By K Raveendran
One day of the gods is supposed to run into thousands of years of that of human beings, according to the Hindu scriptures. Salman Khan is no god, although for his fans he is nearly so. On the basis of the number of days he spent in jail compared to the years of his conviction, a day for Salman would mean roughly two years. This is of course no comparison to the length of the gods’ day, but compared to ordinary mortals, it is quite a long day indeed.
Before his current conviction in blackbucks poaching case, the Bollywood superstar had spent 18 days in prison, although he had been convicted for nearly 10 years in various cases. In the wildlife poaching case, relating to the killing of a chinkara while shooting for the film Hum Saath Saath Hai in a village near Jodhpur in 1998, he was convicted for between one and five years. He spent a few days in jail after the case was registered, but was soon released on bail. In 2006 and 2007, following his conviction, he again spent a few days behind bars before being released on bail. In 2015, a Mumbai court sentenced him for 5 years in jail for killing a man in a hit-and-run incident, and injuring others who were sleeping on the pavement when he lost control of his four-wheel drive while driving under the influence of liquor. He had spent a few days in prison in connection with this case as well, but he always got bail, thanks to his celebrity status. During the few days he spent time in the jail, he exhibited his filmy style heroics by refusing to eat food sent from home and making friends with other criminals lodged in the jail.
He has now been convicted again for five years in jail for killing two blackbucks in the same poaching incident of 1998. As he was taken to the Jodhpur central jail, where he had been before, the media was on fire, speculating as to how long he will spend time in the jail. One night, going by his past record, was the consensus, but unfortunately since his bail application was posted for hearing only on the next day, he had to spend more time.
The superstar has an uncanny knack for dodging the due process of law, which he has done successfully several times in the past. The strategy has been to prolong the case until the witnesses are no more or have lost their memory, which would ensure he cannot be convicted for lack of evidence. He also uses his Bollywood clout to win over prosecution witnesses to his side. The delaying tactics worked well. In the Mumbai pavement hit and run case, the verdict came in 2015, although the incident had occurred in 2002. By that time, he had the original prosecution witness turn hostile as his personal police escort, who had initially testified seeing him behind the wheel heavily drunk, went back on his statement. And in typical Bollywood style a new driver emerged on the scene.
As the darling of Bollywood, Salman always got the benefit of doubt and his lawyers consistently built up a case for him to be let off, claiming the Hindi film industry would be in dire straits without him and his fans cannot cope with his absence. His celebrity status was put to full use as he was projected as a great human being, who always cared for his fellow beings.
But unfortunately, none of the stock defences worked in the latest conviction. The Bishnois, who made the initial complaint, stayed their course as they were determined not to let him go scot free because they worshiped the blackbucks which the superhero had made his game in the hunting spree. Similarly, the celebrity status, which his lawyers exploited to its full potential all this while, boomeranged this time as Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri cited it as a ground against the accused. He pointed out that since the culprit was an actor and had a substantial following, his actions were observed and followed by the masses. And this called for stern action. Since the jail term was for more than three years, there was no scope for immediate bail, as it happened on previous occasions.
Salman and his lawyers would soon start work on their conspiracy theories and the whole world will be watching how the proceedings finally play out. His acquittal in the Mumbai pavement run-over incident had put a serious question mark in people’s mind whether the courts had a different approach when it came to cases involving celebrities and people enjoying high social status. The Maharashtra government has appealed to the Supreme Court against the acquittal. But with Salman and his team being past masters in prolonging court proceedings and making evidences disappear in a jiffy, it has been a long wait already. The blackbuck conviction will be another test case, whenever the verdict is pronounced. (IPA Service)