by Kajal Kashyap 12 January 2021
The current global pandemic has forced most of the states to impose a nationwide lockdown. This preventive measure of the governments has caused immense economic hardships to migrant workers, forcing them to abandon big towns and cities and move towards their hometown on foot. This has caused further uncertainties regarding the health and safety of thousands of workers who are the backbone of the economy. In this crisis, the Supreme Court of Nepal got appreciation from the global legal community for delivering a sympathetic judgment by protecting the dignity of migrant workers who were forced to desert the capital city of Kathmandu due to the existing uncertainties. On the other hand, Nepal’s government has been struggling to curb the number of virus cases in the country despite imposing a nation-wide lockdown since the 24th of March, 2020.
Undoubtedly, seeing the migrant workers struggle to make their ends meet is a dreadful sight. However, there exists a group of invisible sufferers in our society whose voices are often left unheard; the Women. The United Nations had earlier cautioned the world about the ‘global upsurge in the number of domestic cases’ by calling the pandemic a ‘Shadow Pandemic.’ This has brought the issue of domestic violence to the forefront. Domestic Violence (Offence and Punishment) Act of 2066 (2009) defines domestic violence as a form of physical, mental, sexual, or economic harm and includes acts of reprimand or emotional harm. The act allows any person who knows any such action being committed or likely to be committed can lodge a complaint with a police officer, National Commission for Women, or any other local body.
This sudden upsurge results from the gender insensitive lockdown policy of the state, which has forced women to live with their abusers. The basic assumption that Nepal’s government has been running with is that ‘Home is the safest place to prevent the spread of Covid-19’. However, as of May 19, 2020, WOREC Nepal has recorded 336 cases from 33 districts of violence against women and girls. Violence against women covers a spectrum of offences ranging from domestic abuse, social abuse, mental torture, child marriage, forced marriage, rape, attempt to rape, to murder, as, per the data published on their official website, among the recorded cases, 198 cases of domestic violence. In 66% of cases, the perpetrators were the intimate partner or the victim’s family member.
These facts shed light on the deep-rooted patriarchy in our society and the life of hundreds of primary care-givers of our society. The reported rapid increase in the number of domestic violence cases can be due to a variety of cases, none of which can be justified. It is the state’s duty and the judiciary to protect the dignity of its citizens and ensure their security.
With nowhere else to go and limited access to the outside world, victims are trapped inside their homes with their abusive families. A lawyer, who has requested to maintain anonymity, had earlier disclosed that restriction on movement even across districts had forced police personnel to suggest reconciliation and rescue only those who had a grave threat to their lives.
This ‘shadow pandemic’ has proved the Nepalese state to be insensitive and inconsiderate. A government-mandated policy should be well-thought and processed, much before its implementation. The State did not consider the male-dominated society’s existing realities before declaring home the safest place and the ultimate solution for everyone to prevent the virus’s widespread spread. In a country where its masses have long lost hope from its unstable government, the judiciary is its only ray of hope. But the silence of the Supreme Court on this matter has surely failed the women of the country. The Judiciary should warn the executive of their inactions and be effectively enforcing the women’s fundamental rights. Nothing should be stopping the otherwise pro-active body from taking up cognizance of matters suo motu.
Even in normal circumstances, sensitive and tabooed matters of violence and harassment are underreported; considering the lack of resources in this lockdown, the possibility of unreported cases is even higher. Real numbers will only be known after the lockdown is lifted. This is not to suggest that State and the country’s Apex court can continue to be mere silent spectators.