Blog Series Part 3: Covid-19 and Gender-based Violence in India by Nandini Sen and colleagues
The effects of Covid-19 have been considerable and far-reaching. In this four part blog series, Nandini Sen, Anusua Singh Roy, Jayanta Bhattacharya, and Subrata Shankar Bagchi explore the impacts of Covid-19 within an Indian context. The first piece outlines the methodology of their research, the second focuses on Covid-19’s impact on India’s informal economy, the third examines the relationship between the pandemic and gender-based violence, and the final piece takes a closer look at the mental health challenges postgraduate students face in this current climate.
Indian policy-makers appear to be more concerned by the lockdown’s impact on finances and the economy than on social effects such as gender-based violence against women. At a time when women are already shouldering a higher proportion of the domestic burden during the lockdown, escalating tensions related to the crisis in resource and space are further aggravating gender-based violence behind closed doors. Denied access to traditional forms of support of family, friends, and doctors, the hanging threat of gender-based violence for these women remain inside their own homes. The National Commission for Women (NCW) have reported various offenses against women, recording 587 complaints of domestic violence in the period 23 March -16 April – an almost 50% increase from the 396 complaints registered before the lockdown within the period 27 February-22 March.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) carried out in 2015-2016, 33% of women admitted to having experienced domestic violence, but less than 1% sought police assistance,2 which suggests that even in ordinary times women are much less inclined to seek help from the authorities. These are far from ordinary times and it is not unlikely that women are in an even worse position to knock on doors for help against their abusers. Women’s organisations and activists reflect that had these abused women ‘known (about the lockdown) they would have tried to get out earlier and be at safer places’.
The current crisis requires a gender lens, if we are to address the needs of those who are most affected by it. Across India, women are also shouldering the enormous burden of household chores. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that an average Indian woman spends almost 6 hours in unpaid chores per day, as opposed to their male counterparts who devote a meagre 51.8 minutes.
Additionally, according to the WHO, ‘depressive disorders account for close to 41.9% of the disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women compared to 29.3% among men’. Research needs to be carried out on the short and long-term mental health repercussions, and more specifically, on the intensified impact of high-population density, poor water, sanitation, hygiene provision, and the inability to self-isolate on vulnerable working class women in the context of social and physical distancing. In India, vulnerable working-class women must fill in water at the crowded common tap, use public latrines, or sell vegetables in marketplaces making them more vulnerable to the disease. Frontline staff involved in India’s battle against the coronavirus comprise an astounding number of female community health workers – roughly 900,000. With a remuneration of only ₹30 (less than $1) per day however, ‘they are poorly paid, ill-prepared and vulnerable to attacks and social stigma’.
Loss of wages, jobs, boredom and withdrawal from alcohol and drugs, lead men to direct their rage on women in the household.4 Worse still, women are now bound within the four walls of their homes with their abusers. In response to the alarming incidence of gender-based violence during the pandemic, the UN chief has requested governments of different countries including India to treat legal and medical affairs related to gender-based violence as emergency services.
Gender-based violence related to lockdown is entirely dependent on access to social, economic, and political power. In this regard, the situation is particularly severe for women in India. 81% are employed in the informal sector which ‘is the worst hit by the coronavirus imposed economic slowdown’, while only 29% of those with internet access are females, which acts as a deterrent against mental support and financial aid in these tough times.
Studies of past pandemics and current violence on women under lockdown should inform policy makers of different humanitarian bodies to develop mitigation measures (e.g. health, education, child-protection, security and justice, job creation, and humanitarian responses) to efficiently respond to violence against women and girls.
 N. Lal, ‘India’s “Shadow Pandemic”, Domestic violence in India surges during the COVID-19 crisis‘, (The Diplomat, 17 April 2020).
 S. Rukmini, ‘Lockdown with Abusers: India Sees Surge in Domestic Violence‘, (Al Jazeera, 18 April 2020).
 ‘Domestic abuse cases rise as COVID-19 lockdown turns into captivity for many women‘, (Deccan Herald, 31 March 2020).
 A. Khullar, ‘Gender analysis missing from India’s coronavirus strategy‘, (Deccan Herald, 9 April 2020).
 ‘India coronavirus: The underpaid and unprotected women leading the Covid-19 war‘, (BBC News, 17 April 2020).
 L. Deb Roy, ‘Domestic violence cases across India swell since coronavirus lockdown‘, (Outlook, 7 April 2020).
 A. Castro and P. Farmer, ‘Understanding and Addressing AIDS-Related Stigma: From Anthropological Theory to Clinical Practice in Haiti’, (2005) American Journal of Public Health, 95(1), 53-59.
 International Labour Organization, ‘Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture (3rd ed.)‘, (International Labour Organization, 2018).
 ‘Why we need to talk more about the potential for COVID -19 to increase the risk of violence against women and girls‘, (Social Development Direct, 18 March 2020).
Nandini Sen is an anthropologist and has done her PhD at University of Frankfurt. She is a visiting research scholar at School of Social Sciences, Heriot Watt University. Her academic article Women and Gender in Rabindranath Tagore’s Short Stories from Anthropological Perspectives Challenging Kinship and Marriage is published in Anthropological Journal of European Culture in November 2016. Her book, South Asian Urban Marginalisation: A Waste-Picker Community in Calcutta, India., Routledge/Taylor and Francis (2018) has fetched both fame and critical reviews by academic colleagues and academics.
Dr Anusua Singh Roy is a Postdoctoral research fellow, Statistician at the School of Health Sciences at Queen Margaret University. Research interests include the use of national data sets in longitudinal, cross-sectional and survival probabilistic modelling to address health related and participation outcomes in children with disabilities and individuals with severe mental illness.
Subrata Shankar Bagchi is the Chair Professor in Anthropology at University of Calcutta and researcher on various socio-cultural issues in India.
Jayanta Bhattacharya by training a physician, did his PhD on history of medicine. He has widely published in the field of alternative medicine. He is a medical activist from India. He is the reviewer of the Bulletin of the WHO, Graduate Journal of Social Science, Social History of Medicine, Indian Journal of History of Science, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics and others.