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K M Nanavati V State of maharashtra
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Brief

Citation: AIR 1962 SC 605
Court: The Supreme Court of India
Date of judgment: 24 November 1961
Parties involved: K.M. Nanavati (Petitioner) and State of Maharashtra (Respondent)
Bench: K.Subbarao, S.K. Das, Raghubar Dayal

Introduction

“Adultery occurs in the head long before it occurs in the bed” Chuck Swindoll. As modern India’s
first upper-class crime of passion, the K.M Nanavati case held the nation in thrall. One the most
high profile cases which India has witnessed, two people in marriage make it a good marriage but
a third in a marriage makes it a bad marriage as it only requires two to tango. This extramarital affair
led to the infamous murder of Prem Ahuja by K.M. Nanavati. A lot of coverage was given to this
high profile murder mystery case as it turned into a war between two communities Parsi versus
Sindhi.
Before this very case, India had the jury trial system but because of the way the jury reacted towards
the case was the reason why India no more has a jury trial system, the jury was extremely
sympathetic towards K.M.Nanavati and portrayed him to be as lord Ram who had come to destroy
Prem Ahuja just as lord Ram had to destroy Ravana.

Background And Facts

Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati 1925-2003 he was a Parsi who was a commander in the Indian Navy,
He was second in command of the Naval Ship in Mysore. he lived in Mumbai with his English born
wife Sylvia and their two sons and a daughter. Sylvia Nanavati was born and raised in Portsmouth,
England, United Kingdom. She had met Kawas in her hometown where he was undergoing training
at a Royal British Navy Facility, she fell in love with him and they both returned to India and got
married. They both were quite popular at social parties, the six feet tall naval officer and his
beautiful English wife also known as the “perfect couple”.
Their life and marriage were going well till Sylvia met Prem Ahuja a handsome rich, womaniser
flamboyant Sindhi businessman in Bombay, Prem Ahuja was a charming bachelor every woman
dreamt of being with him, he wooed Sylvia by sending her invitations to parties and soulful
conversations during long and intimate drivers they shared, eventually Sylvia and Prem became
lovers, Apparently it was her loneliness which triggered her friendship and affair with Prem, as her
husband use to remain away for long periods on his Naval duty. Sylvia was said to be more in love
with Prem Ahuja than he was with her. At a certain point, it seemed like Sylvia was going to divorce
K.M.Nanavati and would marry Prem Ahuja.
On April 27 1959, K.M Nanavati had just got back from voyage, he and Sylvia were spending the
day together they went shopping after which they got tickets for a movie and during this course
their beloved dog had fallen ill hence took him to the hospital then they got home and had prawn
rice. When K.M Nanavati went too close to his wife she told him not to touch her as she did not like
it that is when Sylvia confessed to him of her illicit intimacy with Prem Ahuja, Sylvia had a
revelation as to she was doing something wrong and because of what she was doing it would ruin
her whole family and their life hence she confessed to her husband. K.M Nanavati was furious but
he did not say anything, he dropped his whole family and their neighbours child to the movies and
promised to come back and pick them after the movie ends.
In the meantime he presented himself to the authorities in the ship on the account that he wanted to
draw a revolver and six rounds from the stores of the ship as he was going travel alone to
Ahmednagar at night, his true purpose to draw the revolver was to shoot himself. After receiving the
revolver and six cartridges he put them inside a brown envelope, later he dropped his wife and
children home, then he straightforward went to Prem Ahuja’s office and he was not there hence he
went to his house. He carried the envelope with him and he barged into Prem Ahuja’s bedroom and
shut the door behind him. Prem Ahuja had just emerged from a bath and was combing his hair in
front of his dressing table mirror and he was not dressed all he had on was a towel. K.M Nanavati
called Prem Ahuja a filthy swine and asked him whether he would marry Sylvia and look after their
children, to which Prem Ahuja responded “Am I to marry every woman I sleep with” on hearing
this K.M Nanavati was enraged and placed the envelop on a cabinet nearby and threatened to beat
him.
Prem Ahuja made a sudden move to grab the envelope when K.M Nanavati told him to get back, a
struggle ensued between three gunshots were heard going off inside the room, when K.M Nanavati
came out of the room, Prem Ahuja was sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood. K.M Nanavati
drove straight to the police station where he surrendered himself. K.M Nanavati was declared not
guilty by a jury verdict of 8:1, however the sessions judge disagreed with the decision of the jury
and strongly believed that no reasonable body of men could reach this verdict based on the evidence
produced hence the matter was referred to the High Court which held K.M Nanavati guilty further
this appeal was made to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India by special leave.

