Buzzing Blogosphere – #SalmanVerdict

Since his debut in 1988, Salman Khan has been in the news almost constantly. Be it his films, the upheavals in his personal life, his string of beautiful girlfriends (none of whom were officially dating the actor), or his court cases, the spotlight has never really left Salman Khan. Neither had the spectre of the 2002 hit and run case against him, until very recently. The Bombay High Court acquitted Salman Khan on December 10th, for lack of conclusive proof that Salman was driving the car which mowed down pavement dwellers, killing one and injuring 4 persons. The verdict polarized the digital media with one side arguing that he got away because of his star stature, while others believed that he was unfairly targetted owing to his star status. Let’s see what the Blogosphere says about #SalmanVerdict.

Salman Verdict

Before we get into the whys and the hows, let’s see the what of the verdict. This blog post at Next Generation News gives you the lowdown of what happened on the day of the verdict. “Justice Joshi said “this court has come to conclusion that the prosecution has failed to bring material on record to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant (Salman Khan) was driving and under the influence of alcohol, also, whether the accident occurred due to bursting (of tyre) prior to the incident or tyre burst after the incident….”
The judge also observed that Khan’s former — now deceased — police body guard, the first informant in the 2002 case against the actor, who was in the vehicle and was the crucial witness on whose testimony and “improved statement” about “Salman’s speeding” the prosecution had rested its case, was “not a wholly reliable witness”.

The Salman Khan hit and run saga has been going in for 13 years with many twists and turns in the story in the meantime. Those who have been following the case know the details, but the details might have gotten blurred in the meantime. Read this blog post by MTV India to know the timeline of the case, just to refresh your memory about what went on during this period. July 24, 2014: Charges were framed against Salman Khan. But one of the witnesses turned hostile when he retracted his statement and denied mentioning in his statement that he saw Salman getting off the driver’s seat. The case files went missing from the Bandra police station on July 27, 2014. The court ordered inquiry about the missing files that had the original statements of 63 witnesses in the case. On September 12, 2014, the missing files were found and produced before the court. September 24, 2014 saw Pradeep Gharat being appointed as the special public prosecutor.”

One of the biggest reasons for people’s anger is that the victims were made to wait for 13 long years before justice was denied to them. While the case dragged on in the Sessions court, the Bombay High Court was uncharacteristically quick in dispensing the judgment in favour of Salman Khan. The Daksh India blog takes note of this in their blog posts. The blog post Salman and speed says, “The High Court took just over 7 months to decide this appeal. Salman Khan, I am sure, will be relieved that his appeal has been decided so quickly, and of course, in his favour. Most criminal appeals, unfortunately, do not get decided as promptly. In the DAKSH database, we have details of 52,921 criminal appeals pending in 18 High Courts across the country. On an average, the pendency is 5 years and 9 months. Appeals in the Bombay High Court actually take longer. Currently, the DAKSH database has details for 657 criminal appeals pending in the Bombay High Court. The average pendency is just over 13 years! So, Salman Khan should thank his lucky stars that his case was decided so quickly. Of course, Salman Khan was already out on bail pending his appeal. Many other people who are convicted by the lower courts do not get bail and spend time in jail while their appeals are decided by the High Courts.”

Another Daksh India blog post states, “Salman had to sit through 47 hearings in 220 days. That translates to roughly 4- 5 days between hearings. As per the DAKSH data, this number would be very different for a regular Ram or Shyam. According to our data, on average, a case in the Bombay High Court would have to wait 51 days between hearings. In number speak this means that to go through the same number of hearings that Salman’s case did in 7 months, another criminal appeal would take more than 6 and a half years! Apart from the query as to why a case needs to go through 47 hearings, there is the more obvious question – Doesn’t everyone have the same need for speed((y) trial)?”

Whenever Salman’s family members were asked about the case, they spoke about how stressed they were with the sword of the case hanging over their collective heads. They spoke about the resources that were pooled in for the legal proceedings, and how Salman was presenting a smiling face to the world despite the possibility of a conviction. Well, we can’t say anything about the stress, Anirudh Sethi’s blog dismisses the notion that the trial made any dent in the star’s deep pockets. “People are saying he has just walked away. He has been in the jail for few days. He has spent over Rs 20-25 crore (on the case). Besides this, what about the tension that he and everyone went through all this time?” Salim, once a part of a blockbuster scriptwriting team, told PTI. 

