Justice is about making sure that being polite is not the same thing as being quiet. In fact, often times, the most righteous thing you can do is shake the table. -Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

(This is first part of the two-article series on Covid’s impact on Indian women)

Social Justice is about equal justice to all individuals on an equal footing. Every individual should be ensured universal access to their rights, opportunities and resources – equally. One thing that social justice ensures is the development, and progress of a society, if each and every individual has a voice and is able to utilize their rights – the entire society moves toward a more peaceful and consequently, a secure nation.  The major roadblock here is the inequitable social justice doled out to the one half of the populations worldwide. In India it is more so and calls for a radical change. 

Gender inequality and the need to bring men and women on same and equal ground suffered a serious setback in March this year. On March 25, 2020 – with the rise of the infections in COVID cases and the pandemic reaching its peak, the Government of India announced a major lockdown for all Indian citizens. This brought about a drastic change in each and every person’s lifestyle – especially affecting their work and home environments, whereby in most cases the woman and the man, who were separated for the day were forced to stay in enclosed, confined spaces, with no external access to what was happening inside those spaces! 

Before the pandemic had even begun, Tara (name changed) had faced her abusive husband for the past 15 years – verbally, emotionally and unfortunately, even physically. Before the Corona virus brought their lives to a standstill, Tara and her husband spent most of their days away from each other because both of them were working and would leave for their jobs early in the morning. However, on March 25, 2020 the world for Tara turned upside down. The suddenness of the situation filled her with fear, she realized she’d have to spend the lockdown confined with her abusive husband – she went online desperately searching for organizations that help domestic violence survivors. She approached Invisible Scars an organization that deals with individuals fighting against domestic abuse, reporting to them that she was living in fear, “I live in a constant state of fear – of what could affect my husband’s mood,” speaking over the phone in a low voice after locking herself up in a room so her husband and mother-in-law wouldn’t hear her. She says both of them taunt and harass her. “I am constantly told I am not a good mother or a good wife. They order me to serve elaborate meals, and treat me like a domestic worker.”  

In a recent study, the United Nations agency for sexual and reproductive health (UNFPA) has stated that if the lockdown continued for several more months, the cases of domestic violence would see a massive increase – more than 31 million worldwide. In France, domestic violence cases have seen an uptick of 30 per cent, China saw a massive doubling of their domestic violence cases. It didn’t just stop there. Italy, Spain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Greece also saw a tremendous rise in their domestic violence cases where, the governments were rushing to construct policies and solutions for the protection and safety of women in their respective countries.  

In India, in the first three weeks of the nationwide lockdown between March 23 and April 16, the data brought out by the National Commission for Women (NCW) indicated an unusually shocking upsurge in the number of domestic violence cases. Between March 25 and May 31 the NCW registered a high of 1,477 complaints of domestic violence by women despite the fact that there were several women who did not report their complaints in fear of their assaulters. The nation saw an increase – and the numbers were set to rise.  The  68-day period witnessed more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years  More than half of these cases were reported and registered from northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, and Punjab. 

The pandemic has played a major role in increasing the gap between males and females, tilting the scales yet again in favour of enhanced power for the males. In this context Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated in a paper that policymakers risked prolonging the crisis and slowing economic recovery if they ignored the gendered impacts of the Corona virus. She added that overhauling systems could allow governments to build “more prosperous, more prepared and more equal” countries. The lockdown has not just been unjust and unfair to women in terms of domestic violence, there has been an increase in girl students not going to school for education due to lack of funds and have been forced to help their families with work, in contrast, the boy child will be sent to school – will be prioritized to be sent to school over the girls. 

There has been an alarming rise in child marriages among girls – girls have been forced to marry, ignoring their ambitions for a career and the future.  The women in the work field, on the other hand are paid way less wages than the male co workers. One needs to remember that the woman who works in the work field is actually working a double day work shift, where firstly, she’s working outside the house and secondly, she works within the house where she is “supposed” to care for the household and has to keep the household clean. Despite the fact that she is not respected for the double day work she does – Indian female workers saw an astonishing decrease in their wages. For instance, despite the effort that they put, Indian school teachers have been protesting against their wages to decline. When the lockdown had just started, doctors and nurses were on the street protesting against the decline in wages and utter discrimination being faced by them. 


Image – UNCTD

By Naman Singha

Naman Singha is a Research Associate at AI Policy Labs, London, and is extremely passionate for social justice, fairness and equality.

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