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This article is written by Gourvika, a 3rd-year BA-LLB student at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi. 

Introduction

The Battered Women Syndrome is a term that refers to the pattern of behavioural and psychological symptoms which are found in women who have suffered and are living in an abusive relationship. It is considered a psychological theory explains that why a battered woman is compelled to endure all the violence and later on it compelled her to kill her batterer. In India, there is no statutory recognition of the Battered Women Syndrome, but there is a certain instance where Indian Court has lowered the punishment for women suffering from violence. So the Indian Judiciary and Legislature should take and adopt proper measures to include Battered Women Syndrome as a defence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. So this paper provides a brief overview of the legal recognition of Battered Women Syndrome under International Law and tries to find the need to include the Battered Women Syndrome under the Right to private defence and grave and sudden provocation in Indian law and it also provides the recommendation for the changes in the law to include Battered Women Syndrome as a defence under Indian Law.

Battered Women Syndrome

In the 1970s, Battered Women Syndrome was coined by Lenore E. Walker to explain and understand the psychological state of women who suffers from intimate partner violence It refers to the reactions that may be psychological and behavioural as displayed by women who are subjected to severe, long term domestic abuse, verbal harassment, the threat of punishment, sexual and physical abuse. The continuous emotional, sexual and physical abuse results in feelings of shame, loss of self-esteem and isolation as they experience such an abusive environment for a considerable amount of time and eventually they became unable to leave the batterer. The battered women eventually start becoming passive and helpless while facing repeated abuse and their lack of financial assistance, lack of outside and family help, lack of legal assistance make them likely to stay in their abusive relationships. 

Elements of Battered Women Syndrome

Cyclical violence theory

The Cyclical theory forms a time gap between the batterer’s threats of death, bodily harm and the act of the defendant. It appears in three distinct stages, the first is the “tension-building phase” which erupts due to psychological or physical abuse and gradual escalation of tension. The second stage includes the battering becomes intensified and explodes into an uncontrollable violent rage. In the third stage, the batterer began to become remorseful for his action with the promise that battering will stop but every time the cycle starts again with an increase in degree and frequency of violence. The third stage of the cycle makes the women remain with the batterer. Thus the cycle of abuse develops a fear of bodily harm on the woman and by perceiving that next time when the attack occurs she won’t be able to defend herself she finally defends because it is her only opportunity.

Learned helplessness theory

The Learned Helplessness theory describes that “a state of paralysis gets induced upon the woman by continuous battering which makes her feel perpetually trapped in the relationship” it was co-opted by Dr Lenon Walker from Martin Seligman psychological studies for explaining the behaviour of battered women. When a woman faces continuous abuses despite her attempts to prevent it then she loses all her hopes to escape as thinking that no such possibility exists. It creates a feeling in her that the batterer is all-powerful and it restricts the reaction available to the woman and soon the range of responses to the battering becomes unpredictable as it becomes violent. The responses of women eventually incline towards ensuring her survival and not towards escaping the abuse. This learned helplessness makes her unable to free herself from the abusive control of her partner.

Battered Women Syndrome used as a legal defence

In most of the cases, the battered women killing their husbands hinged on determining that, whether the action of the defendant in that situation was reasonable or not. When Battered Women Syndrome entered the criminal justice system as a legal defence then it started giving testimonies that supported the existence of psychological trauma suffered by battered defendants as a reasonable man test may fail to consider the dimension of battered women behaviour. The self-defence of sudden provocation does not gauge the possibility that a woman could also lose her control and kill her batterer in fear and using the defences was not a scenario.

Use of Battered Women Syndrome in international law

There is the presence of some of the International cases where Battered Women Syndrome testimony was admitted as evidence. It began through expert testimony which was used as a justification for the claims of self-defence. In the case of State v Leidholm, the court held that “expert testimony was admissible and the court should consider the prior history of abuse suffered by the accused in determining the guilt of the accused”. In the case, R v Chhay the defendant killed her husband with a meat cleaver and it was revealed that the defendant has suffered from long years of abuse from her husband. The court observed that there can be a loss of self-control in the case lengthy period of abuse even if there has been an absence of a specific triggering incident. 

In the R v Ahluwalia case, the appellant suffered abuse and violence from her husband for 10 years. But after one violent evening, she went to her husband’s bedroom and set it on fire and later on her husband died from the injuries. In court, the appellant pleaded the defence of provocation and pleaded manslaughter as she did not intend to kill him, but her intention was just to inflict pain. The Court of Appeal accepted the ground of diminished responsibility and ordered a retrial where the appellant’s plea of manslaughter was accepted and the court recognized the long term abuse suffered by the accused and held that evidence that pertains to the mental state of the accused could be taken into account to determine that whether the defence of provocation would apply or not.  So this case succeeded in reframing the construction of sudden provocation due to the loss of self-control and it even recognized delayed response by battered women and it recognized the Battered Women Syndrome testimony in English Courts.

Battered Women Syndrome under Indian law

In India domestic violence is a social evil and under the framework of the Indian Penal Code, there have been two kinds of exceptions available as a defence for murder. The first kind is general exceptions that are laid down in Section 76 to 106 and the second states about the set of specific statutory exceptions which are provided for Section 300 that defines murder. But it is seen that there is no explicit statutory recognition of Battered Women Syndrome under Indian law. Under the Indian Penal Code, none of the exceptions is seen to be prima facie applicable in the case that includes battered offenders. This paper argues about the need to apply Battered Women Syndrome and the requirement of amendment under the existing statutory framework to place the actions of battered women under the grave and sudden provocation and right of private defence.

