By Sharanya Gopinathan
Where to begin?
Hanumant Chavan was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011 by a sessions court for setting his wife, Vandana Chavan, on fire in 2008. She succumbed to her injuries in the hospital. The prosecution maintained that Chavan was an alcoholic, and was constantly suspicious of his wife and questioned her fidelity. In her dying statements, Vandana Chavan said that her husband tried to kill her, which to most people is fairly obvious from the fact that he set her on fire.
Now, the Bombay High Court has commuted his sentence from life to ten years in prison. The Court says that Chavan did not intend to kill his wife when he set her on fire, and according to the Court, the proof of this lies in the fact that he poured water on her after he set her on fire and then also took her to the hospital. The judgement says, “Very probably, the appellant would not have anticipated that the act done by him would have escalated to such a proportion that Vandana might die.” The judgement also says that he only intended to cause burns, but “unfortunately the situation slipped out of control and it went to a fatal extent.”
It’s one of those cases that leaves you absolutely gobsmacked. The Court actually believes that a man who set his wife on fire didn’t know that that fire would kill her, or did it with intentions other than murder. I used to think it was annoying when Courts and the Constitution would infantilise women in their phrasing and with the weird category of “women-and-children”, but this infantilisation of men is new and astounding to me.
Everything about this case is infuriating from the get go: from the idea of a jealous, suspicious, insecure man who doubts his wife’s actions to the extent that his own insecurities drive him to set her on fire, to the idea that anyone, especially men in power who make influential decisions that shape legal precedent, can think that he had intentions other than murder when he did so.
Hanumant Chavan is now convicted by the Bombay High Court of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.