Random Recollection

Salman case: The Value of man and animal

Yatindra Bhatnagar

India’s movie super star Salman Khan is again embroiled in controversy and now has been sentenced to five years in prison for his alleged ‘crime’ of killing two black bucks some two decades back. The actor was reported to have gone with fellow actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam after reel shooting the hit movie Hum Saath Saath Hain to a real shooting safari and it was there that two animals included in the endangered species were allegedly killed.

After a long trial continuing for 19 years, for which Salman personally appeared four times, he was sentenced, April ,5, to five years in jail. Surprisingly the other actors were all acquitted of all the charges by a Jodhpur (Rajasthan, India) court. They all were there together.

The law against killing of animals on the endangered list is the law but if one probes into it one concludes that the law was enacted against poachers who profit (sell or commercially gain) by killing endangered animals.

Salman, if he is guilty of killing the animals, did not do it for profit, commercial scheme or things like that. These actors went for fun on a safari trip organized by a tour operator – one of which has absconded. It was supposed to be a fun trip that brought unexpected result, at least for Salman as the other actors were let off.

That raises a question: why was Salman convicted and others acquitted?

The judge said: for lack of sufficient evidence.

Maybe.

For Salman they had ‘enough’ evidence, of course not made explicitly clear. There was a forensic expert who testified and proved beyond doubt that the dead animals were indeed from the endangered species.

That probably is the solid evidence that two of those rare animals were indeed killed.

How exactly was Salman responsible for their death was not made conclusively evident and the defense raised several points: it was all framed-up charges, some evidence was fabricated, a couple of fake witnesses were presented, and it was a vengeful act, and if all the others were acquitted does that mean Salman was alone, on a dark night, in a strange jungle, unescorted and on his own, went hunting and shooting animals, and so on.

However, the judge accepted the prosecution case..

Some time back at the initial stages it was also reported that the local Bishnoi community (a vegetarian, anti-violence group) brought up the case and was adamant that the ‘culprits’ be punished.  It was reported that there was local resentment and it was convenient to charge or frame the actors depending on which side you are on.

And now Salman Khan has been sentenced and I have my strong views about the whole situation and also about the real value of two animals and a man, Salman Khan.

Animal rights advocates would never agree with me but is it not a fact that Salman has contributed a whole lot to the community, people at large, people in need, than those poor animals? In the last 20 years Salman Khan must have entertained 2 billion people with his movie roles, helped more than 20 thousand people with his charity – Being Human – and contributed hundreds of millions to the national exchequer by way of his share of income tax, and entertainment tax, and helped building up of an incredible Indian film industry that is unique in the whole world.

In contrast, if those two poor animals were still alive what would they have contributed to the community and people at large? Consider it from any angle, their contribution to the community’s welfare, help in building up of economy and helping people in need would be about nil.  They would have eaten 20,000 pounds of grass and deprived grass-cutters and grass-sellers of some livelihood.

Yes, if they had died of natural causes, perhaps some meat- eaters would have got some food – though I doubt that also. I don’t know if the endangered species act forbids eating the meat of a dead rare animal?

In any case, the value and contribution of these two – the alleged killer and the killed – should be dispassionately assessed and decided without any bias.

What would you arrive at?

Yes, two poor animals were killed. But is the harsh punishment of five years in jail really justified?

That too in a controversial case with doubtful evidence, some frame-up allegations and dubious evidence?

The punishment to Salman is therefore controversial and harsh. There is a provision of probation also which could have met the demands of justice in this particular case.   

The judge Dev Kumar Khatri did not accept that. He was determined to punish Salman as he said what you do people follow you.

So here is a case and the verdict – punish the actor who is famous, rich, does great humanitarian work, but otherwise a bad boy, reckless driver (he was alleged to have killed four pavement-sleepers by his car) and probably a ‘bully,’ to some.

May the merits and value of the two parties – the dead animals and the living legend – be assessed afresh and the court not indulge in hair-splitting, sticking to the letter of the law instead of its spirit and may the higher court review the lower court’s order to do the right thing. The whole case has been blown absolutely out of proportion – just to punish a super star.

Salman Khan deserves respect and justice for his total contribution to the community, industry and the nation, not such a harsh punishment for something he might or might not have done, intentionally or unintentionally, really or charged falsely.

 4/12/18