Thirteen years on after that black night in September 2002, Salman Khan has finally woken up to the fact that justice has finally caught up with him. Chulbul ‘Robin Hood ‘ Pandey or Bhaijaan as he is fondly known as by his hugely vocal, and often caustic legion of fans was found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder yesterday, among other charges by Justice Deshpande of the Sessions Court.
Thirteen years too long?
Ever since his Land Cruiser rammed into a bakery in Bombay, killing one and injuring three others, it has always been a race against time and conviction for India’s most bankable movie star. And if Wednesday’s verdict is any indication, it would seem that Chulbul Pandey has finally exhausted his quiver of arrows (and ironic puns).
The case itself was the stuff of what publications like Times of India are now today, pulpy Page 3 entertainment masquerading as real news as it flitted from having a new Judge assigned to having a new trial ordered. However, it was only in the last few months when the arguments phase was winding down that the case really caught steam, and like most films these days it was then that it took a turn for the curious.
The biggest surprise was however Ashok Singh, Salman Khan’s driver turning up belatedly in March to depose that he, and not Salman was the one behind the wheel. As the 11th hour witness of the Defence, Ashok not only refuted the testimony of the deceased witness but also that of Salman’s former bodyguard who was with him in the vehicle during the accident.
However in a major blow to Khan’s chances at acquittal, Singh’s appearance may have just hurt his case more. After all, it is hard not to find fault or to trust anyone who steps up to depose mere weeks before the judgment, when the case itself has been over a decade going. In such a case therefore, a logical and prudent mind can come to only one plausible conclusion; that the introduction of Ashok Singh was a concerted attempt to delay and derail the case even further. It was another illustrious example of the elite using and twisting the technicalities of Indian law to its own advantage.
And yes, that is mere speculation. Or perhaps, the last desperate attempt at a reprieve, from a man who may be larger-than-life on-screen, but is human off it. Desperation, as was echoed by the final arguments given by the defence which ranged from the irrelevant (Khan’s numerous charity organisations) to the ridiculous (Heart ailments? Really? Why not do fewer films that challenge intelligence then?). I’d rather have had the defence show the judge some of his movies and plead insanity.
Ready, Set…. Bail!
That said however, within two hours, Prem was off on an interim bail of two days granted by the Bombay High Court after his case was pleaded by one of India’s finest (Read: Expensive) lawyers, Mr. Harish Salve who is said to charge anywhere above Rs 20 lakhs for a single hearing. Now, there is a significant outcry against the grant of bail on the same day as the say of conviction. However legally speaking, there is no illegality with the same.
As is the case most of the time, an application for bail to the HC requires the full judgment of the lower court. However, by applying for a bail by attaching only the operative part of the judgment (That is, the substance released to the client and counsel), Prem came with a contingency plan, in case he did get convicted. It is this very preparedness that is lacking with an ordinary person’s appeal to a higher court and to question the same is therefore, not a breach or lacuna of law but is well, the perks of hiring India’s best lawyer. What has however turned out to be even more of a surprise is the fact that within 2 days of such conviction today, Prem’s sentence has been suspended until the High Court hears his plea of appeal (Nothing unlawful about that but yes, perhaps law works differently for different people).
Thirteen years, a period longer than the World Wars and the 1st Gulf War combined is how long it took for the case to be settled, in a Sessions court nonetheless. And it took less than a couple of days for the same sentence to be duly suspended. Now, with an appeal to the higher courts on the horizon, the case is destined to drag on longer than what one would expect.
And yet the verdict given, a small triumph for the prosecution and a disappointment for Lovely Singh, is above all a statement of the saddening condition of the Indian justice system. This case must have been just one another case in the ever burgeoning backlog of cases in India, but the fact that it also reflected the conscious attempt of many involved, rightful or not, to delay the judgment or decision in a case tells that the more than any other factor, it is the parties and their counsels involved that contribute mightily to the burden of the legal system.
Be Human, Salman
As a huge fan of the hallowed fraternity you represent, I believe I’m not alone in urging Salman to graciously accept the court’s verdict. Yes, you do have the option of an appeal; that is your constitutional right. But, please do not disappoint your ardent followers by wasting the court’s time, if you know, if you truly know that you are not completely innocent.
That will be your redemption Salman and that truly will be what ‘Being Human’ stands for. Without that realization, ‘Being Human’ will remain what it has always been, a PR stunt, never rising above the equivalent of its cheap knockoffs from Palika Bazaar. Your image, as it stands is already in danger of tarnishing in the face of several other cases such as the Blackbuck hunting case. Don’t make yourself out to be a liar as well.