This article is written by Niharika Ravi. It primarily focuses on domestic violence and COVID-19.

Introduction

Crime is characteristic of society. Studies in criminology and penology relate crime to the inherent nature of the human psyche. However, it is imperative to punish those who commit heinous crimes in modern society, for they infringe upon another’s rights and, hence, stray away from their own duties. The prevention of crimes is imperative to the protection of the rights of every individual- the fundamental basis of modern democracy.

It is essential to study the cause and effect of the force one is trying to prevent. While the effects of crime range from a mere injury to the infringement of a legal right to the loss of life, the causes may be varied and multi-layered. A multi-faceted approach to crime is explored herewith, broadly at first and then with specific application to domestic violence as a crime.

Minorities and those perceived as vulnerable in society are most prone to be victims of crime. Therefore, it is essential to examine their possible role in the prevention of crime by assessing whether they are, indeed, victims to specific crimes and if there is enough legislation in place to safeguard their particular rights are the most susceptible victims of crime.

Crime prevention- Laws in India 

The very foundation of the study of criminology is to ascertain why people commit crimes. It is taken that as mankind and society progresses, so also does crime. Crime is as old as man and meting out a punishment was probably the oldest form of a judicial system. Such punishment was, perhaps, meted out as an eye for an eye, a life for a life- man`s earliest methods of punishing a criminal, but, society has progressed long since then and a system has been established to bring criminals to justice in civilized society. In fact, recorded efforts to control so-called “bad behavior” go back to the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi around 3700 years ago.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Criminal Procedure Code, 1974 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 are regarded as the basic outlines that guide the executive and the judiciary to capture, hold, try and sentence criminals in India. These laws are further supplemented by ones like the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) act, 2013, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and many more. These statutes have been made to address each individual criminal act and to strengthen the measures taken against them with the aim to curb the occurrence of these crimes upon the establishment that a physical act or actus reus was committed with a guilty mind or mens rea.

A brief overview of this set up prompts the onlooker to address the fact that there is, in fact, an overwhelming number of such statutes that have been legislated in India. Clearly, the lack of the number of legislations and statutes is not an issue in India. The quality of these legislations, their limited scope, ambiguity within them and their incompatibility with the habits and mindsets of all classes of society are, however, major weak links in this respect. For instance, the domestic violence act, today, is being mistreated by minority women to harass their in-laws while true victims find the law and its applications inaccessible due to economic and social constraints. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace law speaks only of sexual harassment against women by a man and turns a blind eye to the possibility that a woman may harass a man, or a man may harass another man, or a woman may arise another woman, or a transgender person may be harassed at the workplace. 

More importantly, the inefficient and often corrupt workings of a highly underpaid and mistreated executive and bureaucratic apathy act as a barrier instead of a link between these legislations and the judiciary.

It is essential to return to criminology and inspect the causes of crime in order to ascertain the ideal method of preventing it. Renowned thinker Aristotle wrote in his works that “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime”. The parallels drawn between the 2012 Delhi Gang-Rape Case and the 2019 Hyderabad Vet Rape Case stand in evidence of the same- the perpetrators of both seemingly similar crimes were from poor socio-economic backgrounds and had fought poverty all their lives. The perpetrators of such heinous crimes seem not to fear legal retributions to their acts. This is indicative of the failure of our legal system to deliver criminals to justice- another cause of crimes. Lack of education and employment are pivotal reasons for increasing rates of crime and abuse of alcohol and drugs as well.

These circumstances exist outside the realm of the adequate or inadequate presence of statutes and require the combined efforts of the legislature, executive and judiciary to be thoroughly addressed as the first step towards the prevention of crimes.

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Crimes against the vulnerable

Crimes can be characterized by their victims. Authorities can conduct targeted drills to prevent specific crimes against each specific section of the demography. This is already seen in legislation that aims to protect specific minorities. For instance, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 aims to protect members of the scheduled castes and tribes from caste-based violence, acts like the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 aim to protect women from gender violence etc. Crimes against senior citizens and against children are on the rise in the country as well. The Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 were brought about fairly recently to deal with such upcoming issues. These are the four spheres of the most vulnerable minorities that are affected by targeted crimes.

