One of the most popular landmark cases in the history of the judiciary as it
was the last case ever to be tried before a Jury as this case resulted in the
downfall f the jury system in India. A lot of authors have been inspired by the
case and rounded up by writing books on it. The 2016 Bollywood film "Rustom", is
one of my favorite films on the topic of law.
Pooja Bhatt's film "Love Affair" was also based on this case.
Several important legal issues were raised in this case but the most important
point among them was the concept of "grave and sudden provocation"
This article gives a detailed analysis of the case.
In this case, accused K.M. Nanavati was second in command of an Indian Naval
ship. He married Sylvia in 1949 in the registry office in Portsmouth, England.
Since the time of marriage, the couple was living in different places because of
the nature of the job of K.M. Nanavati. After all, they finally shifted to
Where they met Prem Ahuja and his sister through the Agniks the common friend of
Ahuja and Nanavati. As a Naval officer, Nanavati was frequently going away from
Bombay on his ship leaving his wife and children behind. In his absence
friendship developed between Sylvia and Ahuja which later on took the form of an
illicit relationship. On 18 April 1959 Nanavati returned from his ship. After
returning, he tried to be affectionate with his wife on several occasions, but
she behaved strangely toward him.
On 27th April 1959, Sylvia tells Nanavati about her relationship with Ahuja. Due
to this Nanavati was angered and decided to settle that Matter with Ahuja. After
this, he drove his car to his ship and from there, he took a semi-Automatic
revolver and six cartridges and put them in the brown envelope on the false
Then he went to Ahuja's Office, but not finding him there Nanavati went to his
house and he entered his bedroom of Ahuja and shut it from inside. Nanavati
asked Ahuja if he would marry Sylvia and care for his children. Ahuja replied,
"Am I married to every woman I sleep with?" Then a fight occurs between Ahuja
and Nanavati, in this Nanavati shot Ahuja. After this, he surrendered himself to
the nearby police station. A case was filed against K.M. Nanavati.
Arguments on behalf of the petitioner:
- Whether it was a grave and sudden provocation or whether it was a
premeditated murder by the accused?
- Whether SLP can be entertained without fulfilling the order under
Article 142? 3. Whether the pardoning power of the governor and SLP move
Arguments on behalf of the respondent
- The petitioner argued that K.M.Nanavati wanted to commit suicide when he
heard his wife Sylvia's confession but then he decided to ask Ahuja whether
he wanted to marry Sylvia or not as her wife calmed him down. He buys three
tickets to the movie theatre for his wife and two children and then he
drives his car toward his ship.
- He wanted a revolver and six bullets from the ship's store and he
informed the ship authorities about it. He was going to Ahmednagar at night
alone as he intended to shoot himself. He carried the revolver and the six
bullets in a brown envelope.
- Nanavati drove his car towards Ahuja's workplace but after not finding
him there he went to his residence. He was welcomed by a servant and then he
went to his bedroom carrying the brown envelope. He asked him whether he
would marry Sylvia and take care of his children and to that Ahuja replied
"Should I marry every woman I sleep with?".
- Nanavati got furious and threatened to kill Ahuja and stored the
envelope in a neighboring cabinet but the deceased suddenly snatched the
envelope and Nanavati took his revolver out and asked him to return the
envelope. They started to fight among themselves and two rounds accidentally
fell, killing Ahuja.
- After the incident he drove to a nearby police station and surrendered
himself. Hence the council argued that it was not murder but it was culpable
homicide not amounting to murder as the incident occurred under grave and
Verdict of Hon'ble High Court
- The council's first argument was that the deceased was in a towel when
he came out of the shower and the towel was still wrapped around him when he
was found dead. It begged the question that why the towel didn't come of the
deceased or didn't even loosen up a bit if they had a scuffle between them.
- The council also stated that the incident couldn't have occurred under
grave and sudden provocation as after the confession, Sylvia calmed him
down, and then the accused gathered his family, dropped them off at the
movie theater, went to his ship's store, took the revolver and then after
not finding the deceased at his office, he went to his home. This proves
that the accused had enough cooling time, that the provocation was not
sudden or serious, and that it was a premeditated murder.
- During the incident occurred, Ahuja's servant, Anjani who was present in
that house testified that in under a minute, four shots were fired excluding
the fight between them.
- Ahuja's sister, Mamie was also present in that house and was present in
the other room and Nanavati left that house without telling her that it was
- According to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Nanavati admitted to
shooting Ahuja and even rectified the misspelling of his name in the police
record, demonstrating Nanavati's ability to think normally.
- K.M.Nanavati was found guilty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code
and was sentenced to life imprisonment by a division of a bench consisting
of two High Court judges.
- Sylvia's confession, any specific incident in Ahuja's bedroom, or both
did not amount to the grave and sudden provocation.
- The jury was not instructed that Nanavati's defense had to be proved, to
the extent that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable
person and the accused was held liable.
An Appeal was made by the accused under the supreme court of India and here
is the verdict of the Supreme Court.
Verdict of Hon'ble Supreme Court
The Supreme court ruled that the judgment given by the high court is justifiable
and the following are the reasons:
- The Hon'ble court noted that the accused had regained self-control as
there was enough time lapse between the confession and the incident and that
he was also thinking about his family's future.
- The Hon'ble court concluded that no reasonable man would have reached
the same judgment as the jury based on the facts and evidence. At first,
Nanavati dropped his family in the cinema hall, took the revolver from his
ship, went to his house, marched into his bedroom carrying the revolver and
After the incident, he didn't even tell anyone that it was an accident until
his trial. Thus Nanavati had the mentality of someone who had planned and
taken vengeance on his wife's lover.
- The Court concurred with the High Court's conclusions about the Judge's
allegation of misdirection. It noted that the question of whether a
misdirection tainted the jury's verdict must be considered in light of the
likely impact that the misdirection had on the lay jury. The Supreme Court
went on to say that the purpose of the judge's charge to the jury is to
explain and present the facts and circumstances of the case to them. The
Judge's job is to make sure that the jury understands the law and its
ramifications, as well as to present all of the evidence to them so that
they can make the best conclusion possible.
- Supreme Court held that the application made to the governor for pardon
and the SLP cannot proceed parallelly. If SLP is filed, then the power of
the governor in such case shall be ceased.
Although it was not the last case to be tried by a jury, the Nanavati case is
considered one of the leading factors for the end of jury trials.
Even in today's world, the media is blamed and accused of conducting a 'trial'
of the accused by giving a 'verdict' before the court's judgment. There is
always a negative influence of the media and it hinders the purpose of justice.
The verdict in the Nanavati case
should be respected and it should be
taken into consideration by the courts. The legislation should strengthen its
laws against the malefactors.
The principle of natural justice and rule of law should be upheld during trials.
The main takeaway from this case is that no matter in what position the accused
is in, no matter if the public is with the accused or deceased, the nature of
the crime will be the leading factor in the judgment of the Hon'ble courts.