Kiranjit Ahluwalia’s case
Episode #9 of the course “Trials that shaped the modern world”
The 1989 United Kingdom trial of R v Ahluwalia set a precedent for women’s rights, particularly those of Asian women in the UK. After suffering a decade of violent abuse, Ahluwalia killed her husband; she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. However, after years of arduous legal work by a team of volunteers, her case was issued a retrial. Ahluwalia was set free. It is seen as a turning point toward the protection of Asian women, and particularly Asian Muslim women, residing in the UK.
After successfully graduating with an honors undergraduate degree and beginning studies toward a law degree in India, Ahluwalia was pressured into an arranged marriage. She moved with her husband to his home near London, England. She was beaten, raped, and verbally abused until one night, after a particularly violent day, she set fire to her husband in his sleep. Ahluwalia claimed her intent was not to kill him, but he died several days later from his burns. Ahluwalia was left with two young sons.
The court felt her self-defense reasoning of “provocation” was not sufficient, and she was imprisoned. When she was convicted, the Southall Black Sisters took up the case, gathered new evidence, and located a new legal team. Eventually, Kiranjit Ahluwalia was granted a retrial by the Criminal Court of England (sometimes called the “Old Bailey”), which found that Ahluwalia and other women who killed abusers to escape prolonged violence could be defended by the fact they were “provoked” by an extreme state of duress.
Kiranjit Ahluwalia’s case has shed light around the UK on the continuing issues of international arranged marriages, marital violence, and the isolation of Asian and Asian Muslim women in communities outside their home societies. Because of Ahluwalia, numerous progressive domestic violence policies are now in place throughout the United Kingdom.
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