|K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra|
Supreme Court of India
|Decided November 11, 1961|
|Appellant Nanavati, a Naval Officer, was put up on trial under sec. 302 and 304 Part I of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for alleged murder of his wife's paramour. The High Court dismissed the earlier acquittal by a Jury Trial and convicted the accused to life imprisonment under Sec. 302 of IPC.|
|Code of Criminal Procedure(Act, 5 of 1898), 88. 307, 410, 417, 418 (1), 423(2), 297,155 (1), 162-Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act 45 of 1860), 88. 302, 300, Exception I-Indian Evidence Act,1872 (1 of 1872), 8. 105.|
K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra was a 1959 Indian court case involving Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, who was tried for shooting dead Prem Ahuja, his wife Sylvia's paramour. The incident shocked the nation, got unprecedented media coverage and inspired several books and movies. The case was not only the last jury trial held in India, but also a direct cause for the abolition of jury trials.
With Nanavati frequently away on assignments for long periods of time, the lonely Sylvia fell in love with Prem Bhagwandas Ahuja, a friend of Nanavati. Prem's sister Mamie Ahuja, in her testimony in court, stated that Prem had agreed to marry Sylvia, provided she divorced her husband. But this was contradicted by the letters written by Sylvia (admitted as Sylvia's testimony), where she expressed her desire to divorce Nanavati and marry Prem, but she doubted whether Prem had the same intentions. In a letter dated May 24, 1958, she wrote "Last night when you spoke of your marrying and the various other girls you might marry, something inside me snapped and I knew I could not bear the thought of your loving someone else…".
At Ahuja's residence, Nanavati confronted him and asked him whether he intended to marry Sylvia and accept their children. After Prem replied in the negative, three shots were fired and Prem Ahuja dropped dead. Nanavati headed straight to confess to the Provost Marshal of the Western Naval Command and on his advice, turned himself in to the Deputy Commissioner of Police.
The jury in the Greater Bombay sessions court pronounced Nanavati as not guilty, with an 8–1 verdict. The sessions judge considered the acquittal as perverse and referred the case to the high court. The prosecution argued that the jury had been misled by the presiding judge on four crucial points. One, the onus of proving that it was an accident and not premeditated murder was on Nanavati. Two, was Sylvia's confession the grave provocation for Nanavati, or any specific incident in Ahuja's bedroom or both. Three, the judge wrongly told the jury that the provocation can also come from a third person. And four, the jury was not instructed that Nanavati's defence had to be proved, to the extent that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. The court accepted the arguments, dismissed the jury's verdict and the case was freshly heard in the high court. Since the jury had also been influenced by media and public support for Nanavati and was also open to being misled, the Indian government abolished jury trials after this case.
The high court agreed with the prosecution's argument that the murder was premeditated and sentenced Nanavati to life imprisonment for culpable homicide amounting to murder. On November 24, 1961, the Supreme Court of India upheld the conviction.
The weekly tabloid Blitz, run by R. K. Karanjia, a Parsi himself, publicised the story, ran exclusive cover stories and openly supported Nanavati, portraying him as a wronged husband and upright officer, betrayed by a close friend. Blitz painted Nanavati's image, as that of a man representing the ideal middle class values as against Ahuja's playboy image, that symbolised the corruption and sleaze of the bourgeois. A copy of Blitz during the trial sold for Rs.2/- per copy, up from the normal rate of 25 Paise or 0.25 rupee. Peddlers on the street sold Ahuja Towels and toy Nanavati Revolvers.
Influential Parsis held regular rallies in Mumbai, with the largest being an event held at Cowasji Jehangir Hall, to support the Governor's decree that suspended Nanavati's life sentence and put him under naval custody, until his appeal was heard by the Supreme Court. At that rally, 3,500 people filled the hall and around 5000 stood outside. Nanavati also received backing from the Indian Navy and the Parsi Panchayat, while the Sindhi community backed Mamie Ahuja. Even among the jurists, Ram Jethmalani, a Sindhi, consulted the prosecution, while Karl Khandavala, a Parsi, represented Nanavati.
At the same time, the government received an application for pardon from Bhai Pratap, a Sindhi trader and a participant in the Indian independence movement, who was convicted for misusing an import license, but exonerated by a government inquiry. The prosecution working with Ram Jethmalani, the Defence's counsel, got Prem's sister Mamie Ahuja to forgive Nanavati and give her assent for his pardon, in writing. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, then governor of Maharashtra, pardoned Bhai Pratap and Nanavati on the same day.
Yeh Raaste hain Pyar ke, a 1963 suspense thriller, directed by R.K. Nayyar depicting Sunil Dutt as Nanavati, Leela Naidu as Sylvia and Rehman as Prem was the first Bollywood film to exploit the case, but flopped at the box office. The film closely followed the actual case, with even the cast being chosen for their close resemblance to their real-life counterparts. But in the end, Sunil Dutt (Nanavati) shoots both his wife and her paramour.
Achanak, a 1973 crime drama, written and directed by Gulzar, depicting Vinod Khanna as Nanavati, Lily Chakravarty as Sylvia and Om Shivpuri as Prem, echoed the case and was a box-office hit. In the film, Vinod Khanna, who plays an upright army officer, receives a death sentence but its execution remains inconclusive.
Besides a Hindi book titled Nanavati ka Mukadama (Nanavati's trial), Anglo-Indian novelist Indra Sinha's The Death of Mr Love is a fictional account based on the murder. The book, spanning four decades between the 1950s to 1990s, tells the story of Mrs.S, the second woman besides Sylvia, with whom Prem had a physical relationship. In the title, Love is the literal translation of Prem, Ahuja's first name.
Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children, which features many major political events in India in the 60s and 70s has a scene in which a naval officer discovers his wife has been having an affair, confronts her lover, who is an old friend of his, and shoots him.
Courtroom Drama Landmark judicial decisions changed the Constitution as well as everyday life. Their impact still echoes.
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