The concept of the “Battered Woman Syndrome” (BWS) is one of the well-accepted and still-evolving notions that has gained respect in both legal and psychological arena. Dr. Lenore Walker coined the “Battered Woman Syndrome” as a psychological theory to explain why abused women prefer to murder their abusive partners rather than leave them. In India, legal recognition of the Battered Women Syndrome is still in its early stages. The term ‘Nallathangal Syndrome,’ which is similar to BWS, is used.
While much has been written in India about the flaws in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, there is little, or no attention paid to battered women who retaliate. The gendered Indian Penal Code and the defences accessible within it are the only legal framework open to them.
NALLATHANGAL SYNDROME: THE BWS OF INDIA
While advocates for battered women in other countries have used BWS to assist defence arguments, Indian courts have only used it to describe the impacts of battering relationships. The fact that BWS has only been recognised in a few cases demonstrates the Indian criminal law’s aversion to women’s descriptions of their experiences.
Recognizing that battered women may be forced to kill their spouses as a result of domestic abuse, the Guwahati High Court dismissed murder charges against Manju Lakra and instead found her guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in the case of Manju Lakra v. the State of Assam.
Manju Lakra was the victim of several incidents of domestic violence in this case. She snatched the piece of wood with which her husband was beating her and hit him as a response to his cruelty and died as a result of injuries. She had been found guilty of murder by the trial court and filed an appeal with the High Court. The High Court agreed that the circumstances in the accused’s household amounted to domestic violence as defined by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
The Madras High Court coined the term “Nallathangal’s Syndrome” in 1989, which is widely regarded as the predecessor of BWS in India. In the case of Suyambukkani v. State of Tamil Nadu, the wife was subjected to domestic violence by her husband, and when the situation became unbearable, she and her children jumped into a well. But she lived, and her children died, prompting a murder case against her. The court judged her guilty of culpable homicide that did not amount to murder, citing Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as an exemption.
Battering women in India do not have access to any of the legal defences afforded by the Indian Penal Code, according to Paramita Nandy, the first person in India to research BWS. The Supreme Court cited the case of R v. Ahluwalia, noting that BWS is admissible in other jurisdictions, including the United States, to help explain the reasonableness of a woman’s actions against her abuser when deciding whether the accused’s act would fall within the scope of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The Court also made a comparison between the immediacy requirement under Section 304B of the IPC, which leads to a woman’s unnatural death, and the act committed by the accused in this case, concluding that if circumstances capable of distinguishing a woman’s suicide have been recognised, the same set of circumstances should be equally recognised to turn such women. Unlike in other nations, Indian courts have merely recognised BWS as a theory to rely on and explain the effects of battering relationships because no expert testimony on BWS was allowed in any of the cases. As a result, recognising BWS exclusively based on judicial discretion leaves up the potential of women being convicted of killing their abusers in such cases.
The Courts had to go to international precedence to include the circumstance of an abused woman within the declared defences. The Court has used BWS to illustrate the effects of a battering relationship even when the victim hurts herself or someone other than the abuser. All of the events point to a basic problem: only when a woman is unable to receive assistance, or when legal institutions fail to give any form of protection to battered women, can they resort to such harsh methods.
BWS AS A SELF DEFENCE
In a murder case, one of the most common defences used by an abused woman is a provocation. In India, it is a partial defence that reduces the charge of murder to culpable homicide, which is not the same as murder.
In contrast to the evolution of law protecting battered women in the United Kingdom, there has been little debate on the problem in India. When the events that lead to improvements in provocation are examined, it becomes obvious that the increase of provocation in India is focused on general defence deficiencies rather than women. Because the accused is a guy in these situations, judicial decisions are influenced by male-centric attitudes to support the accused.
The court opined that if the law acknowledges that an abused wife may commit suicide as a result of her immediate surroundings that may cause her to murder her batterer. As a result, a victim who becomes an aggressor as a result of surrounding circumstances would be held accountable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder for sustained provocation creating “severe and abrupt provocation.”
PROBLEM IN INDIA
Cases of BWS being addressed by Indian courts, on the other hand, are few and far between in India. Because India’s legal defences are incapable of dealing with BWS scenarios, it is vital to discuss the legal remedies open to battered women who are forced to kill their spouses. The use of Battered Woman Syndrome and lessened guilt as a defence for battered women’s murder has been condemned by feminist specialists. The fact that women who successfully plead to this defence may be labelled “mentally ill,” detained in an institution, or placed on probation demonstrates the seriousness of the consequences. This is horribly ironic because battered women may show no evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and live their lives free of fear of violence.
As the law stands now in India, the only defence open to battered women who retaliate appears to be provocation. However, there is no time lapse between the provocative conduct and the retaliation, which qualifies provocation. This expressly dismisses a battered woman’s experiences and patterns of behaviour. Furthermore, Indian BWS law has not moved beyond the so-called “Nallathangal syndrome.” As a result, it is necessary to consider the progress made in other jurisdictions in relation to BWS and, as a result, to begin a complete discussion in India about abused women who retaliate and their interactions with the law.
In India, I propose a legislative reformulation of the defence of provocation and self-defence. The reformulations should use the BWS to focus on removing the male-oriented nature of the defences and taking into account the experiences of battered women who respond, as well as why they respond. The reformulation of the defences should be approached from a feminist standpoint, taking into account women’s experiences with violence
Focusing on procedural equality and feminist authoring of decisions is crucial from a judicial standpoint. Focusing on abuse and safeguarding battered women’s rights will go a long way toward changing old preconceptions that delegitimize women’s experiences. This will aid in the ‘un-generation’ of the Indian Penal Code and the empowerment of women who are routinely marginalised.
Author(s) Name: Shreeya Wahal (Student, NMIMS, Bangalore)
 Keerthana Medarametla, Battered Women: The Gendered Notion of Defences Available, Manupatra 2017 ,https://www.manupatrafast.com/pers/Personalized.aspx, accessed 9 June 2021
 Aishwarya Deb,BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME: PROSPECT OF SITUATING IT WITHIN CRIMINAL LAW IN INDIA, SSRN 2019, accessed 9 June 2021
 Keerthana Medarametla, Battered Women: The Gendered Notion of Defences Available , Manupatra 2017, https://www.manupatrafast.com/pers/Personalized.aspx, accessed 9 June 2021