Nagaland

Issues on Women’s Safety During COVID-19 Lockdown Period

Issues on Women’s Safety During COVID-19 Lockdown Period

Kohima, June 26 (NE): The issue of safety of women demands a stronger reflection with the ongoing pandemic crisis. The correlation between the pandemic lockdown and the increase of violence against women is overwhelmingly tragic.

A press release by the SRWC (State Resource Centre for Women), Sakhi-One Stop Centre (OSCs), 181-Women Helpline (WHL) Nagaland, on June 25, said that for the entire period of lockdown, the 181-WHL and the Sakhi- OSCs have been operational 24/7, answering calls from women seeking assistance for sexual harassment, domestic violence and disputes, cyber crime etc.

SRWC presented a summary report of cases received during the lockdown period from March 23rd to May 31st, 2020. To maintain anonymity, details and information have been changed and altered, it said.

The report is as follows:

Domestic Violence:

The following snippet of domestic violence cases sheds light on the experiences of victims while confined at home with their abusers during the lockdown. A woman reached the hospital bleeding profusely after her husband struck her head with a blunt stick. In another instance, a woman reported that her husband choked her and beat her on several occasions. He has left her as he has been having an extra marital affair. Another victim explained that she and her children routinely experienced verbal, emotional and psychological abuse from her alcoholic husband. A 70-year old woman reported her husband, on account of verbal and emotional abuse.

Domestic violence is not restricted to abuse between married couples. A
step daughter reported that her stepfather has been verbally abusing her and her siblings for several years now.

In these official inquiries, the victims refused to file an FIR/Domestic Incident Report (DIR) against their husbands/perpetrators owing to reasons of keeping the family together, financial dependence on the perpetrators and social stigma.

Ultimately, owing to the decisions of the clients, no legal actions were taken against the perpetrators. However, legal counselling was provided to the victim and psycho-social counselling provided to both family members. The WHL & OSC teams kept following up on the clients to ensure their well-being and safety.

Some cases are ongoing official inquiries while some are in the process of reconciliation. Depending on the nature of the case, bonds are signed with the consent of the police and District Administration for the client’s safety, in order to prevent further incidents of
domestic violence.

Furthermore, here is a case summary of the collaboration between 181-WHL, OSCs with other state agencies to provide assistance to a victim of violence. A Naga woman residing outside Nagaland had been experiencing physical abuse and death threats from her husband. She wanted to come back to her native place but was unable to do so due to the pandemic lockdown. Her father could not file an FIR/DIR in Nagaland on account of territorial jurisdictions. He called 181 seeking assistance on his daughter’s behalf. The WHL Nagaland contacted the agencies of the concerned state, who assisted and made necessary arrangements for the victim to stay and receive counselling. Inter-state arrangements were made and a relative reached out to take her to Dimapur.

In the cases where the clients wish to take legal actions against the perpetrators, legal assistance, from filing an FIR or DIR to court proceedings while working closely with the local authorities and legal practitioners were provided.

Cyber Crime:

Violence against women is not only limited to physical or sexual violence. According to the data, the cases of cyber crime seem to be scaling up with social media stealthily integrating in our lives. The digital/virtual space has allowed perpetrators to commit acts of violence against women like blackmailing, threatening, sex trolling, bullying, etc. Cyber violence can especially be a traumatic experience for women.

A woman employee in a government office was verbally harassed by police officials and colony volunteers while on official duty on account of car pass. A video of the incident was uploaded and circulated on various social media pages enticing attention both personal and professional comments leading to a traumatic experience for her. Under her request, an FIR under cyber crime was filed against the concerned individuals and the video taken down. OSC provided regular psycho-social counselling and she is showing signs of improvement.

In another case, a woman was being blackmailed by her ex boyfriend. She had been receiving threatening messages from him after she ended their relationship. The ex-boyfriend created a fake Facebook account in her name posting personal photos of her and them. She was in emotional and mental distress by the situation. Her case was forwarded to the cyber crime unit and she received regular psycho-social counselling.

On the official social media page of WHL, two girls from Uttar Pradesh reached out seeking assistance with cases regarding cyber crime involving blackmail and threatening. The WHL assisted them in getting in touch with concerned authorities from their state.

Other Forms of Violence & Distress:

The WHL and OSCs also received cases of harassment and sexual harassment, most of which are ongoing legal proceedings. A case of voyeurism was registered with 181-WHL. A man was caught peeping through a bathroom where a woman was bathing. When she approached him, he started threatening to beat and punish her by chopping off her hair for accusing him of such an act. The woman, fearing for her life left for a relative’s place. She was provided with psycho-social counselling. During the official intervention, the accused signed an agreement which stated that he would be responsible if any untoward future incident happened to the victim.

Cases involving women in distress, mentally unsound women, women seeking support and assistance especially due to difficult circumstances owing to COVID-19, have been provided with relevant support and assistance; as well, basic necessities like food and shelter have been provided.

Further, in the cases involving mentally unsound women, they were reported and transferred to the State Mental Health Institute. Other support and assistance calls received during the lockdown entailed inquiries related to child custody and property and legal rights. These clients were provided legal assistance free of cost.

Concerns and Way Forward:

Violence against women is a reality that we as a society need to address. Forms of domestic violence like verbal, emotional and economic abuses impacts the victims and their family tremendously. The negative impacts on children in exposure to violence in the family have been witnessed.

Alcohol and other substance abuse, and extramarital affairs are some of the common factors which result in domestic violence. For many victims of violence, especially in a domestic
setting during the lockdown, being in close proximity to the perpetrators in isolation makes the situation complicated. Another reason for unreported cases is the social stigma.

Nagaland is ranked one of the safest states in India by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). But if more victims of violence are to come forward, rejecting the social stigma, the data would suggest otherwise.

In these unprecedented times of the pandemic, as health and safety remains highest priority, let us not overlook the issue of violence against women and children at home or in any public space.

If you come across anyone who is facing any form of gender-based violence, encourage them to reach out, or contact the service providers on their behalf – the WHL-181, or OSCs, it added.

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