The right to private defence

The application of Battered Women Syndrome assumes its importance to claim the general exception of private defence in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which comes under Section 96 to 106. Section 100 lays down certain conditions under which “the right of private defence of the body can extend to causing death” but the circumstances under which a woman may kill her batters is difficult to determine from the application of the above section. It is due to the reason because the right to private defence only extends as long as there is a reasonable apprehension for the act to exist. In Yogendra Morarji v. the State of Gujarat, it was held that self-defence could be used when there was no reasonable or safe mode of escape by a retreat for the person who was confronted with an impending peril to his life or grave bodily harm was present except by inflicting death on the assailant. The right of private defence extends only as long as the reasonable apprehension of danger persists. To avail, this right the battered woman has to fulfil the conditions that a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous hurt is present and there is a presence of proportionality of the response.

The concept of reasonable apprehension of danger would require the battered woman to consider that the batterer would immediately hurt her but this requirement failed to consider the state of danger that a woman finds in herself. In the case of women who have suffered from fear of renewed violence, then the women attack their batterer either when they are in a vulnerable state or when there is a lull in the violence as in the case of R. v. Thornton the women were facing abuse and violence from her husband who told her that he would kill her while she slept. Later The convict eventually stabbed her husband”. In this case, the battered woman was psychologically paralysed and it is important to realize that the apprehension in such a situation is so severe that it may end up not satisfying the legal test of reasonable apprehension as battered women had the fear she could get attacked any time from her husband even though not immediately. The apprehension of the women is reasonable in this case because the danger of violence is present as long as the batterer is around the battered woman. 

The second ingredient of private defence is based upon the “proportionality of a response” which fails to reveal the psychological state of the battered women. A woman who has experienced continuous battering develops a feeling of powerlessness. So it is important to take into account the mental state of the offender while considering the proportionality of the act. As the use of the weapon by a battered woman is necessitated her physical and mental incapacity to inflict only ‘proportionate’ damage on a batter. In an Indian case, Malliga v. State by Inspector of Police the woman was threatened by a knife by her husband that he would kill her and afterwards when he went to sleep, the woman was vexed in her life thinking about the incident throughout the night and ultimately she decided to put an end to her husband live by dropping heavy stones on his head and body”. So it can be seen that when there is a severe fear of harm then the woman could lose the capacity to function as a psychologically integrated individual. So in India, there is a need to expand the notion of private defence beyond the immediate physical threat and to include the private defence in case of battered women as they do not kill their batterer in immediate physical self-defence but they kill them to protect their own psychological self.

Grave and sudden provocation

The first exception under Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, lays down the condition for the application of the right to defence of grave and sudden provocation as “Culpable Homicide is not considered as murder if the offender is deprived of Self Control due to the grave and sudden provocation”. This defence is available to the woman only when she has been deprived of the power of self-control due to the grave and sudden provocation. It states that loss of control which caused the accused to kill must be the reason which resulted in sudden provocation and if sufficient time passes between the murder and provocation then the exception cannot be taken into account. So the requirement to prove the grave and sudden provocation make it difficult and unfair for the battered women because provocation works differently in them as in most of the battered women cases it is the long term harm and torture which was inflicted on them. The reason is the feeling of isolation and torture due to which the woman has lost control and not the immediate loss of control. The gradual and the slow nature of provocation is the reason for their loss of control so there is a need to include the “sustained provocation” as a valid exception in Indian Statutory law.

In India, it is still not legally recognized but there are cases that recognize and reduces the sentence of women who are charged with violent crimes and these cases explain the theory of sustained provocation as an exception. In the case of Suyambukkani v State of Tamil Nadu, the facts state that the woman was unable to bear the cruelty of her husband and she jumped into the well along with her children, the children died but the women survived and the charges which were put on her was of murder and attempt to suicide. In this case, the trial court found her guilty but the High Court of Madras ruled that her act would fall within the exception of sustained provocation and her compelling circumstances will be taken into the consideration due to which she was compelled to commit such an act and the court further reduced her sentence.

In the Case of Manju Lakra v State of Assam, where the facts were that the accused was subjected to persistent domestic violence from her husband and on one occasion where she failed to bear the violence, she snatched the piece of wood from her husband and hit him with the wood due to which he succumbed to his injuries, she was then charged for murder. The Guwahati High Court observed that the provocation was used by the battered woman as a defence to kill her partner and then instead of murder she was convicted for culpable homicide not amounting to murder as the act committed by her was due to sustained provocation. The above case is considered as one of the first cases to recognize the Nallantangal syndrome in Indian Courts.

Conclusion

Under Indian jurisprudence, the Battered Women Syndrome has not seen much progress beyond the Nallathangal syndrome. Thus there is a need to make further progress in other jurisdictions related to Battered Women Syndrome. The foremost necessity for the Indian law in the matter of Battered Women Syndrome is to recognize the psychological aspect of battered women. While deciding the matter and the nature of the case of the battered woman the law should do it by protecting her human dignity. The law should also take into account the social, cultural, political and economic circumstances of the battered women and keeping the focus on violence and protecting the rights of the battered women will contribute to challenging the traditional stereotype that women experience in India and it will help in removing the gender bias under Indian Penal Code and it will eventually empower the voice of women that have been systematically excluded in India. 


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