Legal recognition to- ‘Battered Women Syndrome’


The battered women syndrome is a psychological condition and describes a pattern of behaviour that develops in victims of domestic violence after suffering long-term abuse. This syndrome can lead to psychological paralysis where the women undergo depression and feel defeated due to continued oppression from her batterer.

In the 1970s Lenore E. Walker explained the psychological state of women who suffer from violence and abuse from their partners. The woman is subjected to long term domestic abuse, verbal harassment, sexual abuse, physical abuse, the threat of punishment etc which affects her psychological state of mind

Domestic violence is considered a social evil under the Indian penal code however no specific provisions are constituting to the battered women syndrome. However, it has been recognized by many state courts and there are helplines available to domestic violence and victims of the battered women syndrome. The judgments pronounced by the judges are mostly in favour of battered women.

Battered women syndrome as a legal defence

The most vital understanding is whether the killing of the abusive partner would amount to murder or can be used as a legal defence most of the case laws have focused on the action of the battered (defendant) that is whether the killing of their husbands have been reasonable or not.

Now under the criminal justice system, the testimonies which supported the existence of psychological trauma suffered by the battered have agreed to use it as a legal defence. In the Indian courts, battered women syndrome has been recognized under the private defence and grace and sudden provocation

Elements of Battered women syndrome

  1. Cyclical violence theory

    This takes place in three stages, it begins with the tension building phase i.e., the tension caused due to physical abuse. Further, the second stage is that the husband becomes uncontrollably violent upon the women and final stage he becomes remorseful. Therefore, the cycle of abuse is complete and ignites a fear within the woman and the next time when the attack occurs, she finally defends herself because it is her only opportunity and ends up killing her partner. The most important question is can be liable under section 300 IPC “Murder”? We will understand how the law treats such an act.

  2. Learned helplessness theory

    The description is that “a state of paralysis gets induced upon the woman by continuous battering which makes her feel perpetually trapped in the relationship”. Due to the abuse, there is a state of helplessness in the woman where she loses all her hope to escape. The response from the woman is to ensure her survival and not escape. This makes her unable to free herself from the abusive control of her partner.

  • Types of abuse that contributes to battered women syndrome
  • Sexual abuse: This includes rape, unwanted sexual contact, and verbal sexual harassment.
  • Stalking: A person uses threatening tactics that cause a person to feel fear and concern for their safety.
  • Physical abuse: Including slapping, shoving, burning, and the use of a knife or gun to cause bodily harm.
  • Psychological aggression: Examples include calling a person name, humiliating them, or coercive control, which means behaving in a way that aims to control the person.
  • Battered women syndrome under the international law

Here we will understand how battered women syndrome has been recognized under international law how it began through justification for the claims of self-defence the most important case laws

  1. R v. Ahluwalia[1]    There was one Kiranjit Ahluwalia an Indian woman who was subjected to 10 years of violence and abuse from her husband and later on was convicted for murdering her husband after setting his feat on fire and he died after 10 days due to the injuries suffered which caused severe burns over 40% of his body, later on, she gave a testimony that she suffered from domestic abuse., physical violence, food deprivation and marital rape.She had fetched some petrol and caustic soda mixture from the garage and mixed it to create napalm, the reason the court convicted her the first time was because creating napalm was not of common knowledge and pre-meditated and had some time to cool off as her husband was sleeping when she created the napalm and due to her broken English and no support from the lawyers she was arrested and charged with murder and was also sentenced to life imprisonment, later on, the case came to the attention of the Southall black sisters who established grounds for a mistrial and her sentenced was reduced and was constituted as manslaughter and not murder.

This case raised awareness worldwide concerning domestic violence and how battered women syndrome can be used as a legal defence especially for the non-English speaking immigrants in western countries. Even the English laws were amended concerning domestic violence.

  1. In –State v Leidholm[2]

    The court held that the “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”.

  2. In R v Chhay[3]

the husband was killed with a meat cleaver and later the defendant held that she suffered a long term of abuse from her husband and the court held that there is a possibility of a loss of self-control during an abusive relationship even though there has been an absence of a particular triggering incident.

  1. In R v Duffy [4]

    the court emphasized “sudden and temporary loss of control.”  the trial judge left provocation to the jury but erroneously excluded evidence of past sexual abuse of the accused which was relevant to the gravity of the provocation.

