By: Feenzu Sherpa

If you visit the Twitter handle of singer/songwriter Samriddhi Rai, she has recently tweeted about an incident pertaining to Gender Based Violence:

Woke up with the voice of a woman frantically crying. Her abusive husband was at it again before the mother-in-law stepped in. Saw the whole episode from my room. Her cry for help (is) still ringing in my ears, (and) is breaking my heart. #CoronavirusLockdown increasing domestic violence”, she has tweeted.

Ms. Rai’s tweet speaks about the issue – the first step towards its recognition. However, following the thread – although a certain level of engagement is seen, a specific solution cannot be ascertained.

(Gender-Based Violence) GBV is a prevalent issue, and the lockdown has somehow managed to escalate the problem. And that’s not only in Nepal, GBV spans the globe. In Australia, Google saw a surge of searches for domestic violence helplines in the past month. A man in Spain turned himself into the Guardia Civil after ending the life of his partner, a 35-year-old mother of two – the children have been sent to an orphanage.

In Nepal, according to Karshang Choedon of Asha Nepal, (registered as Nepal Prajanan Syahar Kendra), “while the number of incidents relating to GBV may be rising, they are actually receiving lesser amount of calls.”

When asked why, she said “because the victim is confined to the same space as her perpetrator, how will s/he complain?

According to Choeden, usually victims call helplines, or reach out to their support system (friends, family) after the abusive partner has left the home – but with the lockdown, the perpetrator isn’t leaving. Therefore, the victim has to live in constant fear, which adds to the mental trauma of being in an abusive relationship.

Cases of Gender Based Violence are eventually handled by the police – however, they will not intervene unless either (a) they are called during the incident, or (b) the victim files a complaint. Even if the police arrive at the spot during the incident, the victim will have to press charges for the case to proceed – else, the dispute will be settled as resolved.

Therefore, a victim has two options:

  1. Continue living with the perpetrator in fear.
  2. Make a complaint to either, (a) police, (b) National Women Commission, (c) Local body.

Before the lockdown, any of the three bodies would initiate action – police would arrest the perpetrator and/ or the victim (including children) would be separated from the perpetrator. However, during the lockdown, that’s not possible.

According to Ashankan Malla, a practicing lawyer, “the police need the order of a court to arrest the perpetrator. Before the lockdown, cases of domestic violence could be registered under priority, however, with the lockdown, the judiciary system is working with constrained resources. Which means, cases of domestic violence won’t be dealt as ‘priority’? Therefore, even if the victim complains, the two would have to live together unless the victim decides to moves away”.

“With the ongoing crisis, when the state is actually considering relaxing its overcrowded prisons, we doubt more arrests would be made”, Meera Dhungana of Forum of Women, Law and Development said adding to the conundrum.

For the people confined to their homes, with abusive family members, the lockdown seems to have escalated the problem – here are a few numbers to reach out to.

Nepal Police: 100

Asha Nepal Helpline – 9801193088

Domestic Abuse related to Children: 104

National Women Commission: 1145

Besides the numbers, we urge neighbours/friends to practice vigilance – keep an eye out for symptoms of abuse. If you know something, report it.