Battered Woman Syndrome as a Legal Defence in cases of Spousal Homicide: An Indian Perspective
Since ages, women has been the victim of Domestic Violence and Cruelty by husband or his relatives and though with the amendments in the Laws of the same, it was the most reported crime against women in 2016. Nowadays, there are many discussions going on saying that Domestic Violence is not only a crime against women but even “man” are the victims of the same, and the people saying this may be true but it should be noted that the country has recorded more than two-fold rise in Violence against women in the first half of 2020 itself. “Battered Woman Syndrome” (BWS) is a descriptive term that refers to a pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms found in women living in abusive Relationship. It is a psychological theory which explains that why the women who was compelled to kill the batterer, endured to live
with their partners in the first place. In India, the only defence for battered women is selfdefence, and sometimes that also doesn’t play as a good defence in the trial. Therefore, the Indian Judiciary needs to reconsider this point and Legislature should adapt a defence in Indian Penal Code for the battered women.
“Battered Spouse Syndrome” is a constellation of medical and psychological conditions of a person, as a result of repeated violence such as beatings, choking, sexual assault, verbal abuse, or a combination of different acts amounting to violence, at the hands of the spouse or partner.1 Usually this is known as “Battered woman syndrome” (BWS), because most of the victims of this syndrome are women. Battered woman syndrome is a criminal defence involving a pattern of psychological dependency among women caught in longterm relationships with abusive male partners. Over time, abuse produces an irrational mental state of “learned helplessness,” limiting free choice and placing victims of abuse in a spiral of conflict that occasionally results in a violent and sometimes fatal response over which they have no rational control. This terminology is not that much used in Indian Judiciary as a defence of Spousal Homicide. While in other countries like intimate relationship — married or unmarried, straight or gay, living together, or simply dating.5 It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more often victimized, men also experience abuse—especially verbal and emotional. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether from a man, woman, teenager, or an older adult. One deserves to feel valued, respected, and safe. Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal assault to violence. And while physical injury may pose the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships
can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. There are several types of Domestic Violence There are several types of Domestic Violence
and those are:
1. Physical Violence
2. Sexual Violence
3. Economic Control
4. Psychological Assault
5. Emotional Abuse
Each of them are discussed below.7
Physical violence:- involves the use of physical force against another. Examples include hitting, shoving, grabbing, biting, restraining, shaking, choking, burning, forcing drug/alcohol use, and assault with a weapon, etc. Physical violence may or may not result in an injury that requires medical attention.
Sexual violence:- involves the violation of an individual’s bodily integrity (sexual assault), including coercing sexual contact, rape, and
prostitution, as well as any unwelcome sexual behavior (sexual harassment), and including treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner or any other conduct of a sexual nature, whether physical, verbal, or nonverbal. Sexual abuse also includes behavior which limits reproductive rights, such as preventing use of contractive methods and forcing abortion.
Economic abuse:- involves making or attempting to make the victim financially dependent on the abuser. Examples of economic abuse include preventing or forbidding an intimate partner from working or gaining and education, controlling the financial resources, and withholding access to economic resources.
Psychological abuse :-is often characterized as intimidation, threats of harm, and isolation. Examples include instilling fear in an intimate partner through threatening behavior, such as damaging property or abusing pets, constant supervision, or controlling what the victim does and who they talk to. Spiritual abuse may be included as a type of psychological abuse. It involves the misuse of spiritual or religious beliefs to manipulate or exert power and control over an intimate partner (i.e., using scripture to justify abuse or rearing the children in a faith
or religious practice the partner has not agreed to).
Emotional abuse:- involves undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth. Examples of emotional abuse include constant criticism, name-calling, embarrassing, mocking, humiliating, and treating like a servant.
Indian Laws relating to Domestic Violence:-
Section in Indian Penal Code, 1860: 498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—
(a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME:-
After Walker published her research, some empirical data emerged that cast doubt on her explanation of why women kill their batterers. More specifically, some research indicated that victims of abuse often contact other family members and seek the assistance of the legal system for help as the violence from their batterers escalates. This research also indicated that when battered women sought outside help, they were confronted with insufficient help sources, a legal system that did not address their issues, and societal indifference. The lack of practical options, combined with victims’ lack of financial resources, made it likely that battered women would stay in abusive relationships. In contrast to this research demonstrating battered women’s active help-seeking behavior, Walker’s theory of BWS emphasized women as becoming passive and helpless in the face of repeated abuse.
DEFENCES AVAILABLE FOR BATTERED WOMEN:-
The legal defences available in India are incapable of dealing with cases of BWS, thus making it critical to discuss the legal defences available to battered women who are compelled to kill their partners.23 In India, Battered woman syndrome is not a legal defence in and out. It does not accommodate the defence under Indian Penal Code, 1860 the situations faced by a battered women.
But it constitutes partial or full defence in:
2. Grave and Sudden Provocation
3. Legal Insanity
The law in India needs to acknowledge and assimilate the psychological aspect of Domestic Violence as it has been excluded till now. If once this syndrome will be implied in our law, the battered women’s condition would be a lot better. It would also protect her human integrity and dignity, as promised under Article 21 of the Constitution. Commencing such sensitive sympathetic principles and laws is like disentangling the laws The use of Battered Woman Syndrome and diminished responsibility as a defence to murder by battered women has been strongly
criticized by certain feminist scholars. The gravity of the consequences of using this defence is evident in that the women who plead successfully to this defence could be designated ‘mentally ill’ and be detained in an institution or be put on probation. This is cruelly ironic because battered women “may” show no signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and live their life without the fear of violence.