On 16 April 2020, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal took suo motu cognizance of increasing domestic violence cases against women during COVID-19 lockdown and suggested measures to handle the situation. The Court also passed direction upon the Government and various authorities. The matter was directed to be listed as a writ petition in the public interest (PIL).
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has called for a report on the steps taken to act against domestic violence or any other kind of violence being faced by the women during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Observing that unfortunately all crises disproportionately impact women, the High Court noted that globally, while the pandemic is having a tremendous negative impact on societies and economies, the adverse social and economic consequences of the pandemic for women and girls are devastating.
As the lockdown is implemented, societies as a whole are having reduced access to resources. There is an increase in stress due to the loss of jobs and strained finances. Lack of income, unemployment, insecurity about the future, or the fate of children creates tensions amongst the adults leading to abuse of all kinds. This is exaggerated in families with prior histories of such behaviour. Women and children are found to be especially vulnerable to such domestic violence which has seen a worldwide spike.
Adverting to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005: the statutory mechanism in existence for protection of rights of women who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family, the Court stated that a duty is cast upon the Government under Section 11(a) to take all measures to give wide publicity to the provisions of the law through public media including the electronic and the print media.
Taking note of the inability of women and children from the economically weaker sections in India to access online platforms for assistance, the Court has also suggested certain measures to ensure that immediate assistance is extended to such vulnerable persons, i.e.:
- Creation of dedicated funding to address issues of violence against women and girls as part of the COVID-19 response;
- Increased availability of call-in services to facilitate discreet reporting of abuse;
- Increased tele/online legal and counseling service for women and girls;
- Designated informal safe spaces for women say grocery stores and pharmacies, where they can report domestic violence/abuse without alerting the perpetrators.
- Immediate designation of safe spaces as shelters for women who are compelled to leave their domestic situation.
- Giving urgent publicity to information regarding all of the above measures as also the availability of the facilities for seeking relief and redressal against the issues of domestic violence.
- Increasing awareness campaigns on all aspects of the issues.
The High Court stated that
“Unfortunately, all crises disproportionately impact women. Thus internationally it has been observed that while the pandemic is having a tremendous negative impact on societies and economies, the adverse social and economic consequences of the pandemic for women and girls are devastating.”
Hence, Advocate Monika Kohli is appointed as an amicus curiae and the matter has been directed to be listed next on 28th April 2020 for further consideration. [Court on its Motion v. UTs of J&K and Ladakh, WP(C) PIL No. (unnumbered) of 2020, dated 16-4-2020]
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