Kiranjit Ahluwalia

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Kiranjit Ahluwalia
Born 1955 (age 58–59)
Chakkalal, Punjab, India
Occupation Human rights activist, author
Children two sons

Kiranjit Ahluwalia (born 1955) is an Indian woman who came to international attention after burning her husband to death in 1989. She claimed it was in response to ten years of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.[1] After initially being convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, Ahluwalia's conviction was later overturned on grounds of inadequate counsel and replaced with manslaughter. The case changed the definition of the word 'provocation' in cases of battered women.

The film Provoked (2006) is a fictionalized account of Ahluwalia's life.

Background[edit]

In 1979, at the age of 24, Ahluwalia left her home of Chakkalal in Punjab to travel to the United Kingdom after marrying her husband, Deepak—a man she had only met once. For ten years, she stated that she suffered from domestic abuse including physical violence, food deprivation, and marital rape.[1][2]

When Ahluwalia looked to her family for help, they reprimanded her, saying it was a matter of family honour that she remain with her husband. She ultimately tried running away from home, but was found by her husband and brought back. During her marriage, Ahluwalia had two sons who she claimed often bore witness to the violence she endured.[2] However, neither boy gave evidence supporting this in court or police interviews prior to the trial.

One evening in the spring of 1989, Ahluwalia was allegedly attacked by her husband later accusing him of trying to break her ankles and burn her face with a hot iron, apparently trying to extort money from her extended family. Later that night while her husband lay sleeping, Ahluwalia fetched some petrol and caustic soda mixture from the garage and mixed it to create Napalm. She poured it over the bed and set it alight, and ran into a garden with her three-year-old son.[3]

In a later interview she stated: "I decided to show him how much it hurt. At times I had tried to run away, but he would catch me and beat me even harder. I decided to burn his feet so he couldn't run after me."[2] She also claimed: "I wanted to give him a scar like those he had given me, to have him suffer pain as I had."

Deepak suffered severe burns over forty percent of his body and died 6 days later in hospital from complications of severe burn and subsequent sepsis. Ahluwalia, who could only speak broken English at the time, was arrested and ultimately charged with murder.[4]

Trial and conviction[edit]

Ahluwalia was convicted of murder in December 1989.[5] At the trial with an all white jury, the prosecution argued that although on the night of the event she had been threatened with a hot poker, the fact that she waited until her husband had gone to sleep, was evidence that she had time to "cool off" and way to a nicety her actions.[5] In addition the prosecution claimed her prior knowledge to mix caustic soda with petrol to create napalm was not common knowledge and was proof that she had planned her husbands murder. Her counsel did not make any claims about the violence she later claimed she had endured, while the prosecution suggested that Ahluwalia was motivated by jealousy due to her husband's repeated affairs.[2] She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.[6]

Appeal and release[edit]

Her case eventually came to the attention of the Southall Black Sisters (SBS) who pressed for a mistrial. Ahluwalia's conviction was overturned on appeal in 1992 on grounds of insufficient counsel—Ahluwalia had not been aware that she could plead guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. In addition, it was brought to light that she was suffering from severe depression when she lashed back at her husband, which her new counsel argued had altered her decision making abilities at the time.[2] After the mistrial was declared, the Crown Prosecution Service did not attempt another prosecution.

Impact[edit]

Ultimately, Ahluwalia's case helped raise awareness of domestic violence in families of non-English speaking immigrants to Western countries, as well as changing the laws for domestic abuse victims in the United Kingdom.[1]

Her case, known in British legal textbooks as R v Ahluwalia, changed the definition of the word 'provocation' in cases of battered women, so as to reclassify her crime as manslaughter instead of murder,[7] and in the same year as her appeal, lead to the freeing of Emma Humphreys and Sarah Thornton.[7]

Ahluwalia was honored in 2001 at the first Asian Women Awards in recognition of her "strength, personal achievements, determination and commitment" in helping to bring to light the subject of domestic violence.[1]

She wrote an autobiography with co-author Rahila Gupta, Circle of Light.[8]

Gita Sahgal made a film called Unprovoked for the British television investigative documentary program Despatches on the subject of Ahluwalia's experience.[9]

The story was fictionalized in the film Provoked, which was screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Naveen Andrews played Deepak and Aishwarya Rai played the role of Ahluwalia. During the screening at Cannes, Ahluwalia sat next to Rai, holding her hand and sobbing during the most violent scenes.[2]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Cherie Booth (November 12, 2001). "Killer given domestic violence award". BBC News. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Staff Writer (April 4, 2007). "I wanted him to stop hurting me". The Guardian (London). 
  3. ^ James Rossiter (April 3, 2007). "Abused wife who killed her husband shocks Bollywood". The Times (London). 
  4. ^ Joanne Payton (April 8, 2007). "Express India Interview with Kiranjit Ahluwalia". 
  5. ^ a b Kramarae, Cheris; Spender, Dale (2000). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge. Taylor & Francis. pp. 723–. ISBN 9780415920889. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Tyson, Danielle (2012-08-21). Sex, Culpability and the Defence of Provocation. Routledge. pp. 27–. ISBN 9781136298837. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Smartt, Ursula (2008-12-01). Law for Criminologists: A Practical Guide. SAGE. pp. 12–. ISBN 9781412945707. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  8. ^ Amit Roy (June 12, 2005). "An eye for an eye". The Telegraph. 
  9. ^ Joshi, Ruchir, " UNPROVOKED-A historic moment swallowed by the box office," The Telegraph, June 10, 2007, accessed February 16, 2010