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Politics & War

Politics & War

Commander K.M. Nanavati

Commander K.M. Nanavati






  • Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati (1925–2003), a Parsi, was a Commander with the Indian Navy and had settled down in Mumbai with Sylvia.
  • With Nanavati frequently away on assignments for long periods of time, Sylvia fell in love with Prem Bhagwan Ahuja, a Sindhi friend of Nanavati‘s.
  • On April 27, 1959, Sylvia confessed to Nanavati of her illicit intimacy with Ahuja.


  • Kawas went to Ahuja’s home, armed with a revolver. He barged into Ahuja’s bedroom, and shut the door behind him. Ahuja had just emerged from a bath and was combing his hair in front of his dressing table mirror; he had nothing but a towel on.
  • Three gunshots were heard going off inside the room. When Kawas came out, Ahuja was sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood. • As modern India’s first upper-class crime of passion, the Nanavati case held the nation in thrall


  • Thereafter, the accused surrendered himself to the police. He was put under arrest and in due course he was committed to the Sessions for facing a charge under s. 302 of the Indian Penal code.
  • The defence put on full display letters written to Ahuja by his besotted lovers. Her adultery triggered a murder case which ended the jury system in India; set off a fractious turf war between the judiciary and the executive.


  • The jury in the Greater Bombay Sessions Court had only task: to pronounce a person as ‘Guilty’ or ‘Not Guilty’ under the charges. They could not indict any accused nor could punish the accused.
  • The jury in the Greater Bombay sessions court pronounced Nanavati as not guilty under section 302 under which Nanavati was charged, with an 8–1 verdict.
  • The Bombay high court dismissed the jury’s verdict and the case was freshly heard in the high court.It was claimed that jury had been influenced by media and was open to being misled, the Government of India abolished jury trials soon after.




  • 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.
  • Among the jurists, Ram Jethmalani led the prosecution, while Karl Khandalavala represented Nanavati.
  • Influential Parsis held regular rallies in Mumbai, 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.


  • During the time of Nanavati’s trial and sentencing, Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister of India and his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, was governor of Bombay state.
  • 11 March 1960: Bombay High Court finds Nanavati guilty of murdering Ahuja and sentences him to life in prison .
  • Within four hours, the governor of Bombay state issues unprecedented order suspending the sentence until Nanavati’s appeal to the Supreme Court is disposed of.


  • 5 Sept 1960: The Supreme Court concludes that the governor “overreached” his powers and strikes down his suspension of Nanavati’s sentence
  • 8 Sept 1960: Nanavati is transferred from naval custody to a civilian prison
  • Oct 1963: Nanavati gets parole on health grounds and is moved to a bungalow at a hill resort
  • 16 Mar 1964: Nanavati is pardoned by the governor of the new Maharashtra state, Vijaylakshmi Pandit
  • 1968: Nanavati and his family – wife and three children – emigrate to Canada