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Home > 2023 > Covid-19 Lockdown and Domestic Violence in India | Amit Kumar

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 15, April 8, 2023

Covid-19 Lockdown and Domestic Violence in India | Amit Kumar

Saturday 8 April 2023


by Amit Kumar

While the world celebrated the International Women’s Day on 8 March, with the theme ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’, agents of neo-patriarchy were attempting to bring women back to their traditional roles. To support this thesis, this study examines the rise of domestic violence during the first four phases of the Covid-19 lockdown in India by analysing global news clips along with a case study on filed complaints of domestic violence in the city of Chandigarh.

INDIA WITNESSED A surge in the reporting of domestic violence cases as a nationwide impromptu lockdown was imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. We say, impromptu, as there was an absence of a concrete plan to battle the pandemic and this led to societal chaos. Confines in limited spaces for indefinite time period, man and woman, husband and wife found their roles starkely defined and unable to cope with social duties, this entailed. If family time was for bonding and strength, the same time became a time of war between the genders. We attempt here to study what caused the surge in domestic violence complaints during the pandemic? What power dynamics worked behind the four walls? Is it possible that the lockdown triggered the violent nature of man? More importantly, in this description of safety called ‘a home’, what kind of practices and mindset gave rise to violence we know as ‘domestic’?

The complaints filed with the police and the various women’s commissions ranged from issues of poor policing to restrictions on visiting parental homes. An analysis of the news articles on domestic violence published from the beginning of the lockdown is covered in four phases (Figure 1).

Confined within the home, male members of the family usually burdened the lives of women and young girls with increased household demands. This, studies showed, were based on traditionally sex-determined roles. The work-from-home practice further degraded their mental and physical lifestyles into one of entitlement. Women not only had to usual care of the family, they had to provide sexual gratification more often and also take responsibility for health cares issues.


The news articles note that the first phase of the lockdown remained dominated by romanticism, with articles on rekindling the relationship with the partner, advising women to adjust, justifying men’s presence at home, and giving tips on being a healthy couple. People became vocal with home-based strategies/stereotypes to fight Covid-19, for instance, claiming curing Coronavirus through herbal tea, chanting mantras and burning the effigy of Coronavirus. Amidst all the panic, Mother’s Day further boosted such notions to a different level. Simultaneously, the trend of the married couple sharing household responsibilities was highly romanticised on social media, with videos portraying stories of gender-equality, male celebrities posting selfies with broomsticks, wipers, and women appreciating the same (Table 2).


Nevertheless, all these acts of romanticism were practised without considering the extension of the lockdown. Several articles mentioned how people are excited to spend this limited opportunity of quality time with family, and suggestions were given to build healthy relationships, and these clearly mentioned the figure ‘21 days’. For example, ‘these 21 days can change your relationship status quo with your family’, the articles said. The phase of romanticism was short-lived, as performing repetitive activities beyond sex roles became tedious and was replaced by giving space to a nostalgic feeling about one’s old self and routine, one of man going to office, woman left behind at home to deal with the issues of food, cleaning, children and the elderly. On the one hand, it promoted a sense of reviving gender roles and, on the other side, justifying violent acts (a short-term effect) followed by strengthening sexism (a long-term effect).


The financial insecurity, unfulfilled demands at home, and unexpected behaviour of the spouse or any family member enhanced the frustration level, resulting in men’s violent behaviour towards women and other family member.

Violence and Sexism

The early news article headlines claimed that, ‘domestic violence cases doubled during the lockdown’. However, as per the data collected from Women Police Stations, UT Police Chandigarh for 2018, 2019 and 2020, the number of filed complaints show a declining rate, which can be attributed to the helplessness of the victim stuck with the offender.

The data reflect that most complaints were from the city’s lower and middle-class residential sectors. Rationally, it is rare that a man with non-violent history might transform into an aggressive being. However, increased reports can be attributed to multiple complaints from households with a history of domestic violence. Conversely, low reporting amongst elite sectors might be credited to the victims being stuck with the offender, as most of the reports were filed by the victim’s parents and not by the victims themselves (Figures 2, 3 & 4).

Financial insecurity-induced panic also aggravated men’s violent behaviour. The cases of dowry harassment increased, and alcohol increased the intensity of the violent act, which explains how crimes can be accelerated when things go unchecked. Undoubtedly, most news articles highlighted the increased crime rate, but reliance on western ideas of safe shelters and helplines enabled offenders to take advantage of women. For example, women being raped in quarantine centres or reports of minor girls being married during lockdown (Table 2) were frequent.


The lockdown also witnessed revivalism, as the historic glorification of orthodox Hindu civilisational values and practices were eulogised. For instance, casteism and untouchability were justified, and cow urine, chanting of mantras, and drumming plates were glorified in the name of cure. Social media promoted the submissive nature of the traditional housewife through the character of Lord Rama’s wife, Sita (an epitome of patience, purity, and forgiveness) by rebroadcasting Ramayana with an intent to bring all working women back to do the the household chores. Similarly, glorified was Mandodari (Ravana’s wife) who is shown adjusting to her husband’s aggressive nature and remaining devoted despite his wrongful deeds.

Financial insecurity remained a dominating factor, as the lockdown experience differed for women from different socio-economic backgrounds. The increased burden for women in the above middle class (elite) and women in the middle class meant mental stress or anxiety due to limited outdoor access or concern for their children not getting any domestic help. Conversely, women in the below-middle class with meager wages suffered a financial crisis, as the lockdown halted every outdoor means of earning.

However, most news articles poorly addressed strategies to cope with the pandemic, which completely ignored women living below the middle class, where the intensity of domestic violence that occurred was more than in any other category. Most of these suggestions included avoiding family conflicts, trying new recipes, learning new skills, and avoiding conflicts by positively communicating with partners (Table 2).


While the act of violence was a short-term effect, as it only occurs momentarily, it strengthened the roots of sexism. The Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to identify all forms of domestic abuse and redefine the power dynamics in a household. Sex-based roles are part of socialisation and are fluid. Back to families means bringing change, not reviving or resorting to the orthodox ways.

Table 2. List of Reviewed News Articles, 2020

 The overall take-away from India’s Covid 19 experience has been an increase in conservative, sexist attitudes at the societal level. Targeting the acts of domestic violence might slow down its intensity, but the roots of sexism need to be uprooted. This before Covid and post-Covid has not changed. The need to keep the focus on Domestic Violence continues.

(Author: Amit Kumar is a Research Officer at the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh, India. With a post-graduate degree in geography from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Mr Kumar’s area of research includes Gender Geography, Gender, LGBTQIA and Masculinities Studies, and Social and Political Geography. His latest book is Three Shades of Green: Privatization, Pollution, and Protest. (The author declares no conflicts of interest in relation to this article.)

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