On 23 March 2020, one of the most sudden and stringent and COVID-19 lockdowns in the world was imposed in India, without any clear-cut directives on how state agencies and civil society organisations (CSOs) should respond to the enormous challenges it posed. The impact of the lockdown was particularly severe on certain sections of the population, including migrant workers, daily wage labourers, domestic workers, other marginalised groups and, unsurprisingly, women and children facing domestic violence. The lockdown exacerbated the factors contributing to domestic violence, severely limited survivors ability to seek help and redress, and placed severe burdens on providers seeking to intervene and respond to survivors.
This paper explores the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on domestic violence, the shifts in its forms and intensity, and womens responses through an analysis of cases that Swayama feminist organisation, headed by the author, working on violence against women (VAW) in Kolkata for over 25 yearsdealt with during this time. It analyses state agencies responses, the strategies and advocacy efforts of CSOs nationally to assist survivors to access support services, and presents the resultant learnings based primarily on the experiences of members of Aman: Global Voices for Peace in the Home, a network of organisations working on domestic violence across the country. It highlights the need for survivor support services to be classified as essential services and for the stipulation of specific procedures and protocols to ensure these services are operational, available, and always accessible to women, particularly during pandemics, disasters, and conflicts, since these inevitably lead to increased VAW.