Southall Black Sisters led Kiranjit Ahluwalia’s campaign, with support from Justice for Women.
Kiranjit was persuaded into an arranged marriage by her brothers. Both her parents had died by the time she was 16 and so at the age of 23 she had to give up studying law and marry Deepak Ahluwalia.
The violence and humiliation started two days after the wedding. Deepak’s manner “changed dramatically” Kiranjit recounted later. This marked the beginning of ten years of violence, rape and sexual abuse; Deepak was so obsessed with controlling Kiranjit's behaviour that he even forbade her to eat chillies or drink black coffee. She was not allowed to go out to see friends or family and was treated like a slave.
Deepak saw other women while he continued to abuse Kiranjit on an almost daily basis. He did not want her “westernised” and kept her in almost total isolation. Kiranjit was kicked, punched and slapped, beaten with belts, shoes and pieces of furniture, threatened with knives and hot irons and nearly strangled. Deepak also regularly threatened to kill Kiranjit. She was afraid to have children because she feared that she would never be able to leave her husband, but she was pressurised by Deepak's family to undergo medical examinations to find out why she had not yet become pregnant. Deepak forced Kiranjit to have sex with him and she subsequently had two sons. The boys were terrified of their father and were also subjected to his violence. Kiranjit attempted to seek help from her family, who merely told her to go back and be “a good wife” and that it was her duty “to make the marriage work”. She also approached her GP, and obtained two court injunctions in an effort to stop Deepak's attacks on her, but to no effect. Kiranjit ran away but he found her and brought her back. She began to drink in order to dull the pain, but was deeply ashamed of her drinking. She took two overdoses, pushed beyond endurance by the misery of her existence. Finally, on May 9, 1989, Kiranjit could stand it no longer – she was terrified of staying and equally terrified of the consequences of running away; she felt trapped and, in order to stop Deepak coming after her and to make him understand what pain was, she set fire to his bedclothes while he slept. She had no intention of killing him.
Ten days later Deepak died of his injuries and Kiranjit was charged with his murder. The trial judge declared that the violence she had suffered was “not serious” and the prosecution claimed that she had merely been “knocked about”. Because of her shame about the incidents of sexual abuse, Kiranjit could not face her family hearing about them at the trial and gave no evidence in her own defence. Her plea of manslaughter due to provocation was overturned and the jury found her guilty of murder.
A key reason for the failure of Kiranjit's plea of provocation was the bias towards male behaviour in such cases. The time that had elapsed between Deepak's last attack on Kiranjit and her retaliation (a few hours) was deemed to be a “cooling down” period and not a “boiling over” period as her defence suggested. Men tend to react instantaneously when provoked, whereas women cannot do so in the context of male violence because of men's greater physical strength and size.
With the support of Southall Black Sisters, backed by Justice for Woman, Kiranjit was granted an appeal in 1992 on the grounds that expert evidence and psychiatric reports had not been presented at the original trial. A re-trial was ordered and on September 25, 1992 Kiranjit was found guilty of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility and sentenced to three years and four months (the time she had already served). Kiranjit was released immediately.
For media coverage of Kiranjit's case, please visit our press coverage page.