Mumbai, 16-11-2014- You’re probably having a verbal tiff with your better-half or one of your close-friends or as a matter of fact, with anyone. You’re armed with a weapon! The weapon is so dangerous that it might as well kill the person you’re involved in a dispute if at all used. Out of the blue you get so angered that you feel like shooting down the person or for that matter stabbing him, And.. suddenly in a fit of emotions you actually shoot! This exactly is the profile of what is called Culpable Homicide.
75% of you’ll while reading it at first must’ve felt that a murder has being committed. Culpable Homicide is different from murder. Also the differences are pretty much subtle. Both the offenses include elements of knowledge and intention, the main distinction depends upon the degree of risk to human life. If the act is likely result of the act of the offender, it’s Culpable Homicide, but if it is surely an act of the offender, then it’s murder. The term Culpable Homicide originated from two Latin words, Homa meaning (man) and Cide meaning (cut), meaning thereby killing of a human by a human. Indirectly, it is being said that it isn’t murder since it could’ve happened because of negligence or willful blindness. We may call homicide almost similar to manslaughter. The crimes of murder and homicide respectively may have less distinction in eyes of the jurisdictions but their punishment differ widely in scope. If a person is charged for murder then the punishment in India is capital punishment since India takes it as a serious crime, whereas for Homicide the punishment ranges anywhere ranging from minimum for 10 years imprisonment to life-time imprisonment.
But hey, murder is murder! may it be due to negligence of the murderer or due to his willfulness or anything else, whatever the reason or the intention being human error!
Why is this differentiation drawn between these punishments? The very fact that a person has attempted murder is enough to hang him to death.
Cited below is a popular case of Culpable Homicide;
K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra;
It was a 1959 Indian court case where Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, a Naval Commander, was tried for the murder of Prem Ahuja, his wife’s lover. The incident received unprecedented media coverage and inspired several books and movies. Nanavati was initially declared not guilty by a jury, but the verdict was dismissed by the Bombay High Court and the case was retried as a bench trial. The case was the last to be heard as a jury trial in India, as the government abolished jury trials as a result of the case.
Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati (1925–2003), a Parsi and a commander with the Indian Navy, had settled down in Mumbai with Sylvia (1931–), his English-born wife and their two sons and a daughter .With Nanavati frequently away on assignments for long periods of time, the lonely Sylvia fell in love with Prem Bhagwandas Ahuja, a friend of Nanavati. Prem’s sister Mamie Ahuja, in her testimony in court, stated that Prem had agreed to marry Sylvia, provided she divorced her husband. But this was contradicted by the letters written by Sylvia (admitted as Sylvia’s testimony), where she expressed her desire to divorce Nanavati and marry Prem, but she doubted whether Prem had the same intentions. In a letter dated 24 May 1958, she wrote “Last night when you spoke of your marrying and the various other girls you might marry, something inside me snapped and I knew I could not bear the thought of your loving someone else…”.
On 27 April 1959, Nanavati returned home from one of his assignments and finding Sylvia aloof and distant, he questioned her. Sylvia, who now doubted Prem’s intention to marry her, confessed about the affair to her husband. Nanavati dropped his family at the Metro Cinema, for a show he had promised to take them to, but excused himself and headed straight to confront Prem Ahuja. When Sylvia was asked in court, why she went to the theatre, leaving her agitated husband behind, she answered, “I was upset myself and I did not think clearly then. I was not indifferent to my husband killing himself… It is difficult to explain these things to children, so I took them to the cinema.” Nanavati went to the Naval base, collected his pistol on a false pretext from the stores along with six cartridges, completed his official duties and proceeded to Prem Ahuja’s office. On not finding him there, he went to Ahuja’s flat. At Ahuja’s residence, Nanavati confronted him and asked him whether he intended to marry Sylvia and accept their children. After Prem replied in the negative, three shots were fired and Prem Ahuja dropped dead. Nanavati headed straight to confess to the Provost Marshal of the Western Naval Command and on his advice, turned himself in to the Deputy Commissioner of Police.The crux of the case was whether Nanavati shot Ahuja in the “heat of the moment” or whether it was a premeditated murder. In the former scenario, Nanavati would be charged under the Indian penal code for culpable homicide, with a minimum punishment of 10 years.
This is because he could have invoked exceptions 1 and 4 of section 300 of IPC (which defines murder). Exception 1 states:
“Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident.”
Exception 4 states:
“Culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual manner.
Explanation – It is immaterial in such cases which party offers the provocation or commits the first assault.”
In the latter scenario (i.e. premeditated murder), Nanavati would be charged with murder, with the sentence being death or life imprisonment. Nanavati pleaded not guilty and his defence team argued it as case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, while the prosecution argued it was premeditated murder. The jury in the Greater Bombay sessions court pronounced Nanavati as not guilty, with an 8–1 verdict. Mr. Ratilal Bhaichand Mehta (the sessions judge) considered the acquittal as perverse and referred the case to the high court.
The prosecution argued that the jury had been misled by the presiding judge on four crucial points:
- The onus of proving that it was an accident and not premeditated murder was on Nanavati.
- Was Sylvia’s confession grave provocation for Nanavati? or any specific incident in Ahuja’s bedroom or both.
- The judge wrongly told the jury that the provocation can also come from a third person.
- The jury was not instructed that Nanavati’s defence had to be proved, to the extent that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person.
The court accepted the arguments, dismissed the jury’s verdict and the case was freshly heard in the high court. Since the jury had also been influenced by media and public support for Nanavati and was also open to being misled, the Government of India abolished jury trials after this case. Jury thus held him not guilty. The incident both shocked and riveted the entire country. Such a crime of passion, as it was termed, was unusual, especially in the upper echelons of the society and that too by a highly decorated officer. People also found the unfolding relationships intriguing. For instance, Nanavati had known Ahuja for nearly 15 years and Sylvia stood by her husband after Ahuja’s murder. The weekly tabloid Blitz , run by R. K. Karanjia, a Parsi himself, publicised the story, ran exclusive cover stories and openly supported Nanavati, portraying him as a wronged husband and upright officer, betrayed by a close friend. Blitz painted Nanavati’s image, as that of a man representing the ideal middle class values as against Ahuja’s playboy image, that symbolised the corruption and sleaze of the bourgeois. A copy of Blitz during the trial sold for Rs.2/- per copy, up from the normal rate of 25 Paise or rupee 0.25. Peddlers on the street sold Ahuja Towels and toy Nanavati Revolvers, Influential Parsis held regular rallies in Mumbai, with the largest being an event held at Cowasji Jehangir Hall, 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. Among the jurists, Ram Jethmalani, a Sindhi, led the prosecution, while Karl Khandavala, a Parsi, represented Nanavati.
Culpable Homicide under the Indian constitution is a non-bailable offense.
Following is the punishment for Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder;
299. Culpable homicide.—Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offense of culpable homicide. Illustrations
Culpable homicide by causing death of person other than person whose death was intended.—If a person, by doing anything which he intends or knows to be likely to cause death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of any person, whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause, the culpable homicide committed by the offender is of the description of which it would have been if he had caused the death of the person whose death he intended or knew himself to be likely to cause.