BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME AND INDIAN LAW
Updated: Oct 13
Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) is a mental disorder where a woman develops learned helplessness due to the continuous abuse and harassment by her partner, in an intimate relationship or the husband, in case of a married woman. A Woman gets trapped in abusive relationships for several reasons which include denial that the partner is actually abusive, low self-esteem, financial dependence, believing that if the abuser loves them, it’s okay and they can change the behavior of the abuser and that is why women neither report such cases of abuse to police nor reveal it to their family/friends. There are circumstances in this kind of syndrome where the woman at her final stage either commits suicide or kills the abuser in rage. Indian courts have not recognized BWS until recently and even after recognition, have convicted the woman (offender) under culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Whereas, other countries like United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada etc. have included this kind of homicide by women under “Defenses” and acquitted the accused woman.
Earlier, in K.Suyambukani v. The State Of Tamil Nadu - the Madras High Court in 1989 where the accused had committed suicide by jumping into the well along with her children due to continuous battering by her husband, but the accused had survived for which she was accused of murder. The court introduced and considered the concept of ‘Nallathangal’s Syndrome’ as one of the exceptions under Section 300 of IPC and held her guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Subsequently, in Smti Manju Lakra v. The State Of Assam 2013, Gauhati High Court recognized BWS for the very first time in India, where the accused woman suffered continuous abuse and violence from her drunkard husband and had killed her abusive husband. The trial court held her guilty of murder to which she preferred an appeal to the High Court. The High Court referred to BWS while considering the fact that even though it might seem that the husband is the victim and the aggressor is the wife, in reality the wife may be the actual victim. While deliberating upon the issue as to whether the act of the accused would fall within the scope of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, the High Court had highlighted the admissibility of BWS in other jurisdictions like USA, Australia and Canada to help explain the reasonableness of a woman’s actions against her abuser. The Court also held that if circumstances potential enough to distinguish the suicide of a woman has been recognized, the same set of circumstances should be equally recognized, to be potential enough to turn such women into an aggressor so much so that she ends the life of her abuser.
Subsequent to the case of Manju Lakra, Indian Courts have recognized BWS in only two cases to explain the consequences of violence in domestic relationship in situation other than where women kill their abuser in self-preservation. For instance, the Madras High Court in Amutha v. State granted anticipatory bail to a woman, victim of domestic violence in the hands of her husband, who had pushed her daughters into the well and jumped herself too but unfortunately survived. The Hon’ble Court, while explaining the consequences of battering relationship with the concept of BWS, held that the continuous provocative conduct of the husband for years and the triggering action on the night of the incident, made her lose self-control and take a decision to kill herself and her daughters in order to put an end to the violence.
In view of the above discussions, Indian courts have only recognized BWS to the extent of explaining the effects of battering relationship but, had not taken it as a support for defense pleas like other countries. Envisaging the formal inclusion of the Battered Woman syndrome as Psychological Defense in the Indian legal system along with required rules in process of trial would bring about a social change towards criminal laws.