“Domestic abuse cases rise as COVID-19 lockdown turns into captivity for many women”, claims a recent headline of Deccan Herald1] Anticipating the problem, the UP Police came up with a pro-active advertisement announcing “Suppress corona, not your voice”.  This is a global phenomenon. Quoting Women’s’ Rights Activists, BBC report that Domestic “abuse has already increased elsewhere in the world” Another report from the UK suggests: “The many ramifications of the outbreak may also mean that women and their children could find it even harder to access safety and specialist support.” In the US “[p are threatening to throw their victims out on the street so they get sick,” reports TIME, quoting a women’s rights group. I have received calls from women who had agreed to a divorce for mutual consent hoping that it will be wrapped up by a certain date. The proceedings cannot be completed now, and the wait for a resettlement is going to be longer. In my earlier post, I had anticipated that the commercial lawyers are likely to adapt to the e-courts sooner. However, after discussing with colleagues at the and reading reports on domestic violence cases due to lock, it appears that the legal aid response to COVID-19 is more urgent. At least some cases relating to domestic violence or matrimonial matters may be easy to be concluded by e-hearings and at the very least offer a fertile test bed executing the E-courts project. The system can be set up for conducting e-court proceeding in cases, pooled as per the number of participants required from the stakeholders.
Atmabodh has started onboarding lawyers in its network to argue in simulated court proceedings. It took Advocates Sagar Saxena and Abhishek R Shukla merely 30 minutes to learn the basic skills needed to argue an execution petition online. After the session Sagar Saxena remarked: “Admission hearings in a domestic violence case be very easily conducted through E-courts.”
This initial group experimented with a couple of software available for video conferencing and hopping from the one to the other was not at all difficult. They have now on-boarded few others and all have signed up for arguing petitions online, if given the opportunity. Each one on-boarded is excited and wants to bring in more lawyers in this game. Atmabodh will reach out to hundreds of lawyers who have been part of its continuing legal education workshop initiative over the last five years to join in and get on-boarded. All are welcome to join. Atmabodh will organise the on-boarding for all who pledge to argue one legal aid case online. Anyone can log his/her support to this programme on the facebook page of Atmabodh. You can also contact us by filling up the web contact form here.
We must remember that with lock-down, large number of people are going to be crammed in spaces smaller than they are otherwise used to. Lot of toggling and time-sharing of resources within the household will become difficult, if not impossible. Frustration, pent-up anger, etc will start accumulating. Domestic conflicts are likely to increase. The weakest will bear the brunt of it. Law in action is an equalising factor in such situations. At the very least it offers hope and a bargaining lever to the weak, at the very best, it redresses the balance and holds the powerful person/s in these relationships accountable. If domestic stress is left unaddressed, the lock-down may also be very difficult to hold over an extended period of time, if needed. So, lawyers must also embrace technology and offer hope to the weaker and make a positive difference in the society under stressful and unprecedented time.