What most shocked the family when the emergency services were summoned to the Ahluwalia household was that it was Deepak who was fatally injured. The court heard yesterday that her family and her community 'accepted a certain amount of responsibility for this tragedy' for not acting before it was too late.
She had twice tried to take her own life. She had sought court orders to try to keep him away. She had begged her family to be allowed a divorce. But in her Asian community, family break-up brings shame and dishonour. She was urged to stay.
Finally, in May 1989, as her husband lay in bed, Mrs Ahluwalia threw petrol into the bedroom and set it alight. Deepak died five days later; burns covered 40 per cent of his body.
Speaking from prison before her release Mrs Alhuwahlia said: 'It all became too much that night. He had made me a physical and mental wreck. I saw him sleeping and I thought 'how can he sleep when he has done this to me'?
'I lost it. I never meant to kill him. I just wanted to cause him pain, like he caused me. I thought if I hurt his feet, he wouldn't be able to come after me again. I never thought he would die.'
Yesterday, the Old Bailey accepted that the years of violence had reduced her to a state psychiatrists described as similar to post-traumatic stress. Her husband had beaten her with the buckle end of belts and the heels of shoes. He had raped her, cut her, broken her finger, ripped out handfuls of hair, tried to run her over, and thrown her downstairs.
He had once held a screwdriver to her eyes, threatening to gouge them out. 'Pray to your God and father,' he said. Once when she was eight months pregnant, she cowered on the floor protecting her stomach as he rained blows on her back.
She described one occasion when he complained that his dinner was too hot. 'He told me to eat it or he would beat me. But when I tried to eat he told me to stop or he would beat me. What could I do? He was giving me no choice. Whatever I did I was going to be hit.'
She said she was a reluctant mother. 'I didn't want to bring children into that world of violence. When I became pregnant I just prayed they would be boys. I didn't want girls because I feared he might harm them.'
Now, reunited with her two sons, she said: 'At least that part of my prayers were answered.'
Theirs was an arranged marriage and Deepak had spent only a week with her family in Canada, before arrangements were finalised. 'But I was happy. He was charming and good-looking, all I had hoped for,' she said. 'It was not love. To this day I do not know what love is. It was what my family wanted and that made me happy.'
The violence started two days after their wedding. By the time that she killed her husband, she had lost her will to leave him. In fact, she had written him a letter promising not to laugh, drink coffee, or see her friends, if in return he would acknowledge her. According to Geoffrey Robertson, her barrister, she had reached the 'nadir of self-abasement'.
What has happened to Mrs Ahluwalia and other battered Asian women has caused them to lose faith in their religion. She has said that the essence of her culture, society and religion reduced her to a 'plaything - stuck together and broken at will. Everybody did what they wanted with me.'
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