For his films, Salman is not known to charge a penny. He takes a 50 per cent share of the profit, said a source in Rajshri films which produced his latest movie Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Just the opening day’s collection of Prem Ratan – Rs 40.35 crore – would have been more than enough for the legal expenditure figure quoted by Salim. The box office collections of Prem Ratan till this Friday stood at around Rs 210 crore (Salman has made it a habit to propel his films past Rs 200 crore). Add to this the earnings from music and overseas and telecast rights. The total earnings from the Rs 150-crore movie are expected to cross Rs 250 crore. If so, Salman will take home Rs 50 crore.”

The Salman Khan case caught the imagination of people not just because there is a star involved, but also because it was a test of the Indian judiciary. Would it step up to the plate even when a moneyed celebrity was involved? After the verdict, the answer seems to be NO. Pooja Kshirsagar took to her blog to ask some questions about the trial and Salman’s acquittal. “I don’t understand how an institution as large and prominent as the High Court can give such a verdict just because there aren’t proofs enough to prove anyone guilty. Or maybe things were manipulated because corruption is not something alien to us. But we consider our legal system, our Judiciary, among the three pillars of the society and if verdicts like this come up, will anyone trust the system? Isn’t it completely baseless and irrelevant to assume that no one actually drove the car that night because there are no proofs to prove it? 

This is how our judicial system works! You never know who will accuse you of killing someone when you wouldn’t even be knowing the victim, or who would set you free for killing people (the latter is possible only when you have lots of money and contacts, of course)!”

The #SalmanVerdict was a clear mockery of justice for many people, and in such a case, sarcastic comments cannot be far behind. Take a look at this blog which lists down the best tweets that sum up what people felt about the #SalmanVerdict.

As we told you earlier, there are some people who feel that Salman has been dealt with more strictly because he is a celebrity. Sundari Venkatraman feels that Salman has done enough good deeds for people and that is penance enough for the hit and run accident. She says,“Some might say that a few good acts do not compensate for one bad act. But why not? I don’t think the man would have been very comfortable with his conscience after the death of all those people. He has definitely done a number of good deeds to set that right in his own way. Yes, those will not bring those people back to life. Then again, Salman Khan languishing in jail isn’t going to bring them back either.

Does it make sense to put the actor behind bars? It’s not as if he’s a hardened criminal. There are many of those running around free and our judicial system seems to be doing nothing about those people. While, if Salman Khan is free, the film industry stands to make a lot of money, in turn helping the lives of many of those who are dependent on Bollywood.”

Finally, it all boils down to the fact that the investigating agencies doing shoddy work of gathering proof and witness accounts. Advaita Kala feels that instead of grudging Salman his efficient legal counsel, we should ensure that everyone gets access to good legal help. “And yet, this has critics in a bind – he has “used” the legal system. Indeed how? By exercising his right to the best legal defence he could afford? I suspect anyone in a legal bind, would exercise this option. What yet again passes without comment is the shoddy legal representation made available to the victims that put up an entirely circumstantial case which collapsed under closer scrutiny.
Shouldn’t a system and a society that values justice for all, question the legal options available to the poor and disempowered? Rather than obsess over Salman Khan’s predictable access to a fine defence team? Shouldn’t the former be unacceptable and the latter a given? And if we were to permit the role “celebrity” plays then it must also be acknowledged that the charge of “culpable homicide” applied in this case and not in others like this one, is an example of Salman’s celebrity having worked against him.”

The #SalmanVerdict made headlines and got a lot of angry as well as relieved reactions. Bhai’s fans and well wishers were over the moon, while the rest were shaking their heads about ‘money and power buying justice’ in the country. Salman Khan himself had a pretty mature reaction to it. After reports of him bursting out in tears in the courtroom and the humming to himself, this is what the megastar tweeted –

Whether Salman was driving that night or not, the fact remains that one person lost his life while the lives of the injured took a turn for the worse. Hopefully the Indian judiciary brings the real culprit to book and also provides enough compensation to the injured to keep our faith in the law of the land alive.

What are your thoughts on the #SalmanVerdict? Tell us in the comments below!

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