Film star Salman Khan’s jail term of five years in the case of running over a pavement dweller and injuring four in Mumbai nearly 13 years ago has proved that though the delivery of justice is slow in India, there is justice in the end. This is the second instance of a Bollywood star being convicted in recent years.
In the case of Sanjay Dutt, who had been convicted for harbouring illegal arms, the judicial pronouncement also came about 13 years after he had been charged with the offence. But while in the case of Dutt the extent of his culpability had been difficult to establish because nowhere had it been alleged that Dutt had acted with criminal intent or tried to hurt or maim anyone, Khan’s wrongdoing was clear. True, the matter had been complicated by the false testimony given to the court by Khan’s driver. But against the weight of evidence that Khan, now on bail, was at the wheel when the accident happened and that he was under the influence, how one person’s perjury could make so much difference is something that defies credulity. The next thing to do for the prosecution is to investigate how the driver came to confess to a crime he did not commit and who was responsible for that.
Film personalities always have a measure of public support and Khan is no exception to this. No one grudges the esteem in which they are held in society. However, the fact that Khan is involved in charitable work and had offered compensation to the victims cannot be allowed to influence the course of the law, and it did not. Of course, the law makes exceptions in certain situations but in Khan’s case there is no legal provision for that. The Mumbai film world may say that projects worth Rs 200 crore may be held up because of Khan’s imprisonment but people who wish the judicial pronouncement had been different because of that have fallen into the classic error of thinking that money should be a factor in tilting the scales of justice.
Justice may have been done but it has taken more than a decade during which the next of kin of the victim and those injured must have suffered tremendously.
From the verdict, it now appears that it was a fairly straightforward case. In which case, it should have been concluded much earlier. This case also highlights the importance of safe driving, a matter that’s agitating the minds of our lawmakers now. The road safety bill may or may not get the nod of Parliament in its present form, but there should be a law with stringent provisions for errant drivers.