Justice may be depicted as a woman, but, accordingly to the dominant ideology, law is male, not female.”[1]  There can be clearly diverse rationales behind one’s actions, be them intent, mistake, or provocation. However, some are so comprehensive in their nature that they compel the adjudicator to be inadequate in understanding the rationality of the same.

One of them is Battered Woman Syndrome (‘BWS’) – it is a psychological disorder which develops within a woman when domestic violence does not take place once in a while but time and again; thus, as a repercussion, it starts affecting her mental state severely.[2] Many women just consume their plight, but some retaliate in such a means that they escort their partners to death as a result of being in a provoking psychological state from a long time.[3] It might be sounding an atrocious transgression but, for them, this is the course of their freedom from the accustomed monstrous acts of their male partners.[4]

Cyclical Violence concisely denotes the repetitiveness of the act, but when embraced overtly, it consists of three phases. First, “tension building”: where verbal abuse and physical violence transpires between the couple and woman tries to pioneer appeasing the man.[5] Second, “acute battering incident”: where the rage is on its peak due to the preceding stage’s build-up, and the aggrieved woman comes up with a rejoinder.[6] Third, “loving contrition”: where the batterer-cum-husband evinces his ruefulness as he resents about acting so appallingly and also promises never to do it again.[7]

Now, here comes the second element Learned Helplessness which is just a mere corollary of the happening of the first element as it develops a state where the woman comes across impotence, and that makes her feel trapped within this cycle.[8] This state of mind was established by Martin Seligman from which Walker designated in her theory.[9] She undergoes a declining and forlorn mode; she gets accustomed to the view that she would never be able to break away from it owing to the omnipotent nature of the batterer.[10] This then molds her to seek survival rather than to get free of the batterer abuse, but at this stage, some inflammatory response in the form of attack by her might be carried through.[11]



Though courts have endeavoured to construct an influential concept of BWS in the Indian context namely “Nallathangal’s Syndrome”,[12] they have failed to lay it down in an explanatory and applicable manner.[13] Also, not as equivalent as BWS but the nearest analogue, we can take into account the defense of ‘insanity’ under the Indian Penal Code. Now it is significant to know about the roots of this defense as to understand the inadequacies of it to contemplate the distinction between ‘legal insanity’ and ‘medical insanity’.[14] In essence, defence of insanity is centred on the archaic rules put in Mc’Nagthen [15] by the judges of Queen’s Bench in the courts of England in 1843. However, at present, it seems outmoded, and in need of an overhaul given this concept fails the medical regard (broadly BWS) of women’s manslaughters. [16] The principal limitation of Mc’Nagthen is its straight-to-shoulder approach used to determine if the defendant can take the defence of insanity, and therefore closes the gates for the expansion of the outlook on BWS.[17]

Although this subject has not gained much attention in India, some have strived to do a profound review of the relation of women’s mental shape with the manslaughters they commit.[18] They have also reviewed it in the legal milieu by examining the criminal laws – how adequate they are in endowing the battered women with a justifiable understanding of their past experiences which played an infuriating role throughout the course that ended in execution.[19] The first one ever to study BWS in a legal context was Walker by whose benevolent research; national lawmakers caught on the need to append BWS in the criminal law apparatus.[20] The Madras High Court was the first judicial body (1989) to identify the BWS in the case of Suyambukkani [21] by referring it to an old Tamil literature named “Nallathangal Ballad” which implicated the problems owing to which a rich lady was demoted to unbearable misery and thus committed suicide along with her two children.[22] Then in 2013, the Guwahati High Court in Manju Lakra v. State of Assam [23] recognized BWS not in any context but in its original form itself. Whilst deciding if the act amounted to murder, the court referred to Ahluwalia which brought to light the permissibility of BWS in other countries like US, Canada and Australia to ascertain the reasonableness of the act done by battered women.[24]

Consequently, this case fell within the Exception 1 of Section 300[25], and the sentence of the woman got reduced. Again, in Amutha v. State [26], the Madras High Court granted anticipatory bail to the defendant by taking into account the BWS factor. Notably, in a landmark case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court bearing in its senses the “social environment”[27] in which the woman had been bearing the cruelty and inhumanness of the husband condensed the sentence of her.   


