In a society like India where patriarchy still drives the intentions, ideologies, motives and thought process of more than half of the population, even the smallest recognition of women’s issues leads to considerable changes. These changes are what makes society progressive and paves way for further evolution and positive development. But seldom we come across situations where we are not able to draw a line between what is feminism and what is wrong. In a 2018 judgement, the Rajasthan High Court accepted the plea of a woman, accused of murdering a child and attempting to murder two other, stating that she was suffering from “Premenstrual Stress Syndrome”. This article gives an in-depth analysis of the court’s decision of accepting the plea of PMS under insanity as a defence, as under section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Furthermore, the article also aims at resolving the issue which surrounds the dilemma of whether such a decision is sound from a feminist’s and lawyers’ perspective. 

Introduction 

‘Gradually my whole concept of time changed until I thought of a month as having twenty-five days of humanness and five others when I might just as well have been an animal in a steel trap.

-Florence King

In 2018, the Rajasthan High Court delivered a judgement which can be termed as ‘way ahead of its time‘. In a case, a woman had been accused of murdering a child and attempting to murder two others, after allegedly kidnapping them. The woman had lured the children from their school and ended up taking them to a well in the village where she allegedly tried to drown them. Out of the three children, two were fortunately saved by the villagers who took note of the incident and arrived at the scene immediately, but sadly the third child could not be saved and he succumbed to his injuries caused by drowning.

As it would happen in any ordinary scenario, the woman was charged under section 302 (which lays down the punishment for murder), section 307 (which states the offence of attempt to murder) and section 374 (which lays down the offence of compulsory labour), of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. She was convicted by the District Court and sentenced to life imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 100, but her conviction was eventually overturned by the Rajasthan High Court. Amongst other factors such as the failure of prosecution in proving any motive of the defendant and the fact that prosecution’s evidence was full of material contradictions, the court also accepted the defendant’s plea of insanity which stated that the “accused was suffering from a mental disease known as premenstrual stress syndrome”.

Background Of The Case

This case of Kumari Chandra v. State of Rajasthan 1[2018(3) RLW 2382 (Raj.) is one of its kind. The significance of the case is that the court in the present case not only acknowledged the significance of premenstrual stress syndrome, it also goes on to show how the judiciary is becoming more and more progressive, one step at a time. We live in a country where issues surrounding a woman’s reproductive health remains a taboo, especially the issue of menstruation. This concept of pleading insanity on grounds of PMS was first highlighted by Otto Pollak 2journals.uchicago.edu in the year 1950 who believed that women become vengeful during their menstrual periods.

Historically, there have not been many cases related to the issue of PMS, except a few, in countries like Britain, the United States of America and Canada. In the case of Regina v. Craddock 3[(1981, 1 C.L. 49)], Sandie Craddock, an East London barmaid with 45 prior convictions, in a fit of rage, stabbed a fellow barmaid three times through the heart. Similarly, in Regina v. English 4An unreported decision of the Norwich Crown Court dated: 10.11.1981, a woman by the name of Christine English, after a quarrel with her lover, crushed him to the death against a utility pole with her car. Now, what is significant in both the cases is that with the aid of Dr. Katharina Dalton’s (she was a popular advocate of the cause of PMS as a defence) testimony, the sentence for both the women was reduced to manslaughter, purely on grounds of PMS.

Feminist And Legal Perspective

PMS as Legal Defense: Case Analysis

While from the perspective of a woman and a feminist, this appears to be a sign of progress and acceptance, but from the perspective of someone who belongs to the legal fraternity, it raises several questions. One of the most important questions that arise is whether this opens the floodgates for other women accused of murder to take up PMS as a defence under section 84 of IPC. As a female law student, this issue always puts me in a dilemma.

While I do believe that it is important for society to get acquainted with women’s reproductive health issue as this will bring more awareness among the people. But at the same time, I also believe that accepting PMS as a defense would lead to its misuse, as we have seen with many legislations.

 

For instance, there have been many cases of misuse of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which has been drafted specifically to protect women from mental, physical, emotional, economical abuse at the hands of her family. A lot of women have been filling fake cases of domestic violence.

Along the same lines, if PMS is allowed as a legal defence, then there is a possibility of the same happening. It should also be noted that while many women go through hormonal changes during the period prior to menstruation, there haven’t been any significant medical data to actually back up the fact that PMS also leads to psychosis, and thus leading a woman to commit heinous crimes. There might be a possibility of the same happening in rarest of the rare cases.

But legal systems across the globe work on the principle of ‘reasonable prudent man test’ where the courts and other legal authorities only accept an argument or a defence on the ground that any action of a person is acceptable only if a reasonable prudent would do the same.

 

Therefore, applying the same concept, since most of the women around the world do not suffer from psychosis during PMS, it wouldn’t be wise to accept the same as a legal defence.

Analysis Of The Judgement

Section 84 of IPC clearly states that ‘Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.’ Now it is very essential that one understands that there is no definition of ‘unsoundness of mind‘ under IPC and hence, courts have mainly treated this expression as equivalent to ‘insanity5Justice M.R. Mallick, Criminal Manual (Criminal Major Acts) and have often used it interchangeably. But the same issue arises again as the term insanity has no precise definition itself. In general terms, it is used to define varying degrees of mental disorder.6Ibid

In the case of Bapu v. State of Rajasthan 7(2007) 8 SCC 66 it was held that every person, who is said to be mentally diseased, is not ipso facto exempted from criminal liability. Hence, the court accepting PMS as a defence under ‘unsoundness of mind’ just because it qualifies as a mental disorder, seems arbitrary. Further, what does or does not qualify as ‘unsoundness of mind’ or ‘insanity’ is rather debatable, and the court has the liberty to interpret it depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case. In the present case, the court recognized PMS as a mental disorder. By bringing the same under the purview of section 84, the court has indirectly stated that PMS is a condition which can be titled as ‘unsoundness of mind’.

