The Provoked Wife

March 26, 2024

In 1989, Kiranjit Ahluwalia was convicted of the murder of her husband after 10 years of marriage. She was sentenced to imprisonment for life.

At the request of Southall Black Sisters, we took over Kiranjit’s legal representation after she had started serving her sentence. Following a detailed examination of the history of her marriage, and a public campaign spear-headed Southall Black Sisters, and supported by Justice for Women, we appealed against the conviction.

In a landmark judgment, the Court of Appeal set aside Kiranjit’s conviction and ordered a re-trial. At her re-trial, the prosecution accepted her plea of guilty to manslaughter. Three years and four months after she had been charged with her husband’s murder, Kiranjit won her freedom.

Kiranjit’s case established for the first time in English legal history that, in cases of domestic violence, the court could examine the history of abuse to understand the actions of a defendant. As a result, it opened the gateway to appeal for many other women in a similar predicament.

The case generated more than 25 years of national and international media reporting. Women’s organisations, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, academics, writers, commentators and politicians all called for a change in the law. Eventually, the Law Commission carried out a thorough examination of the relevant law. Finally, in 2010, Parliament abolished the law which had resulted for over 150 years in injustice to women in Kiranjit’s position, and replaced it.

Kiranjit Ahluwalia and Rahila Gupta told Kiranjit’s story in her autobiography, “Provoked”. A film inspired by the book and the case, Provoked, starring Aishwarya Rai, was released in 2006.

Judgements and media

or only a small selection of coverage in the media in this widely, repeatedly and internationally reported case, which attracted world-wide recognition of the plight of abused women who killed, see:

BBC News, 4 April 2019

The Guardian, 18 June 2019

The Independent, 20 July 1992

The Independent, 1 August 1992

The Scotsman, 16 February 2003

Asian Culture Vulture, 2 April 2019

The Independent, 16 September 1995

Daily Mail Online, 14 July 2006

BBC News, 12 November 2001

SabrangIndia, 27 December 2016

For broad-ranging academic discussions the case, see:

Elizabeth Mytton, The Radical Potentialities of Biographical Methods for Making Difference(s) Visible.

Keith Rix, ‘Battered woman syndrome’ and the defence of provocation: two women with something more in common,The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry

Donal Nicolson and Rohit Sanghvi, Battered Women and Provocation: The Implications of R v Ahluwalia, Criminal Law Review, 1993

Paula Nicolson, Domestic Violence and Psychology

Alad Reed and Michael Bohlander, Loss of Control and Diminished Responsibility