The judicial committees at local bodies that used to be bustling with cases of domestic violence don’t have any new case these days. Not that all domestic violence has stopped. The problem is that most of them are never reported due to the lockdown, municipal officials suspect.
Deputy Chief of Kechana Kaval Rural Municipality Nimsari Rajvamshi says: “We don’t have any new complaint related to domestic violence. Perhaps people are unsure how to go to report it during the lockdown.” She adds that though the males can go out of the house under various pretexts, women can’t. “And we can’t even go from house to house asking what is happening inside,” Rajvamshi says.
The judicial committee of Mechinagar Municipality used to have about five daily cases of domestic violence, mostly related to foreign employment. There were more cases of domestic violence than neighborly disputes.
Says Meena Upreti, deputy chief of the municipality, “Women used to come here with physical wounds. Some complained of not being given anything to eat for days.” Due to the lockdown, people don’t even go to the ward-level arbitration units, according to Upreti. They instead try to settle cases at home, and often neighbors get involved. “But neighbors often add fuel to the fire in cases of family quarrels, which makes women more vulnerable to violence,” she adds.
Deputy Chief of Bhadrapur Municipality, Chandramaya Shrestha, also thinks domestic violence has increased. “I am sure there are more incidents. But they can’t come to complain.” Sometimes victims call the judicial committee at the municipality. In such a case, they get help. “But as people can’t come to complain, they may even go into depression,” she adds.
The municipality plans to conduct local arbitrations complying with safety measures such as social distancing. “We are preparing to hold some arbitrations involving one person from each side, the complainant and the defendant. We visit the victims’ houses along with the police and hold a local arbitration to settle the issue,” Shrestha adds. More than 200 complaints of domestic violence are pending at the municipality.
In Gauradaha Municipality, Deputy Chief Gita Bhetwal reckons the type of violence has changed. “Earlier, women used to come to us with physical wounds. Nowadays, they are holed up in their houses. Many are suffering from depression.” A couple of complaints the municipality got over the phone after the lockdown started were settled through family-level arbitration with police support.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief of Jhapa District Coordination Committee Meena Parajuli too thinks domestic violence has increased with the lockdown. Food stock has nearly run out. “In low-income families, competition for food can be a reason for violence.”
The Constitution of Nepal provides for a judicial committee at each municipality and rural municipality. Article 217 of the constitution states: “There shall be a three-member judicial committee to be coordinated by its vice-chairperson in the case of a rural municipality and by its deputy mayor in the case of a municipality, in order to settle disputes under their respective jurisdictions in accordance with the law.”
Besides the judicial committee, victims can always lodge a complaint with the police. But this provision too has come to a naught after the imposition of the lockdown. At Area Police Office Damak, on average, five complaints relating to husband-wife violence used to be lodged daily before the lockdown. Now, the daily reported cases have plummeted to zero