Shreyas Kulkarni

Domestic abuse: The hidden reality of locked-down India

A film by Wunderman Thompson India highlights this dark aspect, as the NCW registered most cases for the year, in April, when the country was under complete lockdown.

"The path ahead for the country is clear and points to an extension in lockdown" – when the woman in this film hears this news in the background, she knows all too well that the personal hell she’s been going through, will now reach new depths. Her hands fist holding the kitchen slab, but there's nobody to listen to or help her.

The National Council of Women (NCW) registered a total of 1,208 domestic abuse complaints against women this year (2020), from January to early May. In April alone, the number of registered cases stood at 315, the highest for any month till now.

It isn’t surprising to see the NCW register the highest number of domestic abuse cases against women in April. It is, after all, the only month when the entire nation was under lockdown for all 30 days.

An April 17 Scroll report quoted NCW chief Rekha Sharma as saying, "In many cases, they (the women) don’t want to approach the police because if the husband is released from detention after a couple of days, they will still be unable to leave the house. Earlier, they would go to their parents’ home, but they are no longer able to do so.”

So, when both the abuser and the victim are trapped inside a home for a prolonged period, instances of abuse are bound to go up.

Wunderman Thompson India has made a film about this very nightmarish scenario that's playing inside so many Indian homes daily. In the film, we see a woman, who’s face is covered with a dupatta (as it should be, one might think, to prevent the spread of Coronavirus), climbing up the stairs. She enters her home and walks into the kitchen, and as she keeps the bag of items on the slab, she hears about the lockdown extension in the news in the background.

She then goes to the washroom and slowly removes the dupatta from her face. And, one can see an injured nose, a swollen cheek... it's an all-too-familiar story.

Priya Shivakumar
Priya Shivakumar

Priya Shivakumar, national creative director, Wunderman Thompson India, says it’s a silent struggle waged inside the home... "It struck me that there’s an entirely unexpected impact of the lockdown that has not come to light! This was honestly a case of an idea haunting me and giving me sleepless nights until I just knew I had to do something about it. A humble effort to tell a story that needed to be told in these never before, hopefully, never-again times."

"The (film’s) director Shashanka Chaturvedi, or Bob as he is fondly called, and I knew that we wanted to make a real and sensitive portrayal of these times and circumstances, so the reactions to the news were kept real, yet cinematic. The character of the woman strong, yet vulnerable," Shivakumar added.

At the end of the film, a WhatsApp helpline number (7217735372) issued by the NCW is screened, along with the message, 'Look out for them'. Says Shivakumar, "The call to action lets people, which is us (the neighbours, relatives and public), know that home is not a safe place for many women and to look out for them, followed by a WhatsApp number mentioned as a helpline issued by the NCW. It is also a more discreet way than a call-in line to reach out for help, so this works for both the victims and the people around (them), who are in a position to help."

So, how was the film shot in lockdown? "We went through the process of finding an actress, who was in the same building as the DOP. When we cast to such specifications, we found a face we liked, and the DOP was locked down at the same place and had a camera with him. We did a pre-shoot of the location with the action on still camera to understand how it all would play out, and according to that, we worked out the actual shoot plan. Everything was shot and sent to the director, who directed it via video calls until we got exactly the expressions and actions we wanted. Shots were taken at specific points in the day to make the best use of light. So while the whole process took much longer, it achieved the beautiful craft required to tell this powerful story," revealed Shivakumar.

Film Credits:

Created by Wunderman Thompson India

Chief Creative Officer : Senthil Kumar

Writer & National Creative Director : Priya Shivakumar

Production House : Good Morning Films

Director : Shashanka Chaturvedi

And it's not just Wunderman Thompson but even 82.5 communications, an advertising agency, along with NGO Aangan Trust that has launched a campaign to spread awareness about domestic abuse during the lockdown.

The agency said in a press release, "The mask is a regular feature of our lives today. Everybody is expected to wear one. The idea is to go behind the mask and identify and help the people who might be victims of abuse."

The issue of domestic violence against women during lockdown isn't only restricted to India. United Nations chief António Guterres recently called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, BBC anchor Victoria Derbyshire presented the news with the number 0808 2000 247, a domestic abuse helpline in the UK, written at the back of her hand. Calls to the hotline had increased by 25 per cent in the first week of April, and visits to the website had risen by 150 per cent.