Kiranjit Ahluwalia was once sent to prison for murder, after she killed her abusive husband. Earlier this month she sat in a packed cinema in Leicester Square, at the glamorous premiere of a film based on her life. Times – and attitudes to victims of domestic violence – have changed.
Films about domestic violence do not tend to get West End premieres, or much attention. But the casting of Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai as Ahluwalia in the film (pictured right) Provoked meant it was guaranteed publicity and an avid audience, in the UK and India.
Kiranjit Ahluwalia was freed from prison in 1992, when her conviction for murder was reduced to manslaughter on appeal. She served three years and four months for the murder of her husband, who she killed after enduring ten years of violence.
Her case was a landmark as it changed the definition of provocation, taking domestic violence suffered over a long period into account, accepting the notion of cumulative provocation.
Ahluwalia says she enjoys life now. She works for Royal Mail in Slough and sorts post on the night shift. She is proud that she has earned enough to buy her own home, and that her two grown-up sons are both at university.
Ahluwalia is a shy woman, who does not seek personal publicity. However she agreed to publicise Provoked – in the UK and India – because she bitterly regrets the ten years of her life when she suffered violence and was too ashamed to seek help – even if she had known where to find it, which she didn’t. She says there are still many women in similar situations.
‘I want people to know that Asian women are still suffering domestic violence in silence,” she says.
Her life with her husband was so grim that Kiranjit insists that being in prison was the first time she felt free.
Kiranjit Ahluwalia credits Southall Black Sisters with fighting her cause and getting her out of prison and the organisation features heavily in Provoked. This is another unusual aspect to the film. How often do small women’s rights voluntary sector organisations feature on the big screen?
Southall Black Sisters have criticised the film for “factual and legal inaccuracies.”
Southall Black Sisters
However Rahila Gupta from Southall Black Sisters, also commented that Provoked means “domestic violence has permeated public consciousness as never before” in an article arguing that having a big star in a film about your work is good news – but can present challenges too.
Ahluwalia herself says the film is “not 100% facts” although she is delighted it was made because of its power to get Asian people discuss domestic violence. She found seeing her life on screen very moving.
“The first time I saw the film I cried so much I couldn’t see the screen,” she remembers.
The film is based on Ahluwalia’s autobiography Provoked, previously published as Circle of Light. Princess Diana encouraged Kiranjit Ahluwalia to write a book about her story when the pair met.
Provoked (the film) has been criticised for being melodramatic and naive and it is true the acting and script are not perfect. However, a film that gets many people talking about domestic violence is a rare thing and should be applauded.
My life can never be normal, says Kiranjit Ahluwalia