Since the announcement of stringent national lockdown across the world in the wake of Covid-19, gender-based violence such as sexual harassment, physical and mental torture against women has increased dramatically in the domestic sphere. In this respect, the WHO (World Health Organization), UN (United Nation) and several human right organizations have expressed their deep concern and appeal that respective national governments must take strong measures to stop violence against women especially in the domestic sphere, amidst Covid-19 lockdown.
The discussion in this piece focuses on India. During the national lockdown, based on complaints received by the NCW (National Commission for Women) underlined that violence against women in the realm of domestic affairs has been increased by almost two-fold. Before coming to the current problems witnessed by Indian women within four walls of houses.
Ecofeminism as a perspective is committed to achieve an egalitarian society while trying to save the environment and nature from commercial exploitations. Besides, it is committed to fight social, economic exclusion and along with all forms of violence and suppression against women because of patriarchal nature of Indian Society.
However, there are some limitations of ecofeminists such as they have had so far paid more serious attention to problems like environments, nature, development, and harmonious relation with women and hence, the problems like mental-emotional and psychological (which is seen during Covid-19 lockdown) has not been so sincerely taken by the Ecofeminists. But, it is a high time now to take the domestic violence seriously and its related problems experienced by Indian women, (amidst Covid-19), as reminded by a section of progressive feminists.
The concept of ecofeminism had been emerged around the 1970s, at a time when a famous Chipko movement ( in which tribals women were committed to saving the forest resources from commercial expiations by hugging the trees) led by Uttrakhand’s women had been emerged around 1973 along with the green movement. These movements have underlined the intimate connections between the exploitation and degradations of environment and nature on the one hand and subordination and oppression of women from patriarchal mindsets of males on the other. In short, the concept of ecofeminism had creatively combined elements of both the feminists and green movements to address the above-mentioned issues.
While highlighting the increasing treads of domestic violence during the lockdown, several feminists and social activists have written and expressed their anguish and concerns in the public domain. Recently gender activists and feminists of South Asian countries, while exchanging their ides online, have expressed their deep concern with respect to rising trends of domestic violence and other problems experienced by women in the context of South Asian countries.
Besides, a section of feminists in India and elsewhere have also underlined increasing trends of unwanted pregnancy, the issues has been also reported in media, which for several feminist activists and others, might create a further health crisis when they will try for abortions after the end of this lockdown.
Before coming to the present problems experienced by women in the domestic realm, it is crucial to mention what constitutes domestic violence as defined by the domestic violence Act- 2005.
To note that after a persistent campaign launched by feminist activists for nearly two decades ago, finally, the government had passed the Domestic Violence Act in 2005. Broadly speaking, the Act defines domestic violence in terms of physical, emotional/verbal and sexual, as experienced by women in everyday life in the private sphere and public spheres as well.
Despite the stringent Act passed by the government more than decades ago; empirical studies have recently demonstrated that the violence against women in the private and public spheres continues unabated.
According to the National Family Health Survey (2015-16), nearly 31 per cent of married women in our society experienced sexual and physical/emotional violence by their spouses. A global report published in 2017 by the WHO (World Health Organization) has noted that about 1 in 3 (35 per cent) women across the world have faced either physical and/or sexual violence from a close partner or others in their lifetime.
However, a section of ‘Godi Media’ (lap media), mainly T.V anchors has not bothered about to raise the issue of increasing trends of domestic violence as stated above. Instead of raising increasing trends of domestic violence witnessed by Indian vulnerable women in particular middle-class women in general, a section of electronic media houses has tried to communalize the discourse around deadly coronavirus and allegedly coined a new term like Corona-Jihad to demonize entire Muslim community. The Tablighi Jamaat’s episode at the Nizamuddin Markaz can be cited as a case in point here.
It is ironical to note that while addressing to the nation several times amidst Covid-19, PM Modi has not uttered a single word so far on the increasing trends of domestic violence.
After 17th May, once again national lockdown (4.0) has been announced by the ruling government which will continue till 31st May 2020, with some relaxations (especially in those zones which are the least affected by deadly coronavirus) is given to resume economic activities. However, the ruling government and corporate media houses so far, have not shown and paid serious attention to talk about increasing trends of domestic violence against vulnerable women in particular and middle-class women in general.
Given the rise of domestic violence due to the patriarchal nature of society, muscular tendencies of male counterparts and insensitivity of the ruling government and ‘state apparatus, like police and section of lap media; the significance of ‘ecofeminism’ (it broadly refers to the harmonious relationship between women, nature, and environment including with animals and committed to fight against patriarchy) has been greatly increased to address the violence against women and overcome socio-economic exclusion.
