Salman Khan jailed in blackbuck case: Discourse over conviction shows need to isolate law from whataboutery

The blackbuck stops here. Or does it? With the rich and the powerful, the VVIPs, it's hard to tell where the buck really stops. Bollywood star Salman Khan – who was sentenced to five years in jail on Thursday in the blackbuck poaching case – has been found guilty before. Back then, the courts bent over backwards to stay open to process the bail paperwork so that he did not have to spend a night in jail. Then a high court overturned a lower court verdict saying a "strong suspicion of guilt cannot be used to hold a person guilty". That's only 'being humane'.

There's no point quibbling over the jail term being just a bail term for Salman. That's the way the law works. And we cannot begrudge him for using all the considerable means at his disposal to get off the hook, whether it's about killing a blackbuck or poaching chinkaras or allegedly running over a pavement dweller.

 Salman Khan jailed in blackbuck case: Discourse over conviction shows need to isolate law from whataboutery

File image of Salman Khan. PTI

Some will see a five-year jail term as a court wanting to punish a superstar for being a superstar, Davids wanting to get a potshot at a Goliath, the petty envious vindictiveness of lesser mortals. Some will see a five-year term as justice finally being blind (ish). Some will read this as compensation for what did not happen with another case at another time.

Be that as it may, what's been far more educational for the rest of us has been seeing the law at work and the wheels of justice grinding along. It only took 19 years for a blackbuck to get justice. Please remember that the lifespan of a blackbuck is about 10-15 years.

In that process, we have seen so much happen. His lawyer argued that he had been falsely framed. His driver Harish Dulani was released after recording statements in front of the magistrate in 1998 but then conveniently never turned up in court for a cross-examination. As this report in Firstpost points outthe court examined 38 witnesses, eight of whom turned hostile.

On one hand, we were told that Salman would lead late night hunting expeditions, chasing an animal in his Gypsy and slitting its throat. On the other hand, we had him telling NDTV he had "saved" a "petrified" deer which was "stuck in the bush" and fed it biscuits and water. Somehow, the deer died just as mysteriously as that pavement dweller in Mumbai had died. One narrative clearly convinced the judge more than the other.

But what has been really fascinating is seeing how those around him have reacted. During the 2002 hit and run case, singer Abhijeet stirred up a storm by basically blaming those who slept on the pavement for getting run over by wayward cars. In this case, film trade analyst Sumit Kadel tweeted that "Salman had to visit Jodhpur for 20 years on a regular basis for case hearings. He has suffered enough. Though Law is equal for all, I feel Salman doesn't deserve to go to jail."

It's a strange moral compass we have where the inconvenience of having to fight a case in the area where you are supposed to have committed the crime somehow counts towards your punishment for that crime.

Rajya Sabha member and former actor Jaya Bachchan said "I feel bad. He should be given relief. He has done humanitarian work". Again, it's as if one negates the other. Salman's philanthropy cannot be a get-out-of-jail card. Her party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav seemed to reprise his 'boys will be boys' argument from the discussions on rape law when he said, "Salman was a young boy when he mistakenly killed the blackbuck. And young boys make mistakes. Now, he is the role model. He should not be punished."

For the record, he was over 30 at that time. He might be a jolly good fellow but if he broke the law, he should pay the price. This is a simple fact that we fail to understand, blinded as we are by our love for the stars. Also, any argument about the great cost that would be borne by films riding on Salman's brawny shoulders if he goes to jail should not be figuring in the conversation at all.

Great costs are borne by the families of many lesser people, including those who languish as undertrials. The next Eid release should have no bearing on the verdict whatsoever. Neither is it relevant that many tigers are poached and their poachers roam free, or that mass murderers have not got justice.

Law should not be about whataboutery. Some have gone on television immediately seeing a religious angle in all this, saying Salman has been targeted for being a Muslim. Of course, had he been acquitted, someone else would have said that's what you get for going kite flying with Narendra Modi.

In all of this one thing is missing, any call for genuine remorse from the person accused of the crime. All we have seen is a man who answered "galat" to almost all questions in court. All we saw in the pavement dweller case was a man whose driver allegedly tried to fall on the sword and take the blame for him. None of this suggests contrition. And it is astonishing that those patting him on the head now and suggesting the Bishnoi forgive and forget seem to not require that bare minimum from the man accused and now found guilty of the crime.

In that sense, full marks to the dogged persistence of the Bishnoi who fought for that felled blackbuck and their own belief system through the twists and turns of this case and did not give up. Many would have just said it's just one deer. The larger environmental movement would do well with a few more Bishnois fighting their cause.

We hear that Salman burst into tears upon hearing the verdict. Somehow, I don't think those tears were for the dearly departed blackbuck. It was just the unbearable sorrow of a VVIP discovering that sometimes the mantra of "manage ho jaayega" comes up short. Even if it's for just one night in jail. For that one night at least, we all get to be equal under the law.

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Updated Date: Apr 05, 2018 19:14:38 IST