Whilst parleying with regard to unprejudiced justice contrivance, a need has always been felt to renovate the Indian theory of beliefs in the column of ‘women’s rights after marriage’. The need was first ever realized in the 1970s which birthed the ‘Anti-dowry Violence Movement’ (ADVM) under the influence of ‘Battered Woman Movement’ of the United States of America. At first, ADVM only focused on – how to mitigate the domestic violence, but after some time, it came up with a profound agenda – the introduction of a particular law dealing only with domestic violence. Till this time, the focus was not on the battered women but only on the violence they bear. Then finally, in 2010, Paramita Nandy was the first to take upon her the charge to research BWS in the Indian context, and how much IPC has for it within its realism.[28] She, in her work, expressed that there was no possible recourse for battered women under IPC but what was ironic: she did not propose or seek to provide an outline for any needful amendments IPC needed (does till now). She just, on a too broad note, proposed that a “Battered Woman Defence” should be there in IPC.

From that time till now, the center of attention has seen a standalone shift – examining BWS as an autonomous subject with the objective to introduce it in IPC either expressly or openly. Aishwarya Deb, in her research, has written down extensively about BWS in every possible aspect, most significantly, the underperformance of Indian criminal laws in accepting women’s personal experiences as their defence.[29] She constitutes a point that strives to make anyone think that why do Indian laws not consider the psychological aspect of domestic violence done –which directly affects the woman’s mental course to act.[30] For the record, her study’s categorical emphasis was upon the need for a completely new defence; though it will be byzantine to introduce a complete defence solely on BWS.[31] Many other feminist theoreticians, assuming it as their approach of work, have also criticized the customary laws as “origin of law as a form of male authority and power”[32], and if truth be told, that theoretical criticism of them did become the law in their countries.[33]


Unlike the English Law, Indian one does not impart diminished responsibility[34] to the defendants to plead but only insanity. The ambit of diminished responsibility is far broader than insanity as it opens the doors for mental insanity rather than just considering the complete madness like the insanity defence.[35] Its sole object was to emerge from the slenderness of Mc’Nagthen rules [36], and award person punishment based on the rationality of their act but not to judge them through an unambiguous approach like the defence of insanity did for a long-drawn-out period.[37] Though section 84 of IPC[38] provides a defence to ‘unsound minded’ committers, it neglects[39] to remark the sense in the cases of battered women. In copious cases, women have pleaded this defence but in return got disenchantment; as per the judgment of Ratan Lal v. State of M.P.[40], given by the apex court the definition of unsoundness of mind can be classified into four segments –

 (1) an idiot,

(2) one made non-compos by illness,

(3) lunatic or madman,

(4) a drunkard.[41]

However, the limitation is that these four classifications only lie in the periphery of legal insanity, and none of the above explicitly comes parallel to BWS. There are instances where the defendant pleaded insanity but failed in doing so as merely suffering from a mental disorder does not fulfil the sufficiency.[42] Nevertheless, numerous High Courts have underscored[43] the meagreness of Mc’Nagthen rules in providing a wide-ranging denotation of insanity holding that in various cases defendant may know the “nature and quality of the act” and yet commit it, due to an irresistible impulse by reason of mental defect or deficiency.[44]


Provocation is the first exception to section 300 of IPC[45] which in order to establish, requires the ‘suddenness’ requisite in it.[46] Thus, for a battered woman to bring into play this defence, she should have killed the batterer “whilst being deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation”.[47] The landmark judgment of K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra[48] constructed a distinct definition of exception 1 which expounded that if there transpires a cooling-off period between the provocation and the fatal act, then it would mitigate the probability of considering the reasonableness of the provocative act.[49] Many other cases[50] have also examined on the line of reasoning: ‘had a reasonable man would have done the same in the same circumstances as what the accused did’.[51] Contrarily, this assessment fails to recall the discrepancy: the prolonged violent experience which a battered woman underwent, which compelled her to kill the batterer.[52] Our present law neglects the rational modus operandi of leading of the killing through the hands of battered women and only oversees it in a plainspoken means.[53] From what Walker deliberated in her theory, the picture says that under a protracted battering, the woman develops a habit of bearing the pain because of which she does not act in response instantaneously. Therefore, the presence of suddenness[54] is very much iniquitous whilst ascertaining the guiltiness in the acts of battered women.


