April 6th, 2018

The strange case of the Bollywood star & the slaughtered gazelles

Right, where does one start in trying to explain the Salman Khan verdict?

For Indian readers, or those familiar with the Indian scene, it is simply a case of whether or not you think justice has been done, in a 20 year old poaching case against a swaggering high-profile Bollywood actor.

Nailing my colours to the mast here, I think justice has been done.

And yes, you’re probably right, my use of the adjective “swaggering” just now, is indeed a bit judge-y, but that’s the way this muscle-bound, tight-T-shirt-wearing 52 year old looks to me.

He swaggers across the privileged trajectory of life that Bollywood fame seems to confer on him.

Right, now let’s try and make sense of this front-page news for readers less familiar with the ins and outs of the Indian justice and legal scene.

19 1/2 years ago, whilst filming in Rajasthan, Mr. Khan, and several other actors (all of whom were acquitted yesterday) went on a night hunt and Mr. Khan shot and killed 3 chinkara, an Indian gazelle.

Now, not only is hunting illegal in India, the blackbuck and the chinkara are revered and protected by the Rajasthani Bishnoi community, and it is their single-minded tenacity that has won the day.

Mr. Khan is a big deal in India.  A very big deal indeed.

He is big famous Bollywood star.

He has bodyguards.

He has legions of fans.

I presume he has money, though I have no idea whatsoever about his financial status.  Not a clue.

Mr. Khan is both famous and infamous, the latter largely due to this poaching case as well as his earlier acquittal on manslaughter.

This was for running over 5 sleeping pavement dwellers, killing one of them in the process, while apparently drunk-driving his SUV.  Except he later claimed that it was his driver who was at the wheel, so that jail term got over-turned.

There are loads of good reads on the manslaughter case, but I’ll share the top ones for you here:

My top pick is this 2014 article:

http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/14/india-salman-khan-jail-bollywood/

The always-on-form Guardian in 2015:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/06/bollywood-star-salman-khan-found-guilty-over-hit-and-run-crash and, when he was acquitted:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/10/bollywood-star-salman-khan-cleared-over-hit-and-run-death

What is truly remarkable and laudable about this chinkara case & the judgement is that, for nigh on 2 decades, and despite these earlier arrests and high-profile acquittals, a simple Rajasthani community committed to certain values (laudable ones in my view, but that’s neither here nor there) so, as I said, a community has stuck to its goals and gone after a big name.

Now, let me make one thing clear.

I am not in the least bit interested in the argument that 5 years is “too much” for killing 3 wild animals.

Not at all interested.

My delight in this verdict – which I greeted with a whoop of joy when I got a news alert yesterday, I truly did – my delight is that justice has been served.In a country notorious for the painfully slow speed of justice…

In a country where the rich and famous routinely get out of unpleasant situations…

In a country where many of our elected MPs have criminal pasts….

In a country where…you take my point?

The fact that the law is often so poorly applied in India does not make this sentence excessive.

If justice were routinely applied across the board as it should be, then this would be just another regular quantum of punishment.

But it is precisely because so few high profile convictions happen, because so many cases languish for way longer than 20 years, because terrible crimes like murder and rape go unpunished, that the fact that Mr. Khan has been found guilty is cause for cheer.

Hats off to the Bishnois for pushing on with this case.

I applaud them.

They have managed to get this man charged for a crime he committed, in a country where people like him have, traditionally, gone unpunished

I suspect Mr.Khan’s lawyers will get him out on bail tomorrow – he has to spend today in jail, we are told.

I suspect we will hear even more about his sterling charity work, as though that exonerates him from earlier pre-charity-days crimes.

Actually, you know what, do not get me started on his charity work.

Just read this excellent piece from yesterday’s The Quint, and work out the timeline for yourselves

But, for now, a criminal has been punished.

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