KM Nanavati v/s the State of Maharashtra is one of the sensational court cases to have been tried by the Bombay High Court.
The enigma of the case has drawn quite a few adaptations of the case into literary texts like Indira Sinha’s The Death of Mr Love, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (a chapter) and now Akshay Kumar‘s Rutsom, on which the entire film is based.
Commander Kawas Maneksaw Nanavati, a Parsi by birth, was a part of the Indian Navy and had settled down with his English wife, Sylvia and their two sons and a daughter in Bombay.
Nanavati’s frequent staying away on assignments had Sylvia falling in love with a friend of her husband, Prem Ahuja. She wanted to divorce her husband and marry her lover, but Prem didn’t have the same intentions. This was proven by the many letters Sylvia wrote, and was brought forward as a part of her testimony later.
On April 27, 1959, when Nanavati came back from an assignment and found Sylvia quite distraught, he asked her the reason behind the same. Sylvia came clean about the affair and also voiced her doubt that Prem might not reciprocate her feelings by marrying her and accepting her children.
Nanavati dropped his family at Metro cinema, and drove up to the Naval base and collected his pistol and six cartridges under a false pretext, was the prosecution’s argument. The prosecution’s contention over here was how could Sylvia leave her husband in such an agitated state, to which she replied, “I was not indifferent to my husband killing himself, but then it’s difficult to explain such things to the children. So I took them to the cinema.”
Meanwhile, Nanavati went to Prem’s office and then to his flat. Once there, Nanavati asked Prem if he intended to marry Sylvia and accept their children. When Prem refused to take any responsibility for the affair, Nanavati shot him three times, killing him. Akshay Kumar’s Rustom uses that as its tagline: “3 Shots That Shook The Nation”.
Nanavati turned himself in in front of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, after confessing his crime to the Provost Marshal of the Western Naval Command. It was in fact the Marshal who advised him to surrender himself.
Nanavati had the reputation of being a patriotic, morally upright officer of the Navy, who did not have any prior history of criminal charges. Prem had supposedly responded to Nanavati’s question of marrying Sylvia and accepting her children with a “Should I marry every woman I sleep with?”, before Nanavati shot him. Seeing a wronged husband in front of them, the jury sympathised with the accused and ruled in his favour, 8 to 1.
There were no witnesses in the Nanavati case. There were only two people in the room when the incident happened; one of whom was dead. It was practically Nanavati’s word against the world’s.
The victim’s sister Mamie Ahuja and the prosecution contested the fact that what Nanavati had done was not because he lost his self-control after discovering the truth about his wife’s affair. Their stance was that the murder was premeditated, and committed in cold blood. With this argument, the then-young lawyer Ram Jethmalani, assisting in the prosecution, appealed to the Bombay High Court.
The Bombay High Court found Nanavati guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. He appealed the sentence in the Supreme Court, which upheld the decision of the High Court in November 1961. Meanwhile, a tabloid called Blitz was championing Nanavati’s cause, and the case caught the public imagination in such a way that 25p copy sold for Rs 2 apiece.
This case led to some unrest between the Parsi and the Sindhi communities in Mumbai. While Nanavati belonged to the Parsi community, Ahuja was a Sindhi. Around the same time, Maharashtra Governor Vijaylakshmi Pandit (who was Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister) received a mercy petition for Bhai Pratap, a prominent Sindhi businessman dealing in import-export of sports goods. Bureaucrats agreed that he could be pardoned. KM Nanavati walked in the same circles as the Gandhi-Nehru family, and thus found favour from the newly-appointed Governor.
Vijaylakshmi Pandit pounced on the chance and said that Bhai Pratap would be pardoned after Nanavati was pardoned. This would ensure that both the Parsi and Sindhi communities are happy. Ram Jethmalani’s job was to convince the victim’s sister, Mamie Ahuja.
Mamie Ahuja finally gave in to the Government’s request, and KM Nanavati was released after spending three years in jail. Nanavati left for Canada with his wife and two children shortly after and was never heard of again. He passed away in 2003. Sylvia and their three children continue to survive him.
Source : Indiatoday