Addressing women’s safety needs during lockdown in India

#16DaysofActivism 2021 Blog Series

Written by Shilpa Kompelli and Sujata Ayarkar

In India, as in many other places in the world, there was an increase in violence against women (VAW) during the lockdown. During the lockdown imposed in March 2020, Dilaasa Crisis Centres were declared as essential health services and so the teams continued to work through the strictest lockdown. Dilaasa Centres are public hospital crisis intervention centres established to respond to violence against women survivors.

Follow up after counselling to assess women’s safety is an ongoing process at the Dilaasa Centres. However, we did not see too many women and children reaching the hospital-based centres for psychosocial services. This was unsurprising given the lack of transport facilities and the other challenges women face in accessing services during lockdowns.

In response, we devised ways of reaching out to women and girls who had sought Dilaasa support in the past. Counsellors contacted via telephone survivors who had visited Dilaasa in the years 2018, 2019, 2020. Recognising the risks of the conversation being overheard by others, strategies for initiating dialogue included assessing the well-being of the family, creating awareness of COVID-19 infections, discussing women’s own and their families’ health concerns, and ensuring they had adequate provisions. The pandemic compelled us to move to virtual spaces as hospitals which were once a safe haven for women and girls to disclose violence now became a place to be avoided given the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

 

 

As seen from the table many Dilaasa users were not contactable during the lockdown. The reasons ranged from not having access to a cell phone, inability to pay for recharging the phone and - in few cases - the phone being taken away by the abusive person.

Issues addressed in the telephonic counselling: 

  • Reiterate safety measures, if the survivor was found to be unsafe.
  • Contacting police on behalf of survivors, as women cited that the police would refuse recording complaints. The police would argue that they were occupied with implementation of lockdown regulations, so Dilaasa counsellors had to prevail upon the police and explain the urgency of violence complaints.
  • Provide legal advice /legal consultation.
  • Create a sense of self-worth and help women to deal with feelings of self-harm.
  • In case of need of a shelter home, coordinate safe passage for women and admission in shelters.
  •  Speaking to those abusing the woman at her behest and communicating the need to stop violence and support the woman.

Women expressed gratitude that the counsellor thought of them and called them. A survivor stated that after receiving the call she felt that at least someone still cared for her.

Survivors’ stories during lockdown

Court processes were delayed, even stalled:

In some of the telephonic follow ups women also disclosed that lockdown had resulted in the court procedures being stalled indefinitely, and several women had not received their monthly maintenance on which they depended to run their households. This led to survivors becoming financially dependent on their parents, too.

Violence continued during lockdown:

Some women said that they continued to face violence during the lockdown, though the intensity of the violence decreased a bit. Others said that job loss during COVID-19 and the resultant financial pressure to meet day to day expenses led to an increase in physical, emotional abuse and arguments/ fights with the spouses and other family members. 

One of the survivors revealed that she had lost her husband to COVID, she was barely dealing with the grief and her in-laws found her to be a burden on them and started abusing her.

Rethinking decisions to leave:

In the telephonic follow ups counsellors also realised that women who had decided to separate from their abusive partners were rethinking these decisions, and this was even though violence had not stopped in their lives. Women still seemed to be involved emotionally and wished to give their spouses a second chance. In such situations counsellors discussed steps of keeping themselves safe physically as well as emotionally and encouraged women to follow up through calls or physical visits.

Violence stopped for some during lockdown:

Some of the women revealed that violence had stopped. In one instance the woman revealed that she delivered a boy child after which her husband and family members were happy. The counsellor had to deftly approach the situation, as having a son did not guarantee that violence may not recur. The counsellor congratulated the woman and encouraged her to keep in touch, as this was her fourth baby and it was important to focus on her reproductive and physical health. Additionally, the financial situation at home was not good, so the woman said she would consider all these aspects.

In another instance, the counsellor received positive feedback about the joint meeting she had conducted with the woman and her abusive husband. The woman revealed that her husband finally decided to rent a place outside of the extended joint family home. Staying away from the larger family had made her husband more responsible and there was some improvement in their relationship in the last six months.

Some women disclosed that taking formal action by recording a police complaint after the first time they experienced physical violence had taken the abusive person by surprise, and had made him think of his actions.

Conclusion

Survivors were at home with the abusers during lockdown. Some women lost their jobs and so did several abusers. Women had a large burden of domestic responsibilities during this period so, even if they wanted to reach counsellors, it was difficult for them to communicate as they were always around their abusers and had to communicate discreetly as the phones were checked. Women were stranded due to Covid-19, courts were not physically running, which resulted in financial stress as many survivors were not receiving maintenance due as per the agreements in domestic violence cases. Women were frustrated and felt helpless due to the lack of formal support from lawyers, protection officers and police. 

Contact with the counsellors provided women some respite. Sometimes when they were not surrounded by people from their families, counselling provided women with a space to unburden their feelings, discuss abuse, and the several challenges they were facing in their home’s fronts. It was also heartening to see that some women were able to use the techniques suggested by counsellors to keep themselves safe and reach out when they felt depressed.

Shilpa Kompelli Crisis Interventionist and Research Associate at CEHAT

Sujata Ayarkar Crisis Interventionist Senior Research Associate at CEHAT

http://www.cehat.org/publications/1606391708

Dilaasa centres in Mumbai Hospitals - http://www.cehat.org/publications/1532947749

 

 

 

 

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