A three-week nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24 and we are now in the extended lockdown since April 15. The lockdown was supposed to end on April 14 but then it was extended till May 3. Let us quickly relook at some of the events observed in the past few days and try to understand the underlying processes.
On April 14, around 3,000 migrant labourers gathered at Bandra railway station in Mumbai. Mostly hailing from West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, they demanded transportation to their native places. Once again, the police had to resort to lathicharge for dispersing this crowd. On the same day, such defiance of lockdown and assembly of labourers was reported from Ahmedabad, Surat and Hyderabad also. The next day, on April 15, hundreds of homeless labourers gathered on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi.
Earlier, on April 12, nearly 500 migrant labourers came out on the streets of Surat in Ganesh Nagar and Tirupati Nagar. Coming from more than a dozen states, these migrant labourers were mostly engaged in textiles, power looms, embroidery work, diamond-cutting and polishing, besides ongoing construction work. Their demand? Arrangement to return back to their hometowns and payment of dues. This crowd indulged in violence, started pelting stones, setting vehicles and handcarts on fire. The police had to fire tear gas shells. Over 90 of them were arrested.
According to Pornhub, during the first phase of the lockdown, large number of Indians hit the porn sites resulting in a 95 per cent spike in traffic. Earlier Indians raked third, just behind the United States and the United Kingdom. Almost 30 per cent of the viewers from India are women.
On April 12 itself, a group of four Nihangs attacked the police team in Patiala when they were stopped at the vegetable market, chopping the hand of ASI Harjeet Singh and injuring two others. The doctors, fortunately, with great skill and finesse, restored the hand.
So what triggered this bizarre event? The policemen were ensuring lockdown and these people were asked to produce permission for coming out during this lockdown.
Why did the migrant workers defy lockdown? Was it a calculated risk between the danger of acquiring the virus and the anticipatory state of hunger and being penniless? Or, was it arising out of a conglomeration of socio-economic issues and a psychological state of mind?
The problem athand is socio-economic in nature. Actual or anticipatory unemployment arising out of lockdown can be the biggest cause. Loss of job or salary cuts will hit one hard and hence demanding disbursal of unpaid dues has a genuine reason. Simultaneously, do think of the state of mind of someone put in that situation. The pangs of one’s own hunger, billowing kids and spouse, uncertain future; is all of that not going to crush the self-esteem of the individual?
At the time when there are several experiencing their self-esteem being crushed and the survival instinct being hit hard, the rational decision of maintaining social distance and remaining in lockdown is likely to get blurred. The love for oneself and the loved ones might fuel the instinctive impulse to break out, clash with a manageable hurdle, and return back to a safe place, which in such cases is likely to be their ancestral or parental villages.
What about the extreme but isolated case in Patiala? What can perpetuate violence of this magnitude in such situations? As an act it’s highly condemnable, but what could be the psychology behind it?
THESE ARE UNCERTAIN times and uncertainty allows stress and frustration to precipitate. This may lead to violent reactions.Aggressive response incorporates attitude and action, both. An unfavourable attitude towards those enforcing implementation of lockdown can result into violent action against them. As a human tendency, our primitive reaction to restricted bodily movements is frustration that explicitly explodes in an aggressive form. Freedom of movement does not completely lose its strength. That is the reason there are cases everyday of people who come out during lockdown for no reason. Think of those who have seen or enjoyed privileges being accorded on some account, be it power, position, or other social factors. Is there frustration not going to be further fuelled?
I want to throw light on another issue, an invisible scar. What happens when all that we have talked about are forcibly packed inside their houses?
I am deliberately not talking about the unaddressed or under-mitigated and persistent socio-economic problems that forced them to do what they did; rather, I want to focus on the psychological aspect only. Will the crushed self-esteem and the lost combat against odds of life allow them to have mental peace? Who is likely to suffer the brunt then? The answer is obvious— the two most vulnerable within the four walls, the spouse and children.
