K. M. Nanavati vs State Of Maharashtra


K. M. Nanavati vs State Of Maharashtra

Citations - 1962 AIR 605, 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 567

                         K. M. NANAVATI



Date- 24/11/1962

Facts -

Cdr Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati (1925–2003), a Parsi and a commander with the Indian Navy, had settled down in Mumbai with Sylvia (1931–), his English-born wife and their two sons and a daughter.

With Nanavati frequently away on assignments for long periods of time, Sylvia fell in love with Prem Bhagwan Ahuja, a friend of Nanavati"s. 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 24 May 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…" .

On 1st november, Nanavati returned home from one of his assignments and finding Sylvia aloof and distant, he questioned her. Sylvia, who now doubted Prem"s intent to marry her, confessed about the affair to her husband. Nanavati dropped his family at the Metro Cinema, for a show he had promised to take them to, but excused himself and headed straight to confront Prem Ahuja.When Sylvia was asked in court, why she went to the theatre, leaving her agitated husband behind, she answered, "I was upset myself and I did not think clearly then. I was not indifferent to my husband killing himself… It is difficult to explain these things to children, so I took them to the cinema. Nanavati went to the Naval base, collected his pistol on a false pretext from the stores along with six bus, completed his official duties and proceeded to Prem Ahuja"s office. On not finding him there, he went to Ahuja"s flat. 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 into the Deputy Commissioner of Police.

Defence Statements -

In the Bombay High Court, the defence put forth their version of the incident, for which there were no witnesses other than the two men, and no evidence. Hearing Sylvia"s confession, an enraged Nanavati wanted to shoot himself, but was calmed down by Sylvia, who told him that he is not to be blamed for this and there was no reason that he should shoot himself. Since Sylvia did not tell him whether Prem intended to marry her, Nanavati sought to find it out for himself.[1] When Nanavati met Prem at the latter"s bedroom, Prem had just come out of the bath dressed only in a towel; an angry Nanavati swore at Prem and proceeded to ask him if he intends to marry Sylvia and look after his children. Prem replied, "Will I marry every woman I sleep with?", which further enraged Nanavati. Seeing Prem go for the gun, enclosed in a brown packet, Nanavati too went for it and in the ensuing scuffle, Prem"s hand caused the gun to go off and instantly kill him.

Prosecution Statements -

On the other hand, the prosecution"s version of the story and their counter-points against the defence"s version, was based on replies by witnesses and backed by evidence. The towel that Ahuja was wearing was intact on his body and had neither loosened nor fallen off. In the case of a scuffle, it is highly improbable that the towel would have stayed intact. After Sylvia"s confession, a calm and collected Nanavati dropped his family to the theatre, drove to his naval base and according to the Navy log, had acquired a gun and rounds, under a false pretext. This indicated that the provocation was neither grave nor sudden and that Nanavati had the murder planned. Ahuja"s servant Anjani testified that two shots were fired in quick succession and the entire incident took under a minute to occur, thus ruling out a scuffle. Nanavati walked out of Ahuja"s residence, without explaining to his sister Mamie that it was an accident. He then unloaded the gun, went to the Provost Marshall and again went to the police to confess his crime, thus ruling out that he was dazed. The deputy commissioner of police testified that Nanavati confessed that he had shot dead Ahuja and even corrected the misspelling of his name in the police record.

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 24 November 1961, the Supreme Court of India upheld the conviction.

Public support-

The incident both shocked and riveted the entire country. Such a [crime of passion], as it was termed, was unusual, especially in the upper echelons of the society and that too by a highly decorated officer. People also found the unfolding relationships intriguing. For instance, Nanavati had known Ahuja for nearly 15 years and Sylvia stood by her husband after Ahuja"s murder.

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 ₹2 (3.0¢ US) per copy, up from the normal rate of 25 paise (0.37¢ US). 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 5,000 stood outside.Nanavati also received backing from the Indian Navy and the Parsi Panchayat, while the Sindhi community backed Mamie Ahuja.

Among the jurists, Ram Jethmalani led the prosecution, while Karl Khandavala represented Nanavati.


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