The Salman Khan Effect: Favoritism Thwarts Democracy Dynamics

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“Be ye ever so high, the Law is above you”, unless of course you are a Bollywood Biggie with a massive fan following. Salman Khan hit-and-run case that involved the actor crashing his Toyota Land Cruiser into American Express Bakery thereby running into pavement dwellers, killing one and injuring four back in the year 2002 came to some logical conclusion on the 6th of May. The Court delivered a verdict convicting him for Culpable Homicide not Amounting to Murder (Section 304 Part II, IPC), and also held him liable for Rash and Negligent Driving (Section 279, IPC), Causing Hurt by Acts Endangering Life or Personal Property of Others (Sections 337 and 338, IPC), Driving without License (Section 181, Motor Vehicles Act) and Drunken Driving (Section 185, Motor Vehicles Act). He was also held under Bombay Prohibition Act [Section 66 (a) and (b)]. The Court sentenced him for 5 yrs. imprisonment under Section 304, Part II of the IPC in the recent judgment but lo and behold, the pain warded off even before the tears had dried up.

The Bombay High Court immediately suspended his punishment granting him bail, following appeal. Though suspension of sentence is very much lawful, it is still not so commonplace under normal circumstances. Satya Prakash in his article ‘Bail, no jail: Salman case puts question mark over legal process’ [Hindustan Times; Dated May 09, 2015] observed: “Suspension of sentence is not that common in India. Even high profile politicians such as RJD Chief Lalu Prasad or AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa had to cool their heels behind bars before being granted bail in the fodder scam and the disproportionate assets cases respectively. Convicted of corruption in teachers recruitment scam, even 80-year-old INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala didn’t get fast-track bail during hearing of his appeal by the Delhi High Court…According the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), over 2.78 lakh undertrials, many of them charged with not so serious crimes, continue to languish in various jails across India. Maharasthra alone has about 20,000 undertrial prisoners…While lakhs of undertrials – who can be legitimately presumed innocent till proven guilty – are kept like sardines in overcrowded barracks, a man convicted of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for running over poor people sleeping on a pavement roams free.”

It was reported that the trade analysts say that if the sentence is upheld, it’d cost the Indian Film Industry more than $ 31 million. Is maximizing profit dearer to us, as a nation, than ensuring justice? Well, actually it is. ‘Money, Media and Muscle Power’ usually take charge and many a time determine the fate of legal battles. Can a commoner go about having access to bail so readily in an offence as serious as this? Obviously, not everyone can hire the likes of Harish Salve for defending oneself. For that matter, not everybody has huge masses to back him/her up either. The hands of qanoon might be very long but quite unfortunately, the commoner’s hands in India aren’t that long enough.

In order to uphold the principles of natural justice, the law enforcement agencies and so also the civil society has to display a sense of maturity so that favoritism is kept at bay at least while determining criminality; and to ensure parity between individuals . Let the offender be treated like one, and nothing more.

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