Issues raised

The learned counsel for the accused raised the following issues:

  • under section 307 of CrPC, the High Court has no jurisdiction to go through the evidence to
    decide the competency of the reference made by the session judges.
  • Under section 307(3) of CrPC, the High Court has no power to set aside the verdict of the jury on
    the grounds of misdirection in charge.
  • There are no misdirections in the charge.
  • The verdict given by the jury was such that it could be reached by a body of reasonable men
    based on evidence produced before them.
  • The accused/appellant had shot the deceased under grave and sudden provocation and therefore
    he did not commit murder but culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The argument of the petitioner

The argument in front of the Supreme Court, K.M Nanavati said that the High Court is not
empowered by section 307 to set aside the verdict of the jury trial. It was also argued that if the
murder was committed by K.M Nanavati then it should not come under 302 but under 304 as he
was not in his right mind while doing so, it happened in the heat of the moment and hence it should
come under culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Whether a reasonable man belonging to
the same class of the society as the accused when placed under the same situation would be so
provoked as to lose his self control. For instance in India gestures, words and mental background
created by the previous act of the victim may also be considered. The fatal blow should be clearly
traced to the provocation, influence of passion arising from and not after passion has cooled down
by lapse of time or otherwise giving scope for premeditation and calculation.
K.M Nanavati on hearing his wife’s confession of her illicit intimacy with Prem Ahuja, simply
wanted to kill himself but his wife calmed him down. Sylvia did not clearly state if Prem Ahuja
intended to marry her and take care of their children hence K.M Nanavati intended to find answers
to these questions himself by confronting Prem Ahuja. Later he dropped his family and neighbours
children to the movies and went to go get medicines for their sick dog, further he drove to the ship
and presented himself in front of the authorities as he wanted to issue an revolver and 6 cartridges
from the store of the ship for him to p keep with him as he was going travel alone to Ahmednagar at
night but his true intention was to kill himself using the revolver.
After receiving the revolver and cartridges he put them inside a brown envelope and then straight
drove to Prem Ahuja’s office but he was not there so he drove to his residence. A servant opened the
door and K.M Nanavati straight up walked into the bedroom and shut the door behind him, he was
also carrying the brown envelope with him containing the revolver. On entering the room Prem
Ahuja was combing his hair in front of the mirror when K.M Nanavati called him a filthy swine and
asked him whether he would marry Sylvia and take care of their children that is when Prem Ahuja
replied “am I to marry every woman I sleep with” this is what enraged K.M Nanavati and he put the
envelope on a near by cabinet and threatened to beat him. Prem Ahuja made a sudden move to grab
the envelope that is when K.M Nanavati removed the revolver and told him to get back.
A physical struggle was there between them two and during this struggle two shots went off which
accidentally hit Prem Ahuja and killed him on the spot. After the shooting K.M Nanavati
straightforward drove to the authorities and surrendered himself, the accused shot Prem Ahuja under
sudden and grave provocation and therefore if he had committed an offence it would not amount to
murder but would amount to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Arguments of the defendant

K.M Nanavati was away on his ship from April 6, 1959 to 18, 1959. as soon as he returned to
Bombay he and his wife Sylvia travelled to Ahmednagar for three days in the company of his
younger brother and his sister-in-law, after which they all returned to Bombay and after a few days
his brother and wife left them. After his brother left he noticed that his wife was behaving
differently and was not affectionate and responsive towards his affection towards her, when she
would be questioned she would not answer to the issue.
On April 27, 1959 the two were sitting in the sitting room to have lunch during which he put his
arm around his wife with affection, that is when she became unresponsive and uncomfortable. Later
on he questioned her on fidelity she simply shook her head to indicate that she was unfaithful to
him and that is when he assumed her affair was with Prem Ahuja. Sylvia did not clearly answer as
to if Prem Ahuja had any intentions to marry her and look after their children hence he took it upon
himself to get answers to his questions by directly confronting Prem Ahuja, Sylvia begged him not
to go to Prem Ahuja’s house as he might cause harm to him.
The contention raised was that Prem Ahuja had just emerged out of his bath wearing nothing but
just a towel and when his body was discovered sprawled in a pool of blood his towel was as it is, it
was intact nor had it come off or neither was it loose or moved in any way as it would have if there
was any physical struggle between them two. K.M Nanavati even after hearing Sylvias confession
looked collected and neutral in the movie hall while he was there to drop his family and neighbours
children, after which he went to his ship to issue a revolver under falls pretext of travelling alone to
Ahmednagar. After hearing the confession and having enough time to leave his family to the movies
and then issuing a revolver indicates that he had enough time to calm himself and gather his
thoughts together, he was not provoked immediately and he had enough time to think it through
hence it was a premeditated.
A natural witness to the incident was the servant working at Prem Ahuja’s house, Anjani the servant
who was present in the house when the incident took place, testified that four continuous shots were
fired in the bedroom and it all had occurred in less than a minute hence it indicates that there was
not enough time for them to have a physical struggle hence scuffle between is to be ruled out. After
exiting the bedroom K.M Nanavati did not explain himself to anyone present in the house he
straightforward went to the authorities and confessed, the deputy commissioner of police testified
that K.M Nanavati came to the authorities and confessed that he had shot Prem Ahuja. K.M
Nanavati was completely in his senses according to the authorities as he even corrected the
misspelling of his name in the police record which clearly indicates that he was in his right mind
and not dazed.

