After laying out the contours of law and state responsibility vis-à-vis women’s mental health, the paper focuses on criminal law, and its treatment of women, both as victims and accused.
Saumya Uma, Professor, Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.
Women’s mental health has received inadequate attention from the law makers, implementers and interpreters in India, more so in the arena of criminal law. Law is an important tool to address gender inequalities that exist in the field of mental health. Against this backdrop, the paper discusses gendered aspects of mental health and the law, with a particular focus on female criminality and criminal law’s treatment of women accused of heinous offences.
The article undertakes the analysis primarily through a critical examination of judgments delivered by the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. In the first part of the paper, the contours of law and state responsibility vis-à-vis women’s mental health are laid out, and analysed. In the second part, the paper focuses on criminal law, and its treatment of women, both as victims and accused.
This lays the foundation for the paper to critically examine two defences in criminal law, which exonerate the accused or mitigate the criminal responsibility, in its application to women: (a) the defence of ‘unsoundness of mind’/legal insanity, and its relation to women who were undergoing Premenstrual Stress Syndrome (PMS) at the time of commission of the criminal offence; and (b) the partial defence of ‘grave and sudden provocation’ and its application to women accused who committed heinous offences while facing the Battered Woman Syndrome.
Drawing upon a combination of medical research, theories and analysis in the field of psychology, and jurisprudence around the world, analysed through a feminist perspective, the paper critiques recent judgments of the higher judiciary in India on both the issues.
While the attempt of Indian courts to infuse a gender perspective into the criminal law defences is a positive step, the paper advocates caution, to avoid gender stereotyping of accused women.
It also calls for a more active conversation between relevant actors in the fields of criminal law, mental health, forensic sciences and gender studies, in order that a holistic perspective can be developed towards criminal responsibility of women facing mental health challenges.
Published in: Meenu Anand (ed.), Gender and Mental Health: Combining Theory and Practice, Ch 10 pp. 143-156
To read the full book chapter, please click here.