The Indian Penal Code somewhat ratifies in a gendered means, and, as has also been discussed above, leaves battered women helpless. Section 100 of IPC[55] bestows upon one the right of private defence which can be extended to cause death[56] (in six circumstances[57]) but here comes the shortcoming; it requires the presence of reasonable apprehension of death or grievous hurt.[58] Indian courts have considered[59] this defence in plentiful cases[60] but only when they instituted the ingredient “immediacy” in the accused’s act due to fear. Also, as per section 100, there shall be “reasonable apprehension” in an incessant manner, and hence, what happens in the occurrence of battered woman gets totally overlooked.[61]


Through the above unequivocal scrutiny of different cases, it gets sure that Indian courts have indeed pioneered to imply the rationales in the killings of the battered women but also at the same time, have fallen short in bringing to bear the need of BWS as a defence in Indian Penal Code to the legislature. Undeniably, reforms need to be institutionalized on the subject of BWS for which the author has discoursed plenty of reasons and how the existing apparatus of Indian criminal justice system dissatisfies the battered women or, in other words, helpless women. This paper sought to contribute to the discussion on criticism of the inadequacy of IPC; can be seen from the plenteous courts’ intense sentences for the battered women. If this does not change in forevermore, then it can lead to suppression of females.


[1]Christine Haight Farley, “Confronting Expectations: Women in the Legal Academy,”  YALE L. J. & FEMINISM 333, 348 (1998);  Frances Olsen, “ THE POLITICS OF LAW” David Kairys ed. 1990, p453, 454).



[4] R v. Kiranjit Ahluwalia, (1993) 96 Cr. App. R. 133.

[5] Id.

[6] Id

[7] Id. 

[8] Joshua Dressler, “Battered Women and Sleeping Abusers: Some Reflections”, 3 OHIO STATE J. OF CRIMINAL L., 463 (2005-2006).

[9] Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned Helplessness”, 23 ANNUAL R. OF MEDICINE 407-412, 407 (1972).

[10] Lenore Walker, Battered Woman Syndrome and Self-defence, 6 NOTRE DAME J. OF ETHICS AND PUB. POL’Y 328 (1992).

[11] Kent M. Williams, “Using Battered Woman Syndrome Evidence as a Self-Defence Strategy in Minnesota,” 10 (1) LAW AND INEQUALITY: A JOURNAL OF THEORY AND PRACTICE 111, 120 (1992).

[12]Keerthana Medarametla, “Battered Women: The Gendered Notions of Defence Available,” 13(2) MANUPATRA 109, 112-115 (2017).

[13] Aishwarya Deb, “Battered Woman Syndrome: Prospect of Situating It within Criminal Law in India,” May 30, 2018  https://ssrn.com/abstract=3458792 (last visited on June 17, 2020).  

[14] Supra note 12.

[15] R. v. Daniel Mc’Nagthen, (1843-1860) All ER Rep 229: 8 ER 718: “To establish the defence of insanity, it must be clearly proved that at the time of committing the act the accused was labouring under such a defect of reason due to the defect of mind as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, pr if he knew it, then did not know that he was doing he was wrong.” 

[16] Ajay B. Sonawane & Radhika S. Bhonsle, “Defence of Insanity In India And England: Comparative Legal Paradigm”, 3(1) INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LAW AND LEGAL JURISPRUDENCE STUDIES 146, 150-152 (2016).

[17] Id.

[18]Dr Shalu Nigam, “Battered Women Syndrome: Applying this Legal Doctrine in the Indian Context,” August 6, 2016, https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2819322 (last visited on Sep 4, 2020).

[19] Paramita Nandy, Battered Woman Syndrome, October 8, 2010, http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1689521 (last visited on Sep 4, 2020).

[20] Mira Mihajlovich, “Does Plight Make Right: The Battered Woman Syndrome, Expert Testimony and the Law of Self Defense,” 62 (4) INDIANA LAW JOURNAL, 1254, 1261 (1987).

[21] Suyambukkani v. State of T.M., 1989 LW (Cri.) 86.

[22] Id. 

[23] Manju Lakra v. State of Assam, (2013) SCC OnLine Gau 207.

[24] Id.

[25] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, sec.300, Exception 1.

[26] Amutha v. State of T.N., 2014 (2) MWN (Cr) 605.

[27] State of Bengal v. Orilal Jaiswal, AIR 1994 SC 1418.

[28] Paramita Nandy, “Battered Woman Syndrome”, October 8, 2010, http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1689521 (Last visited on September 4, 2020). 

[29] Supra note 16.

[30] Id. 

[31] Id.

[32] Janet Rifkin, “Toward a Theory of Law and Patriarchy”, 3 Havard Womens’ L. J. 83, 87 (1980).

[33] Claire Houston, How Feminist Theory Became (Criminal) Law: Tracing the Path to Mandatory Criminal Intervention in Domestic Violence Cases, 21 MICH. J. GENDER & L. 217 (2014).

