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    • May 5, 2020

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    Karan noticed his new hire Richa avail frequent leave. Was single-handedly managing career and kids, amplified by the absence of a husband traveling on work, taking a toll on her? He tried to broach the topic but she politely sidestepped it. 

    Soon, Richa didn’t turn up for work, requesting additional leave. Sensing a growing resentment within the team to Richa’s whimsical routine and to find a middle ground, Karan suggested that she ‘work from home.’ 

    Unfortunately, Richa’s WFH performance dipped. Patience dwindling, Karan organized a video call to discuss it. Richa seemed different in the call – uncertain and distracted. She had also fashioned her hair to cover her left eye. 

    In conversation, Richa shifted in her seat, inadvertently revealing her face. A dark blue-purple patch under her eye told the story – she had been beaten! 

    It finally dawned upon Karan – Richa was a victim of domestic violence! Her erratic requests for leave, her dipping performance, were mechanisms of coping and hiding the abuse. 

    Karan messaged her the next day, to check if she would like to talk about it, but Richa didn’t respond. Her phone was probably being monitored. He never got to know, for, she mailed her resignation soon after. 

    As a manager, Karan regretted that he didn’t notice the signs sooner. Honestly, anyone else in his place might have found it equally tough too. 

    What is domestic violence?

    Domestic violence is abusive behavior in a relationship used by a partner to control the other partner. 

    It could be physical, sexual, emotional (demeaning, swearing, continuous criticism), economic (cutting off the victim’s access to funds), psychological (threatening to hurt or injure victim’s family, pet or property) or stalking (spying and making an unplanned appearance at the victim’s home or workplace, etc.). 

    The increasing need to identify the signs of domestic violence

    According to an earlier National Family Health Survey released by the Union Health Ministry in India, every third woman, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms.1 Compound this statistic with an absolute lockdown to contain COVID-19, and you find victims of domestic violence stuck in the same house as their abusers with no-way-out. 

    As early as the first week of the UK’s lockdown, domestic abuse reports increased by 49%.2 Similarly in India, complaints of offenses against women skyrocketed 48% from 396 during 27 February 2020 and 22 March 2020 to 587 between 23 March 2020 and 16 April 2020.3 The gravity of the widespread phenomenon has moved UN Women to identify this as a ‘shadow pandemic.’

    The stacking of these variables throws up a possibility that your WFH colleague may have just as well been a victim of domestic violence.

    While earlier, victims of domestic violence could access external support, in the current scenario, they can’t.  Hence, more than ever before, we must stay conscious of the growing domestic violence and keep watch for the signs that tell the tale. 

    The 5 signs that your WFH colleague endures domestic violence are:

    • Inconsistent performance
    • Unexplainable and erratic dip in your WFH colleague’s performance, swerving sharply away from the past trajectory. 

    • Injuries
    •                     Injuries that do not sync with the colleague’s explanation often accompanied by a drastic change in clothing and appearance to cover wounds

    • Late to work
    • Patterns of starting work conspicuously late without reason or for reasons that don’t connect. 

    • Anxiety
    • Your colleague seems to behave out of character – distracted, nervous and watching over his/her back during calls. 

    • Isolating self
    • Goes into a shell, evades connecting with colleagues unless mandatory. 

    Reckon your WFH colleague endures domestic violence? 

    If you are comfortable helping a victim, you could offer suggestions around counseling, legal assistance, time-off, medical treatment, or alternate safe accommodation. 

    However, considering the current lockdown, educating the victim about initiatives from the Indian Government and NGOs may be more useful. For instance, police patrols, WhatsApp emergency numbers for victims of domestic violence, or the innovative push by one NGO proposing that victims mark a “red dot on the palm” as an SOS call for help, may provide a ray of hope to a distressed victim.

    Victims can call 100 for help, as popularized by the celebrity-endorsed #LockdownOnDomesticViolence initiative in India.4 Other helplines include:

    • Domestic Abuse National Helpline (181)
    • Women Helpline / Police Helpline (1091/1291)
    • National Commission for Women (WhatsApp Number 7217735372)
    • Red Dot Foundation (weftinfo@gmail.com)
    • iCall TISS (+91 99202 41248, +91 8369799513, +919372048501 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Mon-Sat)

    In general, victims prefer ‘not revealing’ their trauma to their colleagues for fear of their partner, stigma, or potential damage to career, making it tough to identify WFH domestic violence. However, being conscious of the possibility that a WFH colleague can be a victim can help us stay alert to spot it. 

    1 (NHFS-4) https://www.news18.com/news/india/the-elephant-in-the-room-every-third-woman-in-india-faces-domestic-violence-1654193.html 

    2 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-22/lockdown-exit-set-to-reveal-europe-s-grim-toll-of-domestic-abuse

    3 India’s National Commission for Women (NCW) https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-witnesses-steep-rise-in-crime-against-women-amid-lockdown-587-complaints-received-ncw/articleshow/75201412.cms?from=mdr

    4 An initiated by Akshara Centre along with the Special Cell for Women and Children and supported by the Government of Maharashtra and Maharashtra Police.

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