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Female Criminality: Another dark side of Patriarchy

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, 2015).
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 others.
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 childhood.

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 way,

�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
  • 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 violence.
  • NCRB. (2018). NCRB. Retrieved from Crime In India volume 3:
  • NCRB. (2019). Crime in India. Retrieved from
  • P. M. K. Mili, a. N. (2015, January). sascv. Retrieved from Female Criminality in India: Prevalence, Causes and Preventive measures:
  • 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

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