The year 2020 has rattled the world with the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19). The phrase ‘Back to normal’ is now becoming ‘Accepting the new normal’, with so many aspects of life that have changed and remain uncertain till we have a definite cure or preventive vaccine to battle the deadly virus.

For us Indians, we have the added pain of not being able to celebrate our festivals together as we stay behind closed doors. One such loved festival is ‘Raksha Bandhan’, where the promise of protecting our women is sealed with the unique Indian tradition of women tying a beautiful rakhi around the wrists of people who swear to protect them against all odds.

As a societal norm, we protect our women and girls by advising them to not venture out and to stay at home as much as they can. We tell them not to wear ‘provocative clothes’ and not to do anything that might propel lecherous men to attack their dignity.

So considering our well thought advice above, we might assume that Indian women should have been safe and well protected in the confines of their homes during the COVID lockdown.

The sad part is, Indian women have experienced a spike in the number of cases in domestic abuse, rape, dowry crime, attempted murders and cybercrimes against them during the lockdown.

Domestic violence surges dramatically

According to a counsellor from the Centre for Social Research, a New Delhi-based non-profit working for gender equality, “There’s been a surge in calls of women experiencing domestic violence since the country entered into a 21-day lockdown from March 25 to control the spread of coronavirus.”  “Shockingly, a new trend we’re witnessing, she adds, “is of married women asking to be rescued from parental homes. Mothers, fathers, stepmothers, and siblings are also being accused of domestic violence.”

While the Indian government has enabled multiple helplines for women, the unemployment, financial crisis and liquor abuse during the lockdown are propelling violent men in their families to subject these women to emotional, physical and sexual abuse hence falsifying the fact that women are safe within their homes.

According to Quartz India, the testimonies of domestic violence survivors reveal how other women in the family either watch helplessly or condone/minimise/ignore the abuse. This abuse, because of its location (inside the home) and its perpetrator (a close relative), is widely underreported. Women who are brave enough to complain about domestic violence represent the tip of the iceberg and the actual statistics could be far more alarming.

Rapes in COVID isolation facilities and treatment centres

During the lockdown, the world was so immersed in the news on the severity of the pandemic and the lives that it had claimed that we failed to notice the spike in the number of rape cases against women was still on a rise.

Apart from the marital rapes and other sexual crimes that were inflicted on women in their homes, there were reports of women being raped in COVID treatment and isolation facilities across India.

Shockingly enough, on July 24th, there were reports of a 14 year old COVID patient was allegedly raped by a 19 year old fellow patient in the Sardar Patel Covid Care Centre in Chhatarpur.

According to a report from Vice media, recently, a 25-year-old woman working in Delhi was admitted to the Deen Dayal Hospital on Monday, July 20, after testing positive for COVID-19. It’s alleged that a 30-year-old doctor, Dr Tufail Ahmed, then attempted to rape her in the hospital’s isolation ward. He was later arrested in a hotel where he was self-isolating after the patient filed a police complaint.

These incidents, among countless other sexual crimes that go unreported only reinforce the facts that women suffering from the deadly COVID-19 are also not spared against sexual violence.

Cybercrime against women on the rise

According to a report from Hindustan Times, there has been a significant increase in cybercrime against women, especially sextortion, during the COVID-19-induced lockdown with ‘caged criminals’ targeting them online.

According to National Commission for Women (NCW) data, 54 cybercrime complaints were received online in April in comparison to 37 complaints in March, and 21 complaints in February. This statistics, as experts claim are highly under reported and the true numbers might never be known.

Women in lockdown are being subjected to abuse, indecent exposure, unsolicited obscene pictures, threats, blackmail and malicious emails claiming their account was hacked. Every other Indian girl has an experience of unwarranted obscene pictures and messages sent by men on their social media accounts, the COVID 19 outbreak has only incited these criminals to expand their nefarious activities.

As you read this, women in India are being abused, raped, bullied and killed mostly in their own homes, isolation centres and treatment facilities.

So the question is, should we just celebrate Raksha Bandhan with sweets and chocolates and take a vow to protect our sisters from all of this or should we take a step back and remember this vow when we inflict abuse on any other random woman who might be someone else’s sister.

The real question is, are we doing enough to protect our women behind locked doors?

We need to think if we are celebrating the motive behind Raksha Bandhan for each day of the year or are we removing our belt to abuse a woman in our bedrooms with a rakhi tied on our wrists?