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Love teetering apart

If we go by the classification of districts in these days of the novel Coronavirus, ‘Red’ is red indeed. Red zones today lead in cases of domestic unrest and violence

Love teetering apart
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Last weekend, my wife and I had a fight. A big one. We turned indigent and indifferent towards each other, near heinous. We argued without reason, used many choice names and epithets for one another, something we never have before. We huffed and puffed for more than a bit and finally ignored one-another, scoffing below our breath, cussing and ranting. Eventually, we gave up the tirade and hissing, and went off to sleep in separate rooms, the first time apart in 15 years.

As it must, the next day dawned. Once back in the same room, we looked at each other curiously after nearly eight hours of separation. And wondered why we argued and bickered in the first place. We never have over our 15 years together, ever. Troth be out, we have not even had the smallest or minutest of disengagement in all these years. Through thick and thin, matters large, small, good, bad and ugly, we have been a team. So much so that we are known for it, and have oft and flatteringly been labelled the 'ideal couple'.

Smiteful 15 minutes

So what the hell happened to this bloody ideal couple in those smiteful 15 minutes? Why did the romance, caring, lust and passion puff away, leaving in its wake two spiteful and distasteful creatures? For truly, we didn't deserve to be called 'people' in those few minutes. Perhaps we are not to blame…

For, apparently, familiarity breeds contempt. That's what the experts would have us believe. Too much familiarity, even within families and couples. Being ensconced in the same few rooms for a few hours is fine. But days and weeks and months of togetherness is disabling us from masking what we truly are. Our truth is now out, naked, transparent, brutally exposed, they say.

India and the rest of the world may hand out a clue. Because in the last few months, some very insipid traits have been exhibited by otherwise normal people, as did the two of us that weekend. And if that not be right, there's only one rather miserable explanation left — that the two of us are the clue and the problem. But before I chastise and castigate myself and the love of my life anymore, let's look at some numbers and trends.

India is going 'Red'

If we go by the classification of Indian districts in these days of the dreaded novel Coronavirus, 'Red' is indeed red today. Through May 2020, 'red zones' really went red, insofar as cases of domestic unrest and violence are concerned. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), cases of domestic violence increased by 131 per cent, those related to cybercrime against women jumped by 184 per cent, while instances of rape and assault against women declined by 119 per cent, the last being the one saving grace of COVID-19. But perhaps that last solace is fleeting too, as cases of marital rape are now being listed as 'domestic violence'.

Clearly, as a species, we are being tested, to the limit. As evidenced, there was a significant increase in domestic violence complaints and cybercrime complaints in May 2020 in India's now-highly-policed Red Zones, relative to districts that saw the least strict measures, the Green Zones, as per an analysis of complaints received by the National Commission for Women (NCW). And why did the instances of rape and assault against women decrease? This was "due to decreased mobility in public spaces, public transport and workplaces…" Saving grace. Thank you, COVID-19. The rapists are now being forced to rape at home.

Not limited to India

The phenomenon is not restricted to India. It is global — Tanzania. Brazil. Mexico City. Uruguay. Italy. Spain. The United States. The United Kingdom. The United Arab Emirates. Germany. It is everywhere. There is a parallel pandemic at play here. The list appears long, but believe me, I have truncated it. And it is only growing. As is the growing literature on the impact of the lockdown and stay-at and work-from-home policies that governments have been forced to adopt through the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings show a decline in reported assaults against women, but that's only because of decreased mobility. And that, sardonically, has seen worldwide lockdowns triggering an over 100-per cent increase in domestic violence.

Drug abuse. Over-indulgence and dependence on alcohol. Smoking. Everything is on the rise. Clinical psychologist Abhishek Ayush sums it up: "This is a paradox, a double-whammy… On the one hand, people are abusing themselves with substances because they are depressed over lost jobs and earnings. On the other, they are spending whatever they have left because they don't know if there is a tomorrow. Once on a high, their frustration finds a vent at home, where they find themselves tied and bound — with their children, their wives. Once they are low, they relent, repent and muse. With nothing much to do, the once-muscular person, now fragile in mind, repeats the cycle, getting high and obdurate again."

Ironical. Tragic

Admittedly, the year 2020 will be remembered in history as the year of COVID-19. But ironically, the year also marks the anniversaries of landmark policies for women's rights worldwide. It marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; the 20th anniversary of the 1325 Resolution on Women, Peace and Security; the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment; and the 10th anniversary of the United Nations' resolution for women. That said and done, it shall nonetheless be remembered as the year that Coronavirus maimed us, and we, in turn, maimed and mutilated our women and our children. Inside our locked-down homes.

So much so, that the United Nations Secretary-General was forced last month to call for a "global ceasefire on the horrifying surge in domestic violence". And the United States and the European Union, those that claim to be the most civil and mature of societies, had to reach out through their lecterns for support for gender-based victims of domestic violence in their regions.

Pandemic for women

A recent United Nations Women Report shared some startling figures. There was an increase in emergency calls made by women across the world — while France and Cyprus saw a 30 per cent rise, Singapore saw such calls jump by 35 per cent and Argentinian women called 25 per cent more than earlier. A survey in New South Wales in Australia saw a 70 per cent hike in calls for help made by women through the Coronavirus pandemic. And should China be behind? The country's Jianli County received over 150 reports of domestic violence in February alone; remember, the pandemic hit them first.

More news. Over 40 'honour killings' have been reported in Iraq since the lockdown began. Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa and the United States reported a significant increase in domestic violence complaints. In Nairobi, a community group called 'Legend Kenya' offered to take women out of their homes and to safety on motorcycles in cases of domestic abuse. Antigua and Barbados offered free calls to support violence-hit women. Madrid provided free messaging and geolocation services to women for psychological support. The Canary Islands started a 'Mark-19' code to pharmacies to detect and stop substance abuse. The British police enlisted postal workers to scout for and report abuse. And since the pandemic began and complaints hit the roof, women's rights groups in Zimbabwe have been providing psycho-social support.

Why do I care?

Because I should, if only to save myself. There is clearly a human cost of the lockdown, as I witnessed in those fateful 15 minutes of domestic strife. And it set me thinking. Clearly, I am not as impervious and invulnerable as I would have thought myself to be. I am human. And I really sucked that evening last weekend. I fought like a fiend with who is certainly the better half. Sure, I can blame it on the pandemic, my personal fears and my trepidation, my own innards and insecurities. But that would be running away.

It is a better remedy to eat humble pie and chastise myself for what I turned into for those 15 minutes. I could have become a headline.

We may feel invincible and correct and all that is appropriate and nice. It would be smarter and better, though, to suck it in and accept the basic truth of existence. We are human, we are fallible and we need to temper it down. Sure, we will most likely survive COVID-19 and live through and beyond it. What we really have to fight off and survive is ourselves, our very own dark and indelible, intrinsic truth. We have to live and love despite being us. Me.

This, then, is an apology and an ode to a woman who has taken care of me for 15 years, loved me unconditionally and pampered me. This is for Anjali. And this is also for all the lovely, wonderful and large-hearted women who make us men who we are. Despite who we can become sometimes.

The writer is a business analyst and communications specialist. He can be reached at narayanrajeev2006@gmail.com

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