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Punishing Salman Khan

Why is the punishment of a celebrity being made an example to society, asks actress Dia Mirza.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 04:27 IST
Dia Mirza

Judge not, that ye not be judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. — The Bible

I write best when I am most upset. 

Salman Khan is a friend. He is a kind-hearted, generous man. He saved my mother’s life. He is also human and fallible.

The recent verdict on the Salman Khan chinkara case has raised a few serious questions in my mind. Is a crime any worse if the perpetrator is a celebrity? Why is the punishment of a celebrity being made an example to society? The desire to make examples of celebrities to enforce the law reeks of the fact that the law is otherwise ineffectual.

In the eyes of the law everyone is equal. Case in point: the dismissal of the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra by the Bombay High Court. The ban allowed performances in three- and five-star hotels, which the Bombay High Court said was discriminatory. This ruling proves that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.

Why then is the law singling out a celebrity simply because he is a celebrity? Is this not a transgression of the spirit of the law?

Moreover, what kind of an example are we setting by severely punishing celebrities? Are we saying, therefore, that a common man can get away with something that a celebrity cannot? Or are we saying that the common man is above the law? Or are we saying there is no equality in the eyes of the law?

Think about the Jessica Lall murder case. Nine accused were acquitted. Many witnessed this act of wanton criminality. We still can’t tell what was more shocking: the fact that a woman was murdered in full view of bystanders or the manner in which the judiciary sought to bring justice to the alleged killers?

A law that is subjective is no longer law. It’s tyranny. What faith can you have in a law that is not blind to who you are and judges you on your background and on your position in society?

St Thomas Aquinas said almost 800 years ago, “Human law is law by virtue of its accordance with right reason, and by this means it is clear that it flows from the Eternal law. In so far as it deviates from right reason it is called an Unjust law; and in such a case, it is no law at all, but rather an assertion of violence.”

Punish a celebrity by all means if he has committed a crime. But do not penalise him excessively only because he is a celebrity. No one else has received a five-year jail sentence for killing chinkaras.

Of the 76-odd cases, there have been just three convictions — and Salman Khan’s was the harshest. (One man was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for killing a chinkara and life imprisonment for killing a man who tried to protect the deer.) Why then is Salman Khan the first to receive such a harsh sentence?

Let the punishment fit the crime. How can you put a man in central jail with terrorists and murderers for killing deer? What of the socio-economic consequences: the money riding on films and the families dependent on these projects? What will you tell them when they are laid off and unable to find work? That the law wants to make an example of someone, so your family must not eat?

Nobody is saying that simply because an actor has a few hundred crores riding on him, he can burn, pillage and plunder. But what we are saying is, yes, punish him by all means, but let the punishment fit the crime.

Celebrities do not owe a greater debt to society than the rest of its citizens. They contribute more towards the national exchequer than many small proprietorship companies, they pay their debt to society, they pay their taxes, they contribute to infrastructure and health and development like all of us. So why do they need to be vilified to exercise the law? Is the law so impotent that it needs Salman Khan to be heard?

It would appear so.

Why do celebrities have to work harder at being citizens of their own country? Are you aware that begging is illegal? How many policemen chase beggars away when they play in traffic in front of your car? Why not? Perhaps we should have a celebrity beggar to punish as well. Will that make an example (Headline: Salman Khan Caught Begging, Gets Life Imprisonment)?

Why not have separate laws, then, for everyone? The Celebrity Code, the Farmer’s Act, the Rules of Begging, and so on.

Yes, I do write best when I am most upset.