Not just for a virus rampaging through planet earth, this is fecund times for 21st century blues too—a farrago of maladies and their ugly manifestations all of us know only too well, in some form or other. Sunanda Desai (name changed), a working woman from an upper-middle-class family in Mumbai, is ploughing through a rough patch since the lockdown began. “There is stress at my workplace and at home. I am expected to do things perfectly by my husband and in-laws. Else, I am shouted at by everybody, including my kids. In ten years of marriage, I have never experienced such acrimonious fights and violence in this house,” she says. Her husband, a businessman, copes with a different level of stress, she says, because he’s unsure if he will ever be able to open his bookshop.
The National Commission for Women (NCW), which receives complaints of domestic violence from across the country, recorded a more than twofold rise in gender-based violence during the initial lockdown period. The total complaints from women rose from 116 in the first week of March (March 2-8), to 257 in the final week (March 23-April 1). NCW chief Rekha Sharma says the main reason for the rise of domestic violence is that men, confined to home, are taking out their frustration on women, while refusing to help out in domestic work.
Age-old stereotypes, like the virus, are tenaciously resilient, says Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Varkha Chulani. “It’s the woman’s job to cook, clean, wash. It’s the man’s job to earn. So even though we seem to have progressed in paying lip service to being ‘liberal’, the true test is in the living. And this confinement is throwing up the ‘real’ mindsets of partners.” Domestic abuse is worse in the poorer section of the society. Psychologist Padma Rewari cites the example of her domestic help whose alcoholic husband, deprived of his daily bottle, has got more violent. “She has been calling me every other day to find out if she can come back to work in spite of my assuring her that I shall pay her the salary and she need not worry.” Women facing domestic abuse should approach free counselling and use helplines for reporting the crime, says Rewari. “Victims of physical abuse may find it helpful to have a safety plan in case the violence escalates. This includes having a neighbour, friend or relative or shelter to go to in the event they need to leave the house immediately for safety,” she adds.