Archive for jury trial

A Crime of Passion

Posted in India, Law with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by salaamreaders

Kawas Nanavati

It was while studying at law school, that, I first came across the Nanavati case. A naval officer had shot his friend dead over the said friend’s proximity to his wife and turned himself in to the police. This was in Bombay in 1959. The prosecution alleged that it was a case of premeditated murder while the defence pleaded a sudden and grave provocation for the act. The case had gained widespread media attention, unprecedented in those days. Here was a handsome naval officer, obliged by duty to be absent frequently from his home, wronged by his own wife and friend! There couldn’t be two guesses regarding who the public thought was the villain. It did not help either that the wife was English. It was only natural for the Navy to close ranks behind Commander Nanavati, for how could martial men countenance such a slur on their izzat? And did their brother-in-arm not conduct himself like an officer and a gentleman by redeeming his honour and submitting to the law? The Parsis were livid. How could he, such a nice dikra, be accused of murder when his wife was cheating on him while he was protecting the nation? Blitz, then a popular weekly tabloid ran a tireless campaign for him.  It was no surprise when the jury did not find him guilty of murder. The trial judge, however, found their opinion perverse and eventually the accused was convicted and sentenced by the higher courts.

As law students, we were looking at the legal issues only.  We debated long, and hard, on whether the facts established premeditated intent (he had dropped his family at a cinema before going to his ship for his revolver and then proceeding to his friend’s house to ask if he would marry his wife)? The alternative theory was that the act would fall in Exception I to section 300 of the IPC, if it could be proved that it was due to a sudden and grave provocation (his friend, on being confronted over the alleged affair had retorted, “Will I marry every woman I sleep with?”).  The case was important for another reason also. It resulted in abolition of the jury system in India as it was thought that the jury could be swayed easily by media publicity.

Sylvia Nanavati

Whatever be the legal position, there is no gainsaying that the unfortunate case is a tragic reminder of how emotions, lurking deep beneath the facade of our seemingly happy lives, can sometimes overpower our reason. Here were three well-educated, respectable and prosperous persons. It did not appear that they should be lacking in anything. Then what went wrong in their lives? Sylvia, the wife, was apparently deeply in love with Prem Ahuja, the deceased who was also a friend of her husband. She wrote to him in one of her letters that “…Don’t ever let me go, my darling and please don’t ever stop loving me. I do crazy things sometimes and can’t always show you how much you mean to me, but one day, my love, I will show you that you are more than life to me and dearer to me than anyone…” It was a long letter, every paragraph showing how much she loved him. In other circumstances, such deep feelings of love would be considered incredibly romantic, even noble, but here they had engendered such tragic consequences!

It was much later that Commander Nanavati was to write to someone that “To you……my case is a story of some interest. To me, what happened is a sorry part of my life which I wish to forget…..” How poignant! It is not only because of the legal wrangle that the case has stayed with me, refusing to go away from the mind. The frailty of human relationships it demonstrates, sometimes wrenches the heart too. What became of Nanavati, Sylvia and their children? Who can say who the victims really were?

Credit: The pictures from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KM_Nanavati_v_State_of_Maharashtra and quotations from www.hindustantimes.com are gratefully acknowledged.

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