This form of manifestation of violence is what we see against women and children nowadays. The National Crime Records Bureau estimates suggest a crime against women every 1.7 minute and domestic violence against a child every 4.4 minutes. The scary emerging global data made the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres say that “over the past weeks, as the economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying surge in domestic violence… the number of women calling support services has doubled”.
Cases of gender-based violence reported to the National Commission for Women (NCW) in India has increased more than double during the lockdown period. Compared to the 116 cases reported in the first week of March (March 2-8), the number went up to 257 in the last week (March 23-April 1).
Let us look at the data from Europe. Among the European countries, France has one of the highest rates of domestic violence. It went into lockdown on March 17. Since then the country saw a 30 per cent jump in domestic violence. Paris alone saw a rise of 36 per cent. Back in India, between March 24 and April 1 the NCW received 69 calls on its helpline.
At the time when there are several experiencing their self-esteem being crushed, the rational decision of maintaining social distance is likely to get blurred. The love for oneself and the loved ones might fuel the instinctive impulse to break out, clash with a manageable hurdle, and return back to a
There is a two-fold explanation to this— stereotypical ideologies and an evolutionary, biological reason. Let us look at the first one.
According to NCW chief Rekha Sharma, “Domestic violence cases have doubled than what it was before the lockdown. The cases of domestic violence are high in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Punjab.”
She explained the containment of men within their home and their refusal to share domestic work as the cause of frustration resulting into violence against women. This does reflect the typical stereotype that exists in our society.
The other stereotypical example came from Malaysia. In the month of April, Malaysia’s Women, Family and Community Development Ministry recommended women to nicely dress at home during the lockdown and not bother male members of the family. Although this recommendation was withdrawn with due apology after an outcry in social media, but it does reflect the strong stereotypes prevalent in Malaysian society.
Unequal distribution of domestic labour is a harsh reality. Highlighting gender disparity in households in India, the International Labour Organization came out with shocking figures in 2019. Urban women spend approximately 312 minutes every day on unpaid care work compared to men who spend only 29 minutes. In contrast, rural women spend 291 minutes per day in comparison to men who spend 32 minutes.
The data speaks for itself; men are men, whether they stay in urban or in rural area.
Let us look at the other vulnerable group within the four walls. According to a media report, during the first 11 days of the lockdown, a state-run helpline received more than 92,000 calls from women and children facing domestic abuse during this lockdown. According to the deputy director of Childline India, between March 20-31 Childline 1098 received 307,000 calls of child abuse and violence recording a jump of 50 per cent.
Two lawyers, Summer Sodhi and AarzooAneja, recently wrote to the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde: “….to take cognizance of the issue of protecting the rights of children and their safety in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The need of the hour is to issue guidelines to various authorities for protecting children from violence and abuse, which is inflicted upon them by their own family members/relatives/care-takers, taking measures to ensure that counselling is made available to them. The NGOs/organizations which work in the field of child welfare need to be mobilized at this time of child abuse pandemic”.
They argue that “during the lockdown, the danger to these children is exacerbated, as they are unable to leave their homes. The isolation has further shattered support networks, making it even more difficult for the victims to seek help or escape”.
LET US NOW look at the evolutionary and biological reasons that psychologists have also endorsed. Catastrophe, both natural and man-made, lead to some tragedies. Loss of loved ones, home and possessions, etc, are some of these tragedies. Even the fear of loss has the potential of creating a similar scenario.
There is anabundance of literature suggesting an increase in sexual violence after such disasters. Such crisis also increases fear, stress and a sense of helplessness; all of it increase the risk of violence. Sociologists suggest that a sense of power and control motivates sexual assault. Thus, those prone to abuse or violence further run the risk of sexual assault.
Sex is a taboo and hence cannot be talked openly in our society. Please allow me to deviate from this norm.
