Organically, women have come up as the building blocks of every society. A
woman, especially in a society like India, is bound by many traditional norms
and is expected to fulfill the role of a procreator, a nurturer, and a protector
of social custom, morality, and cohesiveness of a family. Due to these
expectations’ women face a lot of blockages of opportunities in their
professional and personal fronts.
Most of the families do not provide a woman with support, respect or acceptance
in the decisions where she chooses to be self-dependent, such scenarios are
leading women to rebel by giving them a platform where they are more likely to
deviate or commit a crime. Women criminals comprise 6.15 percent of criminals
convicted for crimes under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 2019. The number of
women offenders arrested for committing cognizable offenses between the age of
18-30 years in 2018 (NCRB, 2018) were 64,369 (4.13 percent) has hiked up to
1,91,508 in 2019 (6.15 percent) (NCRB, 2019).
Women in conflict with law shall be considered as a crucial challenge because of
their impact on the upbringing of children and the overall fabric of the
society. However, most criminal activities are dominated by men and this
difference in the rate of male to female crime is the result of different
societal expectations from both genders by the society. Generally, the male
member of the society bears the burden of adhering to be the wage earner and the
protector of the family.
In such a state, he has to face a lot of competition outside the home and it
gets difficult for him to stick to the legitimate means of achieving the
expected goals within the particular frame of time. On the other hand, the
expected role of a woman is to nurture the family inside the four walls of the
home, where she faces less or no competition and hence, is not tempted to use
unethical means of achieving the goals.
As psychologist Anchal Bhagat also stated that the social environment
contributes a lot to the making of women criminals, especially in a patriarchal
society. Despite a guarantee from the constitution of India of equal rights and
privileges, a women’s fate cannot be changed. Even after equal involvement and
excellent performance in her education and her workplace, she does not get the
credit and respect she deserves.
The problem manifolds when despite being capable enough, she has to obey the
orders of a man of lesser ability, her own opinion is brutally crushed and
overheard. She is subjected to victimization just because she is a woman. Bhagat
talked more about how a victim turns into a victimizer and mentioned one famous
example which is of Phoolan Devi, the bandit queen (Sampath, n.d.).
Phoolan Devi was just 11-year-old when she was married to a brutally violent man
in his thirties. After then, the series of assaults began in her life, she was
victim of domestic violence, marital rape, gang rape for three weeks and public
humiliation. She eventually turned into a dacoit to take her revenge (Sen,
The story of Phoolan Devi suggests that a woman’s marital life deserves special
attention while studying female criminality. The marital status of a woman might
have a significant role in making the decision to be a part of criminal
activity. Unmarried women tend to get more regular work as compared to the
married ones. Corporations often consciously decide to employ married men over
married women as they want to cut the burden of paid maternity leave thereby
contributing to the ever-present discrimination against women in workplaces.
This discrimination, in a twisted fashion, provides women an opportunity to get
involved in crime, as they are already being discriminated against at the
workplace. Moreover, being involved in criminal activity will require less
utilisation of skills on their part (Ahuja, 2020).
Further acknowledging the presence of commercial sex in Indian society, it is
not explicitly illegal as there are no laws that punish a sex worker. However,
some activities related to commercial sex such as soliciting, running brothels,
trafficking and pimping are punishable under The Immoral Traffic (Prevention)
Act, (1956). Due to lack of awareness, women lack basic legal rights,
healthcare and support from the government and society, they end up being
victimised and their safety goes for a toss.
Eventually, the women who have been forced into it do not get a way out. Once
they survive and climb up the ladder, they act as brothel owners or drug
peddlers and get involved in other illegal activities. Due to the frustration
from emotional, mental and physical abuse these women tend to supress others in
order to protect themselves from being supressed and hence end up victimising
Battered Women Syndrome is another state of affairs which not recognized under
the Indian Judicial System. It is a psychological condition that can develop
when a person experiences abuse for a long time in a relationship. Abuse can be
sexual, physical, or psychological aggression in nature. Due to the repeated
abuse, women start suffering from learned helplessness. They do not hope that
this assault will ever end. Threat to further violence also stops them to share
their concerns to someone else. This concept of Battered Women Syndrome has not
been placed in Indian Judiciary to explain the reasonableness of a woman’s
actions in self-defence against the abuser (Borthakur, 2018).