Burden Of Proof

The law on burden of proof in cases where the defence of insanity is taken has been well established in the case of Dayabhai Chhaganbhai Thakkar v. State of Gujarat. 8AIR 1964 SC 1563 The Apex court, in this case, highlighted the principle governing insanity, stating that “the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death with the requisite intention described in Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code. However, Section 84 being an exception, has to be read with Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 whereby the burden of proving the existence of circumstances bringing the case within the said exception lies on the defendant.”

The court in Kumari Chandra’s case 9Supra note 1 states that “The evidence so placed may not be sufficient to discharge the burden under Section 105 of the Evidence Act, but it may raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of a judge as regards one or other of the necessary ingredients of the offence itself. It may, for instance, raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge whether the accused had the requisite intention. If the judge has such reasonable doubt, he has to acquit the accused.” The Apex court very recently, in case of Surendra Mishra v. State of Jharkhand 10(2011) 11 SCC 495 held that “though the burden of proof is on the accused as per Section 105, he is not required to prove the same beyond all reasonable doubt but merely satisfy the preponderance of probabilities.”

Motive

Another major issue in the present case was the inability of the prosecution to provide a motive. With no motive, the defence was able to prove that the accused had no ill-will against the children. In fact, it was argued by the defendants that the accused would often take the children for walks and she had absolutely no reason to harm them. Due to the principle of Actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, it is essential that along with the physical act, the guilty mind is also proved. Hence, while the prosecution could prove the physical act of drowning the children by the accused, they could not prove guilty intension.

Here, while the prosecution failed in proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the defence was successful in raising reasonable doubt.

 

Even though IPC has offered certain benefits by providing grounds of defence such as that of insanity, it obviously has its limitations which include its misuse.

The real question that arises here in Kumari Chandra’s case is whether PMS is a valid defence under the scope of “unsoundness of mind” as under section 84 of IPC. PMS is a real medical condition which is caused due to hormonal imbalance in a woman’s body, a few days prior to her menstruation. While many women suffer from heightened mood swings which lead to irritability and severe body ache, the symptoms usually do not turn into a mental disorder. But some women face a more intense form of hormonal changes which leads to a condition known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. John Hopkins Medicine 11hopkinsmedicine states that “Symptoms of PMDD are so severe that women have trouble functioning at home, at work, and in relationships during this time. This is markedly different than other times during the month”. Now even though PMDD is more severe than PMS, nowhere has it been stated conclusively that, it is intense enough to drive a woman to commit a crime.

Lack Of Evidence

PMS as Legal Defense: Case Analysis

It is safe to say that there is no evidence per se (as of now) which could prove that women might have the capability of committing heinous offences while suffering from PMS, but this cannot possibly stop a person from taking its defence. In the present case, the judgement refers to certain literature which gives insight into the issue of PMS. These materials include Marc P. Press. 12‘Premenstrual Stress Syndrome as a Defence in Criminal Cases’, Duke Law Journal, Volume – 1983:176- duke.edu

Reliance was also placed by the prosecution on the article ‘Menstruation and Crime’ authored by Katharina Dalton.

The prosecution had brought on record several doctors and experts, in whose opinion symptoms of PMS included, “irritation, depression, abnormal behaviour, the tendency of suicide, the tendency of violence, the tendency of causing beating to children etc.”13 Supra note 1 While the defence heavily based its arguments on literature and testimonies by doctors, none of it can definitively point to the fact that the defendant in the present case was mentally sick enough to commit such offences, purely due to PMS. It should also be pointed out that all the evidence referred by the defence counsel relied heavily upon theoretical work and no medical data or statistics was used for reference.

Conclusion

Kumari Chandra’s case is, without a speck of doubt, one of its kind. The judgement can be viewed as both progressive and regressive. While some can argue that this judgement reduces the stature of women by reducing a definite medical issue into a reason of ‘unsoundness of mind‘, others may applaud the same because menstruation and issues related to it, have finally been recognized by an institution of the state, that is, the Judiciary. As I have mentioned earlier that, from a feminists’ perspective, the judgement seems flawless, but from the perspective of a law student, I can point out several loopholes. While the accused had all the right to take PMS as a defence under insanity, the court should have analyzed the issue in-depth, considering that there are hardly any judgements or medical statistics pertaining to the same.

Another point worth mentioning is that the accused was brought up in an environment which was not necessarily well versed with issues revolving around mental health. The accused had herself stated that “Her parents used to take her to ‘peer baba Nijamuddin’ for treatment by black magic. In that state, the accused would not be in senses and become uncontrollable.” 14Ibid While her issues might fall under PMS or PMDD, they could also be classified as other mental disorders such as schizophrenia, which has been medically proven to lead people to commit violent acts.

Hence, the court should have had a stricter approach in establishing whether the accused had suffered from PMS or some other mental disorder. The court should have also taken into consideration the fact that accepting such a defence which is not well established, could pave way for several medical conditions/disorders to fall under the scope of section 84 of IPC, and this would inherently lead to misuse of the provision which has been put in place to protect people.

Stop mansplaining menstruation, we’ve got this.

― Silvia Sidney Young 15My FemTruth: Scandalous Survival Stories, A book by Silvia Sidney Young

 

 

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Comments to: PMS as Legal Defense: Case Analysis
  • May 6, 2020

    Very well explained. The perspective is rather unique. Looks like the author has put a lot of thought into it.

    Reply
    • May 10, 2020

      Thank you so much, ma’am!

      Reply
  • May 6, 2020

    Good information about an unconventional topic.

    Reply
    • May 10, 2020

      Thank you so much!

      Reply
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