at least in New Delhi have gone down according to the Delhi Police data, there is no assurance as to how many women are actually able to lodge complaints during the lockdown. Some positive and timely initiatives have been taken in different parts of the country such as Pune, where the district administration has announced to put male perpetrators of domestic violence in institutional quarantine.  But locked down with their abusers what options do these vulnerable women have?

The National Commission for Women was the first to note the rise in domestic violence cases and take corrective and swift measures to deal with it. SheThePeople caught up with NCW Chief Rekha Sharma to discuss the current situation in terms of crimes against women, its latest initiatives and what has been its analysis of the scenario. Excerpts from the interaction are shared below.

Delhi Police recently released data which said that rape cases have dipped in the city during quarantine, what does the NCW data say on this and did you see any reduction or spike in data?

We are not aware of data from Delhi Police in particular. The data we compiled recently is from NCW’s online complaint portal accessible from our website, and from the WhatsApp Helpline number we launched on 10th April, upon seeing the spike in numbers of online complaints. The data is slated for 25 days each before and after the lockdown. From the comparison, there’s an increase of 94% in complaint cases in total including domestic violence. The nature-wise complaint received on Rape/Attempt to Rape is 11 after lockdown. Domestic violence complaints received before lockdown from 27th Feb to 22nd March is 123 and after lockdown from 23rd March to 16th April is 199, and after adding the complaints received on the WhatsApp helpline number is 40. So the number is 123 versus 239. This is how we saw approx. 94% increase. 

Also read: Delhi: Why A Dip In Rape Cases Is No Good News

We know that domestic violence cases have definitely gone up in the country, how is the NCW tackling this issue? Have you seen any change in the numbers since NCW released a WhatsApp call number?

There’s no change in terms of reduction in numbers and unfortunately, it is slightly increasing week by week. The situation around pandemic lockdown is difficult times for women living in abusive relationships as one can only imagine the circumstances faced by the survivors under these lockdown circumstances. It is unfortunate, but they don’t need to suffer, and we would like to help them in every possible way we can. That’s why we felt that the WhatsApp messaging initiative was needed. Besides all our other means of communication (emails, online portal, social media) are functional, except for postal and phone calls which are not in place because of the lockdown as of now. 

NCRB reports have always emphasized that over 90% reported rape cases are committed by victim’s acquaintances, now that women are living with their perpetrators how do we ensure that women across the board (rural/urban literate/illiterate varied demographics) are able to file complaints at this crucial time?

The  Ministry of WCD (Women and Child Development) had taken up initiatives at the grass-root level, where ASHA and Anganwadi workers, Self-Help-Groups, One-Stop-Centre volunteers, Panchayat volunteers are actively spreading awareness on coronavirus going to the remotest parts of the country, across states, reaching out at the slums and to each family, to advise and follow health advisories. They are also rendering help and support for women and child wellbeing during this pandemic crisis. These workers are also now counselling against domestic violence and that women can report to these workers in cases where they are facing abuse. 

Please share the current projects NCW is working on in terms of women’s empowerment.

During the Lockdown, we launched WhatsApp helpline number 72177135372 on 10th April for provision to report domestic violence on an emergency basis. The Commission has constituted a special team to handle these complaints on a fast track basis. 

Since the launch of this dedicated WhatsApp number, we have received a total of 40 messages reporting domestic violence. These messages are first scrutinized and those related to domestic violence amid lockdown are taken up on priority and to provide immediate security to aggrieved women with the help of State Police and Administration.

We also created the #HappyToHelp Task-Force on 4th April to help elderly people to provide medical assistance, delivery of grocery and essential items to their residence. 

Video on Psychological Wellbeing in Times of Stress: A video was prepared on 5th April, in consultation with Psychiatrists from PGIMER, Chandigarh on dealing with mental stress and wellbeing amid the lockdown period. 

Also read: How Judiciary Combats Rising Sexual Crimes Against Women

What are some of the challenges NCW is facing in providing security and safety to women in the time of lockdown?

The lockdown itself is a huge challenge, the police and state administration are working round the clock to reach for help, support, food and shelter to all marginalised sections of the society. They are also closely monitoring the guidelines and keeping control against violation of the lockdown. Still, NCW praises the local police and administration for doing their job diligently. We are able to deal with complaints of domestic violence with their help. We understand that the personnel working on the ground are limited, yet the police have not failed us to solve cases of complaints. So far, it is manageable. We take all cases at priority especially the case of domestic violence happening due to lockdown, as men are facing their own anxiety and their wives have to face the plight due to their frustration. So, to ensure women safety, our team at NCW works round the clock to solve and reach out to the survivours on time. 

Since the launch of this dedicated WhatsApp number, we received a total of 40 messages reporting domestic violence. These messages are first scrutinized and those related to domestic violence amid lockdown are taken up on priority and to provide immediate security to aggrieved women with help of State Police and Administration.

What are some of the innovative ideas NCW has come up with to help working women and women entrepreneurs when the economy is at a slump and so many people are facing pay cuts and job loss?

Presently, we have drafted advisory/guidelines for migrant women and daily-wage workers and have sent it to various ministries. As of now, the situation is hard to predict and also cannot foresee the challenges of lockdown either. Earlier I have made an appeal that domestic helpers salary should not be waived or deducted even if they are not coming to work. With time, we shall try to come up with some solution and relaxation when things move closer to normalcy.   

 

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