Salman Khan's acquittal should raise serious questions about our criminal justice system

Sreemoy Talukdar

Jan,18 2017 17:29:37 IST

One could be facetious and say that since no one killed the blackbucks, the poor antelopes must have somehow procured a gun (one with an expired licence) and shot themselves. Or we may say, as some cracked, the blackbuck should've been more careful. But futile jokes and outrage are a poor substitute for searching questions that must be raised about India's criminal justice system.

Salman Khan. News 18 image

Salman Khan. News 18 image

We have heard of "benefit of doubt" when cricket umpires decide against sending batsmen to the pavilion. This "benefit of doubt" saw Salman Khan being sent back to the safety of his home — his stardom and the crease of his shirt intact. Truth to tell, his acquittal in yet another case wasn't a terrible surprise. Chief Judicial Magistrate Dalpat Singh Rajpurohit, in a 102-page judgement, ruled that the actor's acquittal in the 18-year-old case is based on the fact that the prosecution failed to prove charges framed against him under Sections 3/25 and 3/27 of the Indian Arms Act.

In a report, News18 has revealed what the defence counsel and the prosecution had to say on 9 January when the arguments by both sides were completed. The exchange, reproduced below, is illuminating.

"Defence: No arms were found when the actor’s hotel room was raided. Prosecution: The actor sent away the weapons to Mumbai after the poaching incidents came to light."

"Prosecution: Police officer Satyamani Tiwari had searched his hotel room and found the revolver in the room. Defence: Khan was in possession of just airguns which could not be used for hunting an animal. Tiwari was a planted witness in the case with a view to implicate the actor."

"Prosecution: Licences of the weapons used by Salman Khan had expired and thereby its use was illegal. Defence: Had applied for a renewal of licence for the weapons soon after it expired and hence was not using them illegally."

In the end, the verdict came within minutes. According to NDTV, an eyewitness for the prosecution never showed up. The judge also said two post mortem reports on the antelope listed different causes of death — dog-bite and gunshot wound.

It fits a now familiar pattern where the Bollywood superstar, looking mildly surprised, will sashay into the court surrounded by security men, fans and a posse of journalists. Moments later, waving his hands, he will walk out of the court as real and reel life merge into a everlasting tribute to his enduring stardust. Khan will thank his fans, Bollywood will heave a collective sigh of relief, traders will count their profits and fans, who had long pronounced their verdicts much before the courts could arrive at theirs, will trend their delirious support on Twitter.

Amid this macabre drama, the axiomatic truth will once again be proven that there is one set of rules for the commoners in India and another for the rich and influential.

Stoicism is a necessary armour against the many dysfunctions that we take in our stride while going about our lives but when it comes to the legal system and how it has frequently failed to uphold the justice, our forbearance is a matter of deep concern. It proves that we have become so used to the possibility of the powerful bending the legal system to their will that even blatant examples are not sufficient to wake us up from slumber. Worse, we get rid of the outrage and bile in our system by cracking lame jokes. As the travesty of justice gets repeated, each time we become a little more immune.

Challenging the Bombay High Court acquittal of Khan in the 2002 hit-and-run case, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi had argued before a Supreme Court bench of Justices JS Khehar and C Nagappan that the HC verdict was "fallacious, perverse and improper". The AG had said that the HC had brushed aside facts, discarded the statements of two eyewitnesses who had seen Salman at the wheels in favour of a statement by the family driver who had miraculously surfaced after a 12-year-silence. The bench had adjourned the case.

Salman's lawyers had argued that the family driver was driving the car and Salman had emerged from the driver's seat post-accident because the passenger door was damaged. The prosecution, according to the Bombay HC, had also failed to prove conclusively that Salman was drunk even though subsequent tests proved the presence of alcohol in his blood. His defence team claimed that the superstar had been drinking water all evening.

Salman is due to appear before the Jodhpur case next week in another case related to the killing of blackbucks. Going by precedence, few would bet against him being acquitted again.

Published Date: Jan 18, 2017 17:29 PM | Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 17:33 PM