  • Battered women Syndrome under the Indian law

The Indian penal code, 1860 has laid down certain general exceptions from sections 96 to 106 where certain crimes committed as exempted from the law or justified by the law due to the circumstances. Section 100 emphasizes private defence and under section 300  the first exception “ Grave and sudden provocation” will also be applicable in the case.

  • The right to private defence

Section 100 indicates certain necessities under which the right of private defence of the body can extend to causing death. When it comes to the situation where the women kill her batterer cannot be easily identified as a private defence. Private defence can only be exercised when there is a reasonable apprehension of danger, to seek relief under this section the battered woman is required to prove that a reasonable apprehension of danger was present and that’s why she caused the death or grievous hurt, now the problem with this is that sometimes the battered women would not be able to prove the conditions under this section that’s why a separate provision for battered women syndrome is required so that no women is oppressed under a batterer. Another main ingredient of private defence is based on the proportionality of a response

    1. R v. Thornton[7]

The husband abused the woman and told her that while she is sleeping he will kill her later due to the battered state of mind the accused stabbed her husband while he was sleeping as she was psychologically paralysed here the circumstances do not satisfy the condition for section 100 and that’s why there is a need for a specific provision for battered women syndrome

2. Malliga v. State by Inspector of Police [8]

the woman was threatened to be murdered by her husband and in her battered state of mind when her husband went to sleep she put an end to his life by dropping heavy stones on him. 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 psychological self.

  • Grave and sudden provocation

Under section 300 in the Indian penal code, “Murder”, the first exception to the same is grave and sudden provocation where the death caused by grave and sudden provocation will not be determined as murder but culpable homicide if the offender is deprived of Self Control due to the grave and sudden provocation. Here the battered women can seek relief only when they can prove before the court that she had a loss of self-control which is not always true in the case when it comes to battered women syndrome it is prolonged torture for many years and not a specific incident therefore for a battered woman to seek relief under grave and sudden provocation is difficult another reason as to why the Indian penal code requires a sperate provision for batter women syndrome. The flowing cases indicate where the court reduced the sentence for a battered woman.

  1. Suyambukkani v state of Tamil Nadu [9] 

The wife was facing cruelty from the husband and she was in a battered state of mind to end her misery she decided to jump into the well along with her children however the children died and the women survived and she was charged with murder and attempt for suicide, the High court of madras took into consideration battered women syndrome and her circumstances and reduced her sentence.

  1. Manju Lakra v State of Assam [10] 

The woman was subjected to continuous violence and abuse from her husband, in her battered state of mind, she resisted the violence and took a piece of wood and hit her husband and he later died of injuries and she was charged with murder. However, the Guwahati High Court reduced her conviction to culpable homicide from murder as she was a battered woman. This was the first case to recognize the Nallantangal syndrome in Indian Courts, (Nallathangal syndrome for women who are coerced to commit suicide and kill their kids to escape the misery of the violence they are subjected to).

  • Conclusion

Under Indian jurisprudence, the Battered Women Syndrome has not seen much progress beyond the Nallathangal syndrome. Therefore, the requirement for separate provisions relating to the battered women syndrome is vital the foremost necessity for the Indian law in the matter of Battered Women Syndrome is to recognize the psychological aspect of battered women.


[1] R v Ahluwalia [1992] 4 All ER 889; (1993) 96 Cr App R 133; [1993] Crim LR 63; (1992) 142 NLJ 1159

[2] State v Leidholm 334 N.W.2d 811(N.D. 1983)

[3] R v Chhay (1994) 72 A Crim R

[4] R v Duffy [1949] 1 All ER 932

[5] Stingel v The Queen 1990 171 CLR 312 at 326

[6] Green v The Queen (1997) 191 CLR 334

[7] R v Thornton [1996] 1 WLR 1174

[8] Malliga vs State By Inspector Of Police on 12 September, 2002

[9] Suyambukkani v state of Tamil Nadu LAWS(MAD)-1989-2-14

[10] Manju Lakra vs The State Of Assam on 5 August, 2013 CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 116 (J) OF 2007


ARTICLE BY – A Beryl Sugirtham

Article reviewed by – Riti Gupta, Legal Assistant, Prime Legal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Open chat