In Kerala, lockdown for women means abuse and govt must address it

Staying home is more horrid for women and trans people as homes are the source of oppression

domestic violence
The season of pandemic gives rise to feminist questions too | Representative Photo

“Dear men, welcome to the world of lockdown. We, the women, have been experiencing it for centuries. Now, it’s your turn to get a taste of it.”

The text above is from a troll post that is being widely shared by women in the Malayalam social media sphere. And there are many such posts that women are writing and sharing, making the lockdown period the best opportunity to challenge the archaic norms of patriarchy.

Sitting at home for 21 days would be difficult for all irrespective of gender, but it is more horrid for women and trans people as homes could be the source of oppression and violence even otherwise.

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Kerala, despite all tall claims of being far ahead of other states in human development index, has glaringly unpleasant statistics of domestic violence too. According to the National Family Health Survey of 2018, 15 per cent of married women in the state experience spousal violence.

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“The non-availability of liquor along with men being forced to sit at home would have serious consequences. The government should give special care to women and trans people in this context of lockdown,” said Dr. Mini Sukumar, a feminist scholar and the Head of the Department of Gender Studies at University of Calicut.

“We have to see two types of withdrawal problems — one that is caused by non-availability of liquor and the other due to absence of social life. Men have to make serious attempts to change their socialising methods. Social media is flooded with the male anxiety of being locked at homes. For them, home is a place of transit where women are supposed to serve,” she said.

The Federal spoke to a few women in Kerala about their life at home during this period of lockdown, and found many who are more scared of staying locked down in homes with their spouses than a pandemic.

“I am scared. I don’t know how to survive these days. My husband is here at home now. We have stopped talking to each other for long. Still I managed because he used to be at home only on Sundays,” said a woman, a resident of Kerala’s Thrissur.

While speaking to this reporter, the woman requested if she could get in touch with a counsellor as she was scared she will get clinical depression by the time the coronavirus scare is over.

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Another woman, a 30-year-old resident of Thiruvananthapuram and a mother of two, said her husband beats her whenever he is frustrated. “He used to go out either to meet friends or somewhere else when there is a fight. But now he can’t. I am sure he will be more frustrated now and I will have to bear the brunt. Women like me don’t need a coronavirus to die,” she says.

Ranjini S, coordinator of Kudumbasree, a poverty eradication programme in Kochi, said women are immediate and direct victims of any pandemic.  “Mostly women have to bear the brunt of the additional stress during such an unusual situation. This is same with all women irrespective of class status,” she said.

The burden of increased domestic labour falls on the shoulder of women. Those who used to manage by employing domestic help are now left with no option but to do all the household chores by themselves. Worse is the case of women in the lower strata of society as they have a new set of problems to manage.

“They do not have the means to buy groceries in bulk and they have to take the burden of running the kitchen without fail,” added Ranjini.

The non-availability of liquor would probably lead to a steep rise in the incidence of domestic violence. “This is actually a very volatile and explosive situation. We have already started focusing on such issues through our network members,” said Ranjini.

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Kerala’s statistics are always higher than other states, both in positive and negative parameters. This is precisely because the state has a better and transparent system of reporting. As it has the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country, a total non-availability of liquor all of a sudden would definitely lead to a plethora of problems that largely manifests in the form of domestic violence.

Along with problems, Kerala has systemic solutions too. And Kudumbasree is one. Besides being a poverty eradication programme, it is a network of about 45 million rural and urban women. Kudumbasree, the largest of its kind in the world, has psycho-social support units at the grassroots level.

“We have three to four professionally trained counsellors in each district. In addition, we have developed a team of community counsellors at block level. The ward-level representatives of Kudumbasree know every family in person that enables them to seek support of these counselor,” said Ranjini.

Kudumbasree is not the only system that provides mental health support. The social justice department also has trained counsellors at ward level, and around 97 service providing centers in the state.

“We have trained counsellors and legal advisors attached to every centre. We have started giving special attention to new problems arising in this unusual situation,” said Kokila Babu, a legal advisor at its service providing centre in Thiruvananthapuram.

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According to her, liquor consumption is one of the major factors that results in domestic violence. “Now we have to deal with issues of withdrawal symptoms. This could have a very bad impact on the mental and physical health of people who regularly consume liquor. Women might not even understand the withdrawal symptoms,” said Kokila Babu.

The Social Welfare Board has already published contact numbers of doctors and experts for people hit by withdrawal issues. Till March 26, about 676 trained counsellors have been deployed to provide psycho-social support to families under isolation. About 42,517 telecommunication services have also been provided till date.

“Women do not cause the spread of this pandemic. We regularly ‘break the chain’ by using dish wash and detergent many times a day. We don’t urinate or spit in public places. Men have to realise these now. We have been even otherwise trained to spend time at home. Then what is this big deal about lock down for men?” asked S Saradakkutty, an author and social activist, on the social media, thus irking many men. The season of pandemic gives rise to feminist questions too.

The withdrawal symptoms caused by both the absence of social life and non-availability of liquor have already started showing symptoms. The regular statistics of cases and arrests for violating lock down orders show how men are incapable of sitting at home. On March 26, about 2,098 cases were registered in which 2,234 persons arrested and 1,447 vehicles were seized. A 38-year-old man even committed suicide in Thrissur’s Kunnamkulam. According to his brother’s statement in the FIR, he used to consume liquor regularly and was heavily depressed since two days into the lockdown.

The Kerala government, which is internationally praised for the way it is handling the pandemic situation, will have to face a new set of problems by the time the coronavirus scare gets over.

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