The available literature in psychology mentions “end-of-the-world sex” which is defined as heightened libido as a means to cope against fear and sadness arising out of a sense of vulnerability due to any terrifying event. Sociologists, evolutionary biologists, and psychologists, all endorse such a phenomenon. Demographers have also reported a hike in birth-rate ten months after such a catastrophe.
Psychologists also explain it in the light of a ‘fight-flight’ response. Dopamine and
testosterone released during that state could have its role as testosterone stimulates the libido. However, some experience guilt of involvement in the act of pleasure when several others aremourning or experiencing agony.
According to sociologist Pepper Schwartz, sexual intimacy leads the way forward for emotional intimacy in many men. The subconscious mind ensures survival of the species. “It may be a way to experience humanity and be connected.”
Catastrophes invite tragedies. The experience is novel and full of danger and fear; this cocktail has the potential of stimulating sexual drive. This is not an expression of passion, rather an affirmation of life.
Psychologists also explain it in the light of a ‘fight-flight’ response. Dopamine and testosterone released during that state could have its role as testosterone stimulates the libido. However, some experience guilt of involvement in the act of pleasure when several others are mourning or experiencing agony. A social media post must have caught their attention. It might have also appeared in mainstream news. Indeed, a lady from Ghana released a video of expression of increased libido by her mate during the lockdown, requesting her government for an intervention.
Let us look at another figure to understand this. According to Pornhub, during the first phase of the three-week lockdown, large number of Indians hit the porn site resulting in a 95 per cent spike in traffic. Earlier Indians raked third, just behind the United States and the United Kingdom. Almost 30 per cent of the viewers from India are women.
The company offered free premium membership to guests from Italy, France, and Spain during the lockdown to just give people ‘one more way to pass their time’. However, it is important to keep in mind that 827 adult websites are prohibited in India. Despite this prohibition, India registered a 95 per cent hike.
The mix of heightened libido and increased hits on adult sites along with accumulating daily experience during lockdown seems to be showing its effect. The tricky situation would crop-in when a conflicting combination, one with heightened libido and the other with guilt experience, would come together. The outcome is likely to be abuse or violence where a woman or a child or both could be the victim.
TILL NOW THE focus has been on the state of the affairs and the underlying psychological process. What is the way forward now? Is there a solution?
In this time of crisis, police is largely busy addressing the safe movement of healthcare workers in vulnerable localities during COVID-19 test, ensuring compliance of lockdown, regulating a supply chain of essential services, etc. In fact, they themselves have been the target of violent mobs at few places. Discharging responsibilities while safeguarding self and others is a much bigger challenge. Their focus would obviously be on ground zero and therefore the vulnerable ones in the society are left to their own.
Mixed with emotional turmoil, this atmosphere of chaos is likely to make the victims more confused as to how to handle their problem. A time when the focus has shifted to fight the pandemic and the resources are limited, making medical and psychological care available and allowing law enforcement agencies the space to cater to such problems is also a serious need. Civil society groups, voluntary groups, educational institutions, and public at large — all of them can play an important role.
In addition to their existing online complaint links and emails, the National Commission for Women (NCW) launched a WhatsApp number on April 10, during the lockdown period, for women experiencing domestic violence. Can a code system of reporting domestic violence evolve?
Spain has one such system in place. In India this has been attempted as the ‘Red Dot’ initiative by an NGO — Women Entrepreneurs for Transformation (WEFT). Those who can’t be vocal about their distress can simply put a red bindi or a decorative dot on their foreheads. Anyone who sees this dot can, in turn, inform WEFT. This is likely to be a big rescue for both women and children; the invisible scar will get easily identified.
I also see a big opportunity to hit the stereotypical ideology very hard. Let men learn to participate in household responsibilities. The lockdown might pave an easy way for society to make everyone, especially men, manage the stress of workplace, while mixing it with the challenges at home. In that case, the stereotypes will diminish and social evil will reduce without bruising the ego.
The writer is Professor of Psychology, Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, IIT, Kanpur.