Kiranjit Ahluwalia story is of a 62 year old brave Indian woman who became known all over the world after burning her husband to death in 1989 in the UK. She told it was in response to ten years of physical, psychological, and sexual harassment. At first she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. However later on it was overturned on grounds of inadequate counsel and ‘murder’ replaced with voluntary ‘manslaughter’. Although she failed to prove that she was provoked, she successfully pleaded the partial defence of diminished responsibility. The film Provoked (2006) starring Aishwarya Rai Bachhan, is a fictionalized account of Kiranjit Ahluwalia Story.
Born into a traditional upper-middle-class Punjabi family she came to England in 1979 after being married to a man in an arranged marriage set up. The next ten years turned out to be a nightmare for her. She suffered everyday physical, mental and sexual violence at the hands of her husband. She could not seek anyone’s help and support. She knew he would never agree to go for marriage counseling. Domestic violence was a taboo subject for most Asians in the UK. Moreover, family honor is cared more than anything else. Few women dared to go outside the family for help. Kiranjit, in her utter depression, killed her husband who had tortured her for so long. Confused, getting poor advice and speaking little English, Kiran was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. In jail, she found the freedom she had never known in her husband’s home. For the first time, she felt safe from torture and enjoyed the friendship and company of other women in a similar situation.
At first glance, Kiranjit Ahluwalia looks like a sportswoman. She has short golden colored hair, cool looks and lots of confidence. She represents the never say die spirit of a woman. But whenever she recounts her past, Kiranjit can’t help tears of pain remembering 10 years of domestic abuse at the hands of her late husband. Kiranjit killed her husband Deepak in London in 1989. She says, “The day I killed him I felt liberated. I knew I had to go to jail but life was already a jail for me in that marriage.”
Kiranjit, a native of Punjab was married to Deepak, who worked in England’s postal department. She told, “I was brought up in an Asian culture where women were expected to be quiet and not protest against injustice in their marriage, because a husband is everything to them.” But as the torture went on she could not take it any longer. “As time went on, it became worse. He started beating me many times without any reason,” she recalls. “Every minute was painful being in that relationship. I never knew what would be his next form of torture,” she says.
One day she decided to put an end to her sufferings. “I could not take it and I ended it all,” she says. Kiranjit was arrested on May 15, 1989, and kept at a women’s prison in Holloway. She had to bear the pain of separation from her two sons. “That was a horrible time in my life,” she adds. But in jail, she learned the English language and made new friends. Even the police officials were kind. With the help of Southhall Black Sisters (SBS), she was finally released after spending more than 3 years in prison.
Currently, Kiranjit is working in the postal department in the UK and has reconciled with her sons. On the question of remarriage, she says, “I will not allow any man to touch me now. My husband was the first and last man in my life.” “I feel all men are not bad. Men should consider their wives as partners and not as private property,” she says. Kiranjit cautions other women for not following her actions. “Never do what I did in life. But at the same time never suffer in a bad marriage. If you are unhappy in a marriage, get out of it. Believe me, there is life beyond your husband.”
Kiranjit Ahluwalia story helped raise awareness of domestic violence in families of non-English speaking immigrants to Western countries. It has also helped in changing the laws for domestic abuse victims in the United Kingdom. Her case is known in British legal textbooks as R v Ahluwalia and it changed the definition of the word “provocation” in cases of battered women. It reclassified her crime as manslaughter instead of murder. She wrote an autobiography with co-author Rahila Gupta named Circle of Light. The story was turned in the movie Provoked, which was screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. During the screening at Cannes, Kiranjit cried during the most violent scenes.
She was honored at the first Asian Women Awards held in 2001 in the UK for breaking the taboo of domestic violence. Kiranjit Ahluwalia Story is definitely a hope and an inspiration to all domestic violence survivors in both India and world.