Of course, the aforementioned laws, in addition to helpline numbers and specific provisions set up by the government for these vulnerable members of society are enforced wantonly upon society, but, another community susceptible to such crimes but grossly neglected by legislations is the LGTBQIA++ community. Hate crimes against this community are generally high and a majority of its members are shunned from their birth families, and eventually, also the legal system as it fails to guarantee them basic rights, freedoms and justice. Of course, the decriminalization of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Apex Court of the country was, indeed, a step in the right direction with reference to this issue, but, the members of this community are still vying for the day when they will be treated truly equally, not only in the eyes of the law that has made a valiant attempt to accommodate this community in the mainstream, but also in the eyes of society that law strives to reform. 

It is, indeed, a tedious process to account for each change with reference to each minority and its unique requirements for protection against crime to be tested and found compatible with each section of criminal legislature, but it is imperative to bring change in order to protect both, those who are exploited because they belong to a minority community, and those who belong to a privileged section of such minority community and aspire to misuse and abuse laws made for their benefit in order to exploit others. 

Prevention of domestic violence and COVID-19- A case study

Prevention of crime is a very broad topic to address. It is easier to develop a comprehensive understanding of the concept by specifically assessing one type of crime in a case study and various efforts made to prevent and alleviate its presence from society. 

Domestic Violence is defined under Section 3 of The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and it contains within it the verbal, sexual, emotional, physical and economic abuse of the woman. It is of relevance to note that the Act has laid down definitions for terms such as “aggrieved person”, “woman” and “shared household” amongst others. 

A WHO report states that more than one in every three women in the world face some kind of domestic violence-physical or sexual, making this a public health issue of epidemic proportions, but, the report also states that this problem can be prevented, as evidenced by a few pilot studies. Combining socio economic factors such as improvement in education systems, decreasing alcohol abuse by men, ensuring a uniform wage system and attacking the problem through a formal and strong legal process may see a decrease in the incidence rate. Cultural influences such as male dominance, gender power relationships are other aspects that need to be tackled to decrease incidents of domestic violence. A massive scale up on all the above mentioned fronts is called for to tackle this menace.

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” 

  • United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon (2008)

A violence free life is a very basic expectation and is the deserved right of each and every individual-a man, a woman or a child. Just as epidemic is domestic violence, globally, the COVID 19 pandemic is posing new challenges for humanity. With most countries resorting to complete lockdown to contain the virus and decrease the morbidity and mortality, women are proving to be the hard-hit. The lockdown is bolting up women with violent partners, and more dangerously, isolating them from social and community reliefs that are otherwise sought by them as a means of escape. Social distancing is making it a challenge to reach out to victims who are seeking aid. It is usually a trend observed that pandemics, epidemics, wars and conflicts of any hurt make women the most and make the easy victims. While Chinese government officials claim that cases of domestic violence tripled the month COVID-19 initially broke out, BBC reported that an estimated 1.6 million women and 786000 men experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019. The number of women seeking refuge in women’s shelters in Denmark also increased since the onslaught of the pandemic. Similar cases are being seen in Greece, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Spain, and Australia as well. Additionally, reports suggest that lockdowns have made it near-impossible for women to access emergency contraception. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) expects nearly 7 million unintended pregnancies to occur in lieu of the lockdown.

Calls for changes in laws and policies have already been made in many of these countries in view of the dire circumstances. A prosecutor in Italy also ruled that in the case of domestic violence, the perpetrator must leave the home and not the victim- this is especially important during this pandemic. However, such a provision already exists in the Indian Act. In Germany, parliamentary leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt urged authorities to consider transforming empty hotels and guest houses to safe havens for women who are vulnerable at home during these troubled times.

Conclusion

Of course, the Uttar Pradesh State Government launched a new domestic violence help line during lockdown, aping all these countries wherein authorities were appraised of the dire situation of domestic violence during the pandemic through pre-existing help lines. Perhaps, it is time for Indian policy makers to look to the west and emulate their practices in crime prevention before situations become exceedingly dire. Further, speedier trials and higher rates of punishment are the need of the hour, as is the surety that a corruption-free, smooth, fair and just legal process will be guaranteed to each citizen that approaches the court. This will lay law-abiding citizens at ease and birth fear in the minds of others, for, as Nelson Mandela said, “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”


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