Saturday, 9 May 2015

Being Convict

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The Salman Khan case comes as no huge surprise. Disappointment, yes. Surprise? No. As KRK so surreptitiously put it, we would have lost all our faith in money if Salman Khan had been put in jail. The man we know on screen has gained a reputation for performing logic-defying acts successfully. Now, he has pulled off a similar stunt in real life too.

The Bollywood superstar could possibly be the only Indian at the moment to not have to spend a moment in jail despite being proven guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for five years. Salman got an interim bail in a matter of hours, and a permanent bail just two days after his conviction, speed unheard of in the Indian judicial circles. Fame, money, power, support – all of this undeniably factored in to make Salman Khan an “exception”.

The general Indian public has a tendency to make demi-gods out of their celebrities. We elevate our stars up to a pedestal where they can do no wrong. Such has been the case with millions of Salman Khan fans. Over the past week, we have had thousands supporting the actor, many of them justifying his crime, placing blame on the victims, and the like. It seems the very existence of “Sallu Bhai” should wipe out whatever evil he might have done.

What troubles me is the reaction of certain factions of the film and TV industry, and the rationale behind their support. People do not seem to realize that subsequent acts of charity do not excuse a man from a crime he has committed – a crime which left a man dead, three maimed, and their families affected beyond repair. Drunk driving is inexcusable in itself, but a hit-and-run is even worse. Culpable homicide, of which Salman Khan is guilty, does not amount to monetary compensation or charitable deeds. It amounts to jail time.

Bollywood has come out all guns blazing in trying to defend its talisman. There is a reported 250 crore investment in Salman Khan collectively, which would go to waste if he spends the next five years behind bars. Singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya said it was the victims’ fault because they were sleeping on the pavement, and that “if you sleep on the footpath like a dog, you will die like a dog”. His insensitivity transcended further as he said “Suicide is a crime and so is sleeping on the footpath” and that it was “not the driver or alcohol’s fault”.

Jewelry designer Farah Khan Ali was not to be left behind. She tweeted, “No one should be sleeping on the road or footpath. It is dangerous to do that just like it is dangerous to cross tracks. It’s like penalizing a train driver because somebody decided to cross the tracks and got killed in the bargain.” Her logic would be unparalleled, if the Indian Constitution allowed train drivers to report to duty drunk and without a license, and allowed trains to move away from their tracks and check out the sidelines every once in a while.  

Farah Khan Ali went overboard with her tweets in support of Salman Khan.

Salman Khan, right now, sits in the comfort of his own home while the families he destroyed toil away in a poverty-stricken quest for survival. Ravindra Patil, the chief witness against Salman, died after an agonizing and long battle with tuberculosis in 2007, the same year Salman started Being Human. Sometimes, the irony just writes itself.

Salman Khan is a prime example of how money and power can allow you to do anything you want in this exhibition democracy. Whether it is shooting a black buck in a protected forest, or driving without a license, or hitting the road with a blood alcohol level above accepted limits, or even running over and killing people on the footpath, you can do it all. Salman Khan has provided entertainment to millions of people in India and overseas for years. He is also a convicted criminal who is currently walking free because of an incompetent judiciary.

Will justice be delayed, or denied?

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