[34] Glanville Williams, “Diminished Responsibility”, Medicine Science and the Law, 41 (1960).

[35] Id.

[36] K. M. Sharma, “Defence of Insanity in Indian Criminal Law”, 7 JOURNAL OF THE INDIAN LAW INSTITUTE 332 (1965).

[37] Id.

[38] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, s.84.

[39] Ved Kumari, “Gender Analysis of Indian Penal Code, ENGENDERING LAW: ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF LOTIKA SARKAR” 139, 15-18 (Amita Dhanda & Archana Parachar, 1st ed., 1999).

[40] Ratan Lal v. State of M. P., (1970) 3 SCC 533.

[41] Supra note 16.

[42] Bapu v. State of Rajasthan, (2007) 8 SCC 66.

[43] Sunil Sandeep v. State of Karnataka, 1993 SCC OnLine Kar 63: 1993 Cri LJ 2554; Siddheswari Bora v. State of Assam, 1981 SCC OnLine Gau 39; Manju Lakra v. State of Assam, 2013 SCC OnLine Gau 207: (2013) 4 GLT 333.

[44] Supra note 15, at 126.

[45] The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act no. 45 of 1860), s.300, Exception 1.

[46] R.V. Kelkar, Provocation as a defence in the Indian Penal Code, THE INDIAN LAW INSTITUTE 319, 330 (1963).

[47] Aman Deep Borthakur, The Case of Inclusion of ‘Battered Woman Defence’ in India, 11(1) NUJS L. REV. 1, 13-14 (2018).

[48] K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1962 SC 605: 1962 Supp (1) SCR 567.

[49] Supra note 15.

[50] Kaliyaperumal v. State of T.M., (2004) 9 SCC 157: AIR 2003 SC 3828; Yashoda v. State of M.P., (2004) 3 SCC 98; Ghulam Mustafa Gahno v. Emperor, 1938 SCC OnLine Sind JC 74: 1939 Cri LJ 778; Tilok Rajawar v. State of Assam, 1986 SCC OnLine Gau 113; Mahmood v. State, 1960 SCC OnLine AII 180: 1961 AII LJ 209; Sukhdev Singh v. Delhi State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi), (2003) 7 SCC 441; Sukhlal Sarkar v. Union of India, (2012) 5 SCC 703.

[51] Supra note 47.

[52] Id.; Supra note 16.

[53] B.D. Khunte v. Union of India, (2015) 1 SCC 286.

[54] Sukhlal Sarkar v. Union of India, (2012) 5 SCC 703: This was a landmark judgment in which the apex court ruled that if a person claims the defence of Exception 1 of section 300, then he/she needs to prove that the provocation was sudden and grave, and did not consist of any delay between it and the provocative act; B.D. Khunte v. Union of India, AIR 1972 SC 502. 

[55] The Indian Penal Code,1860 (Act no. 45 of 1860), s.100; WAYNE R. LAFAVE & AUSTIN W. SCOTT, HANDBOOK ON CRIMINAL LAW-HANDBOOK SERIES, 391 (1972).

[56] Supra note 47, at 15; Yogendra Moraji v. State of Gujarat, (1980) 2 SCC 218.

[57] The six circumstances: “First.- Such an assault as may reasonably cause the apprehension that death will otherwise be the consequence of such assault; Secondly.- Such an assault as may reasonably cause the apprehension that grievous hurt will otherwise be the consequence of such assault; Thirdly.- An assault with the intention of committing rape; Fourthly.- An assault with the intention of gratifying unnatural lust; Fifthly.-An assault with the intention of kidnapping or abducting; Sixthly.- An assault with the intention of wrongfully confining a person, under circumstances which may reasonably cause him to apprehend that he will be unable to have recourse to the public authorities for his release.”

[58] Id.

[59] Vadilal Pochabhai Thakkar v. State of Gujarat, (1998) 29 (2) GLR 1101; Gurudatta Mal v. State of U.P., AIR 1965 SC 257.

[60] Malinga v. State, (1997) SCC OnLine Mad 787; Champa Rani Mondal v. State of West Bengal, (2000) 10 SCC 608 Vishwanath v. State of U.P., AIR 1960 SC 67: (1960) 1 SCR 646; Meera v. State of Rajasthan, (1998) SCC OnLine Raj 821; Anuj Jermi v. State, 2012 SCC OnLine Mad 2874.

[61] Supra note 47.


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