Most under-trial prisoners are languishing in prisons awaiting trial. They have no means to apply for bail. They are unsure that even if they applied for bail, when their applications would be heard. It seems money moves the wheels of justice as well
Ironic that there has been more furious raving over the granting of bail, after just 10 minutes hearing, to Salman Khan until the pendency of his appeal against the conviction in the lower court for five years than when he was sentenced and was to be taken to jail. The people inside the court room and a large number of fans outside the court had gasped at the five-year long sentence. Girls were teary-eyed. Auto-rickshaw drivers, young sales persons and the unemployed, who from Salmanâ€™s bulk of followers, were stunned. Sanjeev Nanda in the infamous BMW case was awarded three year sentence. But all that was forgotten soon. Salman got bail quickly, his trial after 13 years and bail hearing totalled just three hours.
The allegedly easy and quick bail for the unruly boy of Bollywood was some said because being rich he could afford lawyers like Harish Salve. The VHP leaders, not surprisingly, attributed his easy bail to his being a Muslim. A few pointed out that about three-fourths of the total prisoners in India are undertrials, who have been languishing in jails for years, yet no trial has started.
A report by National Social Watch, a network of civil society organisations, said, â€œAccording to a note circulated by the law ministry in 2010, there are over three lakh under trial prisoners in jails across the country. About two lakh of them are imprisoned for several years primarily because of delays in the justice delivery system. In some cases, prisoners have been behind bars for more than the maximum term of imprisonment for offences they had been charged with.
The report said such a state of affairs was a consequence of highâ€” pendency of cases in the courts. It also noted that while Mumbai had 1.41 lakh pending trial cases in December 2010, another 20,725 were added the next year. In 2011, 12,296 cases were disposed of. Tellingly, only 2,082 (17per cent) resulted in convictions.Â Under trials have been rotting in jails for years and years.
In such a backdrop, it is natural that hackles have been raised at the granting of bail to Salman Khan, with utmost urgency. Why was he singled out for such alleged preferential treatment? Delhi-based author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu (originally from Kolkata), who unapologetically wrote an open letter of sorts on her FB page, is seemingly livid. Hereâ€™s what she wrote: â€œJust when you are impressed with justice in this country. You are bound to be disappointed. Shame on you, Salman Khan. For all your Being Human bhaigiri and your adopted sister, you are just a miserable drunk, animal hunting, woman beating, drugged out, intellectually depraved, law abusing son of a rich and famous father…â€
The foremost requirement for bail, money, Salman has in plenty, so he could afford a high-priced lawyer like Harish Salve. He flew from Delhi to Mumbai to defend him.
Secondly, the film stars here are always placed on high pedestals by hundreds of thousands fans. Amitabh, Shah Rukh and Salman have fan following cutting across class, education, sex and age differences. And we must not forget that the judiciary has men and women from amongst us.
It is no doubt that the stature of a person facing any case does have an impact, but that does not mean that verdicts would be biased. The most obvious thing is that requests by well-known persons like Salman would normally be conceded. But the requests must not breach any law or rules.
Salman who was â€œDabangâ€ enough to take law in his hands, albeit to punish the ungodly, and promoted to be Inspector Chulbul Pandey, has been the most dependable bankable star, his films being Box Office record breakers, was certainly in the class which actually get privileges at every forum. He got it when his lawyer applied for bail. Yet judge Deshpande gave him five years in the hit and run case of 2002.
The outrage has been voiced at the urgency with which his bail application was heard. But the judgement of Judge Deshpande is historic and a precedent setter for two reasons, one it established that in the eyes of the law there is no difference between a celebrity, a hero who is loved by millions, and an unknown man on the street. Stardom does not give any immunity nor does it puts one above law.
Two, â€œBeing Humanâ€ is just not enough. One has to be humane in oneâ€™s conduct too, which Salman Khan was not. One he fled from the scene of the accident, and if the stories about him are true, he has been less than a gentleman. He and his brother, it is said, would get drunk and bash up anyone they did not like. Drunk, he gate-crashed on the sets of a film in which his then girlfriend was acting along with another popular actor.
He created an ugly scene and allegedly threatened people there, generally used vulgar, abusive language, slapped his girlfriend and dragged her away. This was nothing but gunda-gardi, an act which only street goondas indulge in. There was nothing â€˜Being humanâ€™ about it.
He turned philanthropist much after he was booked in two criminal cases, this one in which he has been convicted and the black buck case of 1998. Khan was allegedly involved in poaching of two blackbucks near Jodhpur in the intervening night of 1-2 October 1998. The case under the Arms Act was registered in Jodhpur as the forest department of Rajasthan alleged that the arms used by the actor during the poaching incident had expired licences and so he used them illegally. The verdict on it is awaited.
The aura of a popular hero combined with the near idolatry with which movie fans treat Bollywood stars however is very difficult for even law to eclipse. Salman, whatever he might be, has a phenomenal following, the majority of them being women. This was obvious when the conviction was to be announced. Girls with swollen eyes flocked near a TV screen at a highbrow salon. Even their clients, some with mud paste on their faces or their hair pasted with henna, were looking at the TV.
His popularity made dailies like the Times of India spread news about him across five full pages. How many VIPs have even their obituary consuming five pages of the number one newspaper in India?
This proves one has to be Dabang and Chulbul Pandey on the screen to be hero of millions of autorickshawallahs, porters and paanwallahs and heart-throb of screaming, half-hysterical girls. It does not matter to them if he is a drunkard and gets into brawls in real life. Salman Khan, the star, has been a phenomenon and a stint in a solitary cell is not going to make any difference.
The problem arises when these heroes of the reel-life start feeling that they are above law. This feeling converts into belief that â€˜well, I canâ€™t be touched.â€ Salman Khan is paying the price for exactly this self-assurance.
But as a TV senior said, â€œIf you go by the box office figures of his films, his fandom spreads to all of India and all classes of people. In my understanding, the Salman Khan fan base is mainly a large section of unemployed male youth from low-income families who you are likely to see speeding on bikes in groups.
â€œTo this group, he is a champion, perhaps even a Mahatma. There may be allegations of girlfriend beating and violent brawls against him, he may have rammed a sleeping man to his death, but ideas of crime, sin or redemption do not apply to Bhai. Philanthropy, a common virtue of the rich the world over, becomes his luminous predication.â€
The right perception.Â Munnabhai, Dabang are all good-doers, a Robin Hood, this imagery has established the â€˜truthâ€™ that a fallen man can also be a champion. The conviction keeps the majesty of law but it cannot pull him down from the high pedestal his fans have put him on.Â The astute producers know this, whenever Salman walks out of jail, he will find a long row of Producers in their Mercs waiting to whisk him away to shoot hopefully a Rs100 crore collection movie.
Thatâ€™s the world of Bollywood. It has its own rules, morals and culture. And Salman Khan is one of its Star denizensâ€”even a jail term will not dim his glamour or star attraction. True some will never pardon him, some will never praise him. But their condemnation will never be able to penetrate the ethereal world of Bollywood. It is delightful, it is detestable, and eminently ignorable if one wishes. So why bother so much about Salman. Ignoring such egoists is the best way to give them the creeps.
By Vijay Dutt