Analysis

This case is clearly of the ill fated, in my opinion K.M Nanavati could have avoided this while
situation if he had not gone over to Prem Ahuja’s house. He should have met him in a public setting
where the situation might have been controlled and not end in such unfortunate result. The decision
which the trail court gave was not accurate as emotions clearly took over the jury which resulted in
misguiding their decision, the public and the jury simply painted a picture as to K.M Nanavati being
lord Ram who simply wanted to destroy the evil as lord Ram did to Ravana. Comparing the accused
and lord Ram was completely irrelevant as one is a tail of time and one is the reality. In my opinion
the jury should have been reasonable rather than letting a person who had committed a crime
because we never know a similar situation might have occurred in the future and the criminal would
be let go again if the jury was influenced by emotions hence it was reasonable to put an end to the
jury system as in the recent times it is easy to influence and corrupt them.
The accused was charged under 302 and 304 part I of the Indian Penal Code, the jury brought in a
verdict of “not guilty” by 8:1 under both the sections which I believe to be unreasonable, the
sessions judge did not agree with the verdict of jury as in his view the majority verdict of the jury
was such that no reasonable body of men could have in regard to the evidence bring in such a
verdict. The learned sessions judge submitted the case under 307 of the code of criminal procedure
to the Bombay High Court after recording the grounds for his 6 opinions. The high Courts decision
was completely right and I absolutely agree with the decision, the bench of the High Court
consisting of Shelat and Naik,JJ. The two learned judges gave separate judgements but they both
agreed in holding the accused guilty of the offence of murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal
Code and hence sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life. This decision should
have been given by the jury as well as it was the right thing to do rather than getting emotional and
sympathising with the accused. It is natural for Indians to be emotional as they have grave respect
for men in uniform who serve their nation.
When the case was filed in the Supreme Court the defence counsel said that the High Court under
section 307(3) of the said code that the High Court had no power to set aside the verdict which was
given by the jury on the ground that there were misdirections in the charge made by the sessions
judge. The explanation which the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave was extremely logical and right and
I agree with it as it was abiding to the law. The Supreme Court clearly stated that the deceased had
seduced the wife of the accused and that when she confessed of her illicit intimacy with the
deceased, it was natural that the accused was enraged at the conduct of the deceased and hence he
had sufficient motive to do away with the deceased. Therefore he had intentionally secured the
revolver under false pretext from the ship and drove to the flat of the deceased, entered the bedroom
of the deceased with the loaded revolver in hand and after a few minutes came out with the revolver
in his hand and straightforward drove to the authorities and confessed of his crime.
On the other hand the description of there being struggle between them in the bathroom was
completely made up and devoid of all necessary particulars, as the injuries found on the body were
consistent with the intentional shooting which proves the victim and the assailant were in close
grips. Hence the Hon’ble Court held that the conduct of the accused clearly shows that the murder
was calculated and deliberate one and the facts of the case do not attract the provisions of
exceptions 1 of section 300 of IPC as the accused had failed to bring the case under general
exception of IPC by adducing evidence and as the result of this the conviction of the accused under
section 302 of the Indian Penal Code was sentenced to imprisonment for life. I agree with the
decision which the High Court and the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave as it was the right decision
abusing with law, if emotions were to give justice then we would have many criminals out and
about roaming freely in the society and this would only prove that the justice system in India was
weak and anyone could easily get away with doing as they please.

Conclusion

“Don’t let your emotions get the best of you and blind you from the truth” Seohyun. I would like to
conclude by saying that yes, your emotions do get the best of you but you must never turn an blind
eye towards the truth as truth must always prevail for us to have a just and law abiding society
because without the law and order we would simply be vultures. Putting an end to the jury trail was
a reasonable decision as the court is like a camera and the presenters are actors who try to sell their
lies and who acts the best is bound to influence the audience highly. K.M Nanavati a highly
distinguished man of honour also succumbed to his emotions and pulled the trigger, it does not
matter what influenced his actions but what matters the most is the road he chose to deal with the
situation.
Sylvia and Prem Ahuja were both irresponsible adults. Sylvia should have been a reasonable
woman as she was wide aware of Prem Ahuja’s character as he was famous rich womaniser. Merely
being lonely is no reason to start an affair as in India most of the men are in the defence forces and
other forces which maintain law and order and hence they have to be away from their families. The
serve the nation as well as work hard to provide for their families, mere loneliness is no reason to
start an affair. This loneliness would definitely lead to more cases like this very case. A human
being should always think and be reasonable before taking any steps as one wrong step may lead to
many unfortunate events and life on which one might not have any control.

References

https://lexquest.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/KM-Nanavati-v-State-of-Maharashtra.pdf

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