The Delhi High Court on Saturday asked the Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party-led government in the Capital to file responses on a plea seeking measures to provide protection to victims of domestic violence and child abuse amid the countrywide lockdown to contain coronavirus, PTI reported.

The petition was filed by All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice, a non-profit organisation. It highlighted the continued surge in the number of domestic violence cases in India as the lockdown imposed unprecedented restrictions on the movement of people, and sought an urgent intervention by the court.

A bench comprising justices JR Midha and Jyoti Singh issued a notice to the ministries of Women and Child Development, Health and Information and Broadcasting, as well as the Delhi government and the women commissions here, seeking their stand on the petition. The court also directed that a high-level committee be set up to look into the matters raised in the petition and sought a report by April 24, the next date of hearing.

The petition also said that helpline numbers in the country have received about 92,000 calls reporting instances of domestic abuse and violence in the first eleven days of the lockdown alone, and demanded that nodal officers be appointment to attend to distress calls.

On Friday, the Delhi government and the Delhi Commission for Women had told the court that sufficient facilities were available to provide shelter to victims of domestic violence, and to children in need of care and protection.

The women’s commission said there were 24x7 helplines in place and when a complaint was received, action was taken immediately. The Delhi Commission for Women claimed that an analysis of the calls received on its helpline during the lockdown did not indicate to a surge in domestic violence cases.

Advocate Rajshekhar Rao, appearing for the court, said the volume of calls received on the helpline has gone down. “On the contrary, the number of cases reported to the helpline have decreased. While no definite conclusion can be drawn, this is probably due to the circumspection on the part of victims in reporting such incidents due to the presence of perpetrators in the house, and the fear of further violence if such attempt to report were made known to the perpetrator,” the commission said.

It also said that cases reporting molestation, sexual assault or stalking “have decreased manifold presumably since a large number of these incidents take place outside the domestic setting and by third parties”. Kidnapping cases reported to the helpline have also seen a fall of more than 90%, the commission said, adding that there was a 71% dip in the number of rape cases reported.

Last month, the United Nations had observed that the combination of economic and social stresses because of the pandemic, along with other lockdown measures, have dramatically increased the number of women facing domestic abuse, as self-quarantine puts them in perpetual proximity with their abusers. In India, too, norms of social distancing and stay-at-home orders have fuelled incidents of domestic violence.

Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Saturday directed all courts in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh to treat cases of domestic abuse with urgency, and take necessary action, albeit while maintaining all forms of social distancing, PTI reported.

Taking suo motu cognizance of the negative impacts of the countrywide lockdown on women and girls, a bench of Chief Justice Geeta Mittal and Justice Rajneesh Oswal issued notices to – the social welfare department secretary, the governments of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, and the member-secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir State Legal Services Authority – asking them to submit a report on the steps taken in cases of violence against women by the next date of hearing.

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