Well, this is news. Or maybe not. Salman has been sentenced to jail a lot, and then somehow it ends up not happening, so I just don’t know.
Let me start big picture. The court system in India is very very slow and very easy to circumvent. I’m not saying you can bribe your way out of a court case, like the judges are corrupt or anything like that, I’m saying that the system is so slow that you can easily just keep throwing money at appeals until you run out the time and die with the case still unsettled.
For a “regular” wealthy person, a court case will probably never result in jail time. You will appeal and appeal and appeal, eventually the prosecutors run out of time/money/energy/interest and just let the case drop. In the worst case, you might finally be convicted and pay a fine. Or go to jail for a night before being freed. What you see in the movies isn’t much of an exaggeration, the wealthy landlord of a rural village, or the powerful businessman in a city can just walk in and out of jail. And unless the media and the public make a big stink about it, the case will just sort of fade away.
The trick of it is, with movie stars, there is an advantage to keeping the case going. The prosecutors and everyone else get attention from it, Politicians and other public figures weigh in with their opinions, “fading away” is a difficult option. And so, yes, Salman Khan managed to avoid punishment for a very long time thanks to his privileges as a wealthy person. But on the other hand, he has gotten more punishment than an equally wealthy person would have gotten because he is a movie star and his name has value. And the same could be said for a lot of these cases filed against movie stars. Yes, they broke the law, yes they are getting away with it because of their wealth, but they are also being punished more than a equivalent wealthy person would be.
So, what is this particular case? Salman Khan and Sonali Bendre and Saif Ali Khan and Neelam and Tabu were in Jodhpur filming Hum Saath Saath Hain in 1998. They hired a guide and went out to shoot a blackbuck. The blackbuck is a sacred animal in Hinduism and ALSO has a long tradition of being hunted in India. It is illegal to kill blackbucks now, but it was not always and it is not unheard of for them to be killed. Obviously, if there was a guide and a hunting jeep and guns available, this is something that other visitors to Jodhpur have done before.
Also around Jodhpur is a Bishnoi community. The Blackbuck is particularly sacred for the Bishnois. They have started a practice of having spotters on the road, looking for hunters and following and reporting them. Which, again, indicates that hunting the Blackbuck is something which Salman is not the first or last person to do. In addition, the Bishnois are a bit of a voting block in the area, there is political advantage to passing and enforcing Blackbuck protection laws, for raising this issue.
What seems almost inarguable from witness accounts is that Salman and his friends, all wealthy outsider film folk, decided to go out Blackbuck hunting as an adventure one night. A Blackbuck was found dead, presumably killed by them. Where it gets murky is how this case progressed and was enforced.
(Pretty animal. There’s a lot of them in Texas now)
Salman has another court case against him, one in which at the very least he was in a car when it drove over and killed a person. And at the most he was driving that car. For that case, he has spent no time in jail, and was eventually cleared of charges. For this case, in which he killed an animal (who is NOT endangered, the Blackbuck has a “least concern” conservation status), he has been in and out of jail several times. And has now been sentenced to 5 years in prison.
The human being that Salman killed was a homeless man with no strong community ties, no one to speak for him. The animal he (supposedly) killed was part of an ancient breed with strong historical ties in the area and a large vocal political group to support it, not for conservation reasons (remember, not endangered) but for reasons of tradition and religion. It is a respectable animal, a “worthy” animal, not merely a homeless person.
And now, today, the verdict has come down saying that Salman is sentenced to jail for 5 years (the highest possible sentence is 6 years, the lowest 1), while the other 5 people who were present (the other 4 actors and the guide) are let off.
I’m not saying Salman is “innocent”, I’m not saying he didn’t break laws, I’m not even saying he shouldn’t go to jail. But it is possible to say all of those things and still feel that this case was pushed forward for political and PR reasons more than reasons of “justice”. Why should Salman be punished more for killing an animal than a human? Why should be be punished more than the other hunters who clearly must have done the same thing, not just the ones with him, but others who visited Jodhpur and supported the hunting economy that was clearly present? Why should he be dragged in and out of court for 20 years rather than the case being settled amicably and simply at a lower charge years ago? And, most of all, why should he be punished more than the other people with him?
There is a clear bias here. Not “bias” as in “they are all out to get him!” but “bias” as in “there seems to be a political advantage in pursuing this particular case against this particular person which is not present in pursuing other cases against this same person or this particular case against other people.”
Okay, that’s the background. What are the details of what happened today?
According to Quint.com (which is really the best source for this kind of coverage, highly highly recommend it!), all the movie stars arrived in Jodhpur and the judge sentenced Salman to 5 years in jail. With that level of punishment, he was not qualified for bail and so was taken directly to jail. Where he was issued prisoner number 106 and placed under security.
His lawyer immediately declared that this judgement was unfair and that they would be appealing and having a bail hearing the next day. His statement below:
We respect the decision of the Hon’ble Court. While we are studying the judgement it just came as a surprise, as the entire investigation, and facts of this case were the same as those for which Salman has been acquitted by the Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan in two cases, and even by the Hon’ble CJM in the Arms Act matter for the alleged offence on the very same night as is the subject matter of the present case. Also, in the present case the Hon’ble Court has acquitted all the 5 co-accused which would imply that Salman was out hunting alone in the middle of the night in a remote area outside Jodhpur. We have preferred an appeal to the Hon’ble Sessions Court and applied for an urgent hearing today. The Hon’ble Sessions Court will hear the appeal for suspension of the sentence / bail at 10.30 tomorrow.
I’m not sure what will happen from here. In the past, there has been a quick bail hearing followed by an appeal followed by winning the appeal. So the pattern may hold again. Or this could be the case that Salman actually serves jail time for.
For myself, in my personal wishes, I hope that he does not serve jail time. Because I don’t think 5 years for a poaching case is justice. For Salman personally, I think 5 years is excessive, 1 year or time served or a heavy fine seems more logical. And for the community as a whole, I think Salman going to jail would just be a bad thing. It would scuttle dozens of films in a whole variety of ways and cause enormous financial damages. It would also cause enormous personal damages to his family and others close to him.
Most of all, I don’t like the message it sends. I don’t like the idea of cheering on the downfall of a man who is unpopular for a reason not related to his lack of popularity. If you don’t like Salman because of the rumors of physical abuse, then you should be hoping he goes to trial for that, not for this. If you don’t like him because of the killing of the homeless person, then want him to go to jail for that, not this. If you don’t like him because you feel like his life is too easy and he has gotten away with crimes due to his wealth and power, then remember there are many other men in India who have gotten away with far worse crimes. There is an odd sort of encouragement for a public (I really hate using this word like this) “lynching”. To take a public figure who has fewer protections or supports than a public figure of a similar status, thanks to his profession and his religion, and use him as a scapegoat to build up a feeling of hatred and excitement-that I do not like.
So I hope this all blows over, again, and Salman’s sentence is reduced to a reasonable level and the public vitriol is stopped before it can begin.