K. M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra [1962 SC]

This appeal by special leave arises out of the judgment of the Bombay High Court sentencing Nanavati, the appellant, to life imprisonment for the murder of Prem Bhagwandas Ahuja, a businessman of Bombay.

The case of the prosecution may be stated thus: The accused, at the time of the alleged murder, was second in command of the Indian Naval Ship “Mysore”. He married Sylvia in 1949 in the registry office at Portsmouth, England. They have three children. Finally, they shifted to Bombay. In the same city deceased Ahuja was doing business in automobiles and was residing, along with his sister. Ahuja was unmarried and was about 34 years of age at the time of his death. Nanavati, as a Naval Officer, was frequently going away from Bombay in his ship, leaving his wife and children in Bombay. Gradually, friendship developed between Ahuja and Sylvia, which culminated in illicit intimacy between them.

On April 27, 1959, Sylvia confessed to Nanavati of her illicit intimacy with Ahuja. Enraged at the conduct of Ahuja, Nanavati went to his ship, took from the stores of the ship a semi-automatic revolver and six cartridges on a false pretext, loaded the same, went to the flat of Ahuja, entered his bed-room and shot him dead. Thereafter, the accused surrendered himself to the police.

From consideration of the evidence, the following facts emerge: The deceased seduced the wife of the accused. She had confessed to him of her illicit intimacy with the deceased. It was natural that the accused was enraged at the conduct of the deceased and had, therefore, sufficient motive to do away with the deceased. He deliberately secured the revolver on a false pretext from the ship, drove to the flat of Ahuja, entered his bed-room unceremoniously with a loaded revolver in hand and in about a few seconds thereafter came out with the revolver in his hand. The deceased was found dead in his bath-room with bullet injuries on his body. It is not disputed that the bullets that caused injuries to Ahuja emanated from the revolver that was in the hand of the accused. After the shooting, till his trial in the Sessions Court, he did not tell anybody that he shot the deceased by accident. Indeed, he confessed his guilt to the chowkidar Puran Singh and practically admitted the same to his college Samuel. His description of the struggle in the bath-room is highly artificial and is devoid of all necessary particulars. The injuries found on the body of the deceased are consistent with the intentional shooting and the main injuries are wholly inconsistent with accidental shooting when the victim and the assailant were in close grips. The other circumstances brought out in the evidence also establish that there could not have been any fight or struggle between the accused and the deceased.

We, therefore, unhesitatingly hold, agreeing with the High Court, that the prosecution has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the accused has intentionally shot the deceased and killed him.

Even so it is contended that the accused shot the deceased while deprived of the power of self-control by sudden and grave provocation and, therefore, the offence would fall under Exception 1 to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code.

Homicide is the killing of a human being by another. Under this exception, culpable homicide is not murder if the following conditions are complied with: (1) The deceased must have given provocation to the accused. (2) The provocation must be grave. (3) The provocation must be sudden. (4) The offender, by reason of the said provocation, shall have been deprived of his power of self-control. (5) He should have killed the deceased during the continuance of the deprivation of the power of self-control. (6) The offender must have caused the death of the person who gave the provocation or that of any other person by mistake or accident.

The first question raised is whether Ahuja gave provocation to Nanavati within the meaning of the exception and whether the provocation, if given by him, was grave and sudden.

The question that the Court has to consider is whether a reasonable person placed in the same position as the accused was, would have reacted to the confession of adultery by his wife in the manner in which the accused did.

The authors of the Indian Penal Code observed:

It is an indisputable fact, that gross insults by words or gestures have as great a tendency to move many persons to violent passion as dangerous or painful bodily injuries; nor does it appear to us that passion excited by insult is entitled to less indulgence than passion excited by pain.

Indian courts have not maintained distinction between words and acts in the application of the doctrine of provocation in a given case. The Indian law on the subject may be considered from two aspects, namely, (1) whether words or gestures unaccompanied by acts can amount to provocation and (2) what is the effect of the time lag between the act of provocation and the commission of the offence.

Is there any standard of a reasonable man for the application of the doctrine of “grave and sudden” provocation? No abstract standard of reasonableness can be laid down. What a reasonable man will do in certain circumstances depends upon the customs, manners, way of life, traditional values etc.; in short, the cultural, social and emotional background of the society to which an accused belongs.

In our vast country there are social groups ranging from the lowest to the highest state of civilization. It is neither possible nor desirable to lay down any standard with precision: it is for the court to decide in each case, having regard to the relevant circumstances. It is not necessary in this case to ascertain whether a reasonable man placed in the position of the accused would have lost his self-control momentarily or even temporarily when his wife confessed to him of her illicit intimacy with another, for we are satisfied on the evidence that the accused regained his self-control and killed Ahuja deliberately.

The Indian law, relevant to the present enquiry, may be stated thus: (1) The test of “grave and sudden” provocation is whether a reasonable man, belonging to the same class of society as the accused, placed in the situation in which the accused was placed would be so provoked as to lose his self-control. (2) In India, words and gestures may also, under certain circumstances, cause grave and sudden provocation to an accused so as to bring his act within the first Exception to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code. (3) The mental background created by the previous act of the victim may be taken into consideration in ascertaining whether the subsequent act caused grave and sudden provocation for committing the offence (4) The fatal blow should be clearly traced to the influence of passion arising from that provocation and not after passion had cooled down by lapse of time, or otherwise giving room and scope for premeditation and calculation.

Bearing these principles in mind, let us look at the facts of this case. When Sylvia confessed to her husband that she had illicit intimacy with Ahuja, the latter was not present. We will assume that he had momentarily lost his self-control. But, if his version is true-for the purpose of this argument we shall accept that what he has said is true-it shows that he was only thinking of the future of his wife and children and also of asking for an explanation from Ahuja for his conduct. This attitude of the accused clearly indicates that he had not only regained his self-control, but, on the other hand, was planning for the future. Then he drove his wife and children to a cinema, left them there, went to his ship, took a revolver on a false pretext, loaded it with six rounds, did some official business there, and drove his car to the office of Ahuja and then to his flat, went straight to the bed-room of Ahuja and shot him dead. Between 1.30 p.m., when he left his house, and 4.20 p.m., when the murder took place, three hours had elapsed, and therefore there was sufficient time for him to regain his self-control, even if he had not regained it earlier.

On the other hand, his conduct clearly shows that the murder was a deliberate and calculated one. Even if any conversation took place between the accused and the deceased in the manner described by the accused-though we do not believe that-it does not affect the question, for the accused entered the bed-room of the deceased to shoot him. The mere fact that before the shooting the accused abused the deceased and the abuse provoked an equally abusive reply could not conceivably be a provocation for the murder. We, therefore, hold that the facts of the case do not attract the provisions of Exception 1 to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code.

In the result, the conviction of the accused under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentence of imprisonment for life passed on him by the High Court are correct and there are absolutely no grounds for interference. The appeal stands dismissed.