Considering the theoretical perspective of criminology, scholars like Otto
Pollak (The criminality of women, 1950) claim that women engage in hidden crimes
like murder by poisoning, offenses against children and so on due to their
cunning and deceitful behaviour that they have acquired through sexual
socialisation. Frances Heidensohn (1968), Marie Andree Bertrand (1969) have used
role theory to define how society infuses gender roles in girls and boys since
Society provides close supervision and social restrictions on girls. Girls are
trained to be passive, domesticated, non-violent, gentle and are made to learn
more of nurture-related jobs than getting involved in fighting or using a
weapon. On a contrary, boys are nurtured to be aggressive and involved in
activities that project masculinity. Hence, when girls grow up, they do not get
involved in combats where they have to get involved in physical fights or in
crimes where they have to threaten someone with their physical strength. They
get more involved in petty thefts, poisoning or the crime which take less of
“masculine work” (Ahuja, 2020).
Freda Adler (Sisters in crime: The rise of the new female criminal, 1975) has
attributed prostitution, drug addiction and female juvenile delinquents to the
liberation movement of women and a way how women project assertiveness. She
contends that educated girls and women are more willing than ever to challenge
the traditional restrictions and social roles. Bajpai and Bajpai (2000), talk
about the frustration and helplessness a woman experiences due to the lack of
support and discrimination she has to face every day in her life. In this fight
for their rights, the clash is unavoidable. They state it in a very powerful
“The rights are first demanded, then commanded and later snatched” (P. M. K.
Mili, 2015). Shantadevi Patankar (Baby), 'The Drug Queen of Mumbai' had
originally bowed towards dealing drugs to fend for herself and her young sons.
Initially, she was a milk vendor in the city in the 1980s until she realised
that she could make a lot more money by selling drugs. After spending some 30
years in the business of selling drugs, she was finally arrested by the Mumbai
police in 2015 (HT Correspondents, 2015).
In conclusion, what needs to be analysed in the social environment of a woman,
who is in conflict with law is - their upbringing, sexual socialisation, their
roles in their respective families, their personal relations with their in-laws
and their career preferences. Society plays a major part in a woman’s life span,
whether or not a woman turns into an offender highly depends on what kind of
life she is living and what options does she have if she wants to change it? The
irony here is that these options are very often not of her own choice but are
presented by the society – directly or indirectly. Furthermore, these options
are limited and at times lead them to conviction.
- Ahuja, R. (2020). Female Crime. In R. Ahuja, Criminology (pp. 136 -
147). Rawat Publications.
- Borthakur, A. D. (2018). NUJS Law Review. Retrieved from http://nujslawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/11-%E2%80%93-1-%E2%80%93-Aman-Deep.pdf
- HT Correspondents, M. (2015, April 25). Hindustan Times. Retrieved from
- Medical News Today. (2018, December 3). Battered woman syndrome and
intimate partner violence. Battered woman syndrome and intimate partner
- NCRB. (2018). NCRB. Retrieved from Crime In India volume 3: https://ncrb.gov.in/
- NCRB. (2019). Crime in India. Retrieved from https://ncrb.gov.in/
- P. M. K. Mili, a. N. (2015, January). sascv. Retrieved from Female
Criminality in India: Prevalence, Causes and Preventive measures: https://www.sascv.org/ijcjs/pdfs/milietalijcjs2015vol10issue1.pdf
- Sampath, D. (n.d.). DNA Profiling- its reliability as evidence in
establishing a case? Retrieved from NUJS School of Criminal Justice:
- Sen, M. (2015, August 10). India Today. Retrieved from https://www.indiatoday.in/fyi/story/remembering-the-bandit-queen-10-things-to-know-about-phoolan-devi-287450-2015-08-10