Women victims of domestic violence come from all racial, ethnic, religious, age, and socioeconomic groups. The question most often asked is: "Why do they stay in violent homes?" Some of the explanations have been compiled by psychologists into a pattern known as the "battered woman syndrome." A number of factors mitigate against escape, including an overwhelming fear which immobilizes the victim and "learned helplessness" which makes women feel they cannot control their lives. Provoked: A True Story depicts the plight of one woman in England and her case which changed English law.
On the night of May 9, 1989, in London, England, Deepak Ahluwalia (Naveen Andrews) is severely burned in his bed while sleeping. Police on the scene find his Punjabi wife Kiranjit (Aishwarya Rai) in a state of shock outside. Deepak states that his wife set him on fire, and she does not deny it. But her lawyer Miriam (Rebecca Pidgeon) discovers bruises on her body and learns that she has suffered 10 years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of her English-born husband who views all women as subhuman.
Through flashbacks, director Jag Mundhra reveals how Kiranjit grew up in the Punjab in India with hopes of attending college, but was forced into an arranged marriage with Deepak, a friend of the family. While she dutifully looks after him and their two small children, he has numerous affairs with other women. But despite all of the violence inflicted on her body and psyche, Kiranjit learns from her lawyer that she cannot claim self-defense since her husband was asleep in his bed when the act occurred. As a result she is sentenced by the British High Court to life in prison.
Kiranjit's cause is taken up by a women's rights group represented by Indian-born activist Radha Dalal (Nandita Das) who is convinced that the law must be changed to accommodate those suffering from battered wife syndrome. While in prison, Kiranjit is befriended by her cellmate Veronica Scott (Miranda Richardson). Although Kiranjit tells her that she feels free for the first time in her life, Veronica contacts her brother (Robbie Coltrane), a lawyer, to handle the appeal. Thanks to the hard work of Radha and lawyer Anil Gupta (Raji James), they convince an ex-cop (Nicholas Irons) to give new evidence at the trial. Kiranjit's case soon attracts media attention.
Provoked: A True Story shows one more positive step taken by women in the face of domestic violence and male chauvinism.