Convicted criminal and Bollywood superstar Salman Khan will not have to languish inside a jail cell, while the Bombay High Court examines his appeal. Only two days after a trial court in Mumbai had sentenced him to five years in prison for killing one person in a hit-and-run case from 2002, Khan received a reprieve from the criminal justice system. It is a judgement that has left many sane observers baffled, primarily because he was convicted on all the charges that were laid against him, notwithstanding his right to an appeals process. Khan was earlier charged by a trial court with culpable homicide not amounting to murder and rash driving after his Toyota Land Cruiser ran into a group of people sleeping on the footpath in northwest Mumbai.
What is perhaps worse is that there are the victim’s next of kin, who have waited for 13 long years, almost a life sentence under the Indian Penal Code, for justice. For them perhaps justice denied is equivalent to justice delayed. On the other hand, the film fraternity and fans across India are crying themselves hoarse to sleep over what is in their books a result of unnecessary activism from civil society. Commentators across the board seem to suggest that a different set of rules seem to apply for Bollywood stars. Khan’s release follows news reports earlier this year that Sanjay Dutt, convicted for possessing illegal weapons, had spent 118 days out of jail from the 305 days. The stated logic from some in the film industry, who’ve supported Khan, is that there are thousands of crores riding on Salman Khan’s movies. There will be hundreds of people soon out of work because of his conviction. What about their lives and families? This is the ethically grey paradox of Salman Khan.
What’s worse, while Khan got bail within hours of his conviction, at least 2.54 lakh under-trials, many of whom may be innocent, are made to languish behind bars for their inability to procure bail. According to the Centre’s own assessment, many of these under-trials have spent more time in jail than the sentence they would have got, had they been convicted for their specific crimes. Although the apex court had set a deadline of December 2014 for the release of all under-trials, who have served half of the maximum sentence for offences they were specifically charged with, no progress has been made thus far.
The case of Salman, both the legal one and the metaphorical one is a curious one indeed. In personal life, he is known to be a hard-charging devil may care guy with a heart of gold. Since the matter is still sub-judice and an appeal process is still pending, it’s perhaps best to avoid the legalities of the issue. However what can and should be explored are the facts which lie in the public domain and are open knowledge.