For Indian patriarch, if Indian women and especially young girls will remain limited within the four walls of the house, they will be safe and protected. In doing so, they have deliberately created a false narrative for a long period of time that Indian women and young girls will be more secure and safe if they will remain confined to domestic affairs.
For the conservatives, to overcome violence against women in all spheres of life, the Bharatiya Sanskriti (Indian culture, as selectively defined by the RSS from the lens of Brahminical patriarchy) is needed to be adopted by Indian women religiously. Contrary to the conservative forces, a section of progressive feminist historians has had shown that Indian women had faced a huge suppression, oppression and witnessed physical and mental/emotional violence in the distant historical past too.
Here, the claim often made by the Hindu Right and a section of Muslim conservatives that our women will be less prone to violence and sexual harassment, if Indian women will behave as a “Good Hindu” wives or a “Good Muslim” wives (as a pious Muslim woman who supposed to follow the instructions of husband and Islamic Sharia, often interpreted by upper-caste Muslim male with a patriarchal lens), they will be safe and secure within the four walls of the house.
However, Islamic scholars like Asghar Ali Engineer and Asma Barlas have shown that textually Islam has ensured ‘gender justice’ but it is the conservative Muslim male (who often guided by patriarchal values) hardly act according to egalitarian principles and norms of Islamic theology, as enshrined in the Quran vis-à-vis Muslim women.
Contrary to claim made by male chauvinists, for a section of progressive feminists, it is feudal, patriarchal mindsets of male counterparts and ‘illiberal culture’ widely seen in our society are responsible for gender-based violence both in the private and in the public sphere for a long period. Historically speaking, there are no linear interpretations of Indian culture and traditions prevailed in society since time immemorial.
There were plural and progressive culture and traditions had existed in the historical past especially in the Buddhism and other progressive sects in which women were treated with a modicum of dignity and their participation in the public domain had been ensured within the given limited space.
However, it needs not to be misunderstood that women are completely protected and secure in western, liberal, and especially in capitalists/consumerist culture. In this respect, a section of feminists has pointed out that almost everywhere (whether western and non-western societies) patriarchy and male supremacy, as established norms could be noticed. The violence against women in the domestic sphere in western advanced countries during the lockdown can be cited as an example.
However, the myths have been created by conservative and patriarchal forces across society including in case of India for a long period, are now utterly exposed when the domestic violence against women has increased dramatically within four walls of the house, amidst the Covid-19 lockdown. To put it simply, we have to accept that violence against women are universal and we cannot be understood said problems in binaries like private vs public or modem vs traditional and western vs non-western culture etc, as often done by male chauvinism irrespective of caste, communities, and nations.
So the question needs to be asked here, which perspectives of feminism (for instance, western, liberal, socialist, radical, and eco-feminism) are relevant to address the genuine concern of women in the post-COVID-19 world. It is to be noted that western feminism or dominant liberal feminists (known as the first wave of feminism) have talked about democratizing gender relations (between men and women) along with ensuring equal representations of women in the social and political realm. However, they (middle-class privileged white women) have been so far, least bothered about addressing the ‘class question’ and abolishing the private property and fighting against the menace of global capitalism. To note that due to neoliberal capitalism, lower caste/class and vulnerable women in India irrespective of caste and the community have suffered more and experienced social and economic exclusion in both in the private and in the public spheres since the mid-1980s.
Despite some progressive aspects of middle-class white feminism, there are some limitations of said feminist perspective because of; they are the least interested in raising the problems like economic inequality, exploitations of nature, environmental degradations. To note that liberal feminism has its limitations because of not concern about class questions and therefore, it cannot be applied everywhere uncritically particularly in developing societies like India.
It is to be noted that the low caste/class and extremely poor women irrespective of caste and community are ‘doubly discriminated’. Take for instance, based on material conditions on the one hand and gender identity on the other. That is why the concept of “ecofeminism” as perspective now seems to be more relevant because; ecofeminists (like Vandana Shiva and others in the context of India) are committed to fighting against both ‘crony capitalism’ and patriarchy along with degradations of environment, nature, and ecology. However, there are some positive aspects of the lockdown which needs to be underlined that during the period, level of pollutions and environmental catastrophe has been decreased to a large extent.
Despite having stringent Domestic Violence Act-2005, the empirical studies as done by organizations like WHO, NCW and feminist activists have underlined that besides the social and economic exclusion, violence against women in terms of sexual, physical and mental/emotional continues unabated.
Given the sudden rise of domestic violence against vulnerable women in particular and middle-class women in general, the relevance of ecofeminism’ (despite having some limitations) as a perspective has now increased once again in the post -COVID 19 world.
The author is a research scholar, University of Delhi.