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Was justice served? Common man's verdict in Salman Khan case

What took 13 years was undone in two days. Justice for the homeless man crushed under the wheels of Salman Khan's SUV in Mumbai in 2002 is still elusive, but the suspension of the Bollywood star's jail sentence in the case is fast and swift.

ht view Updated: May 08, 2015 17:34 IST
Abhishek Saha
Abhishek Saha
Hindustan Times
Salman Khan,2002 hit-and-run case,Bollywood

What took 13 years was undone in two days. Justice for the homeless man crushed under the wheels of Salman Khan's SUV in Mumbai in 2002 is still elusive, but the suspension of the Bollywood star's jail sentence in the case is fast and swift.

And the way things played out, it showcased only one thing: that it's a rich man's world and there is a class narrative which guides all and sundry.

According to the prosecution's argument the actor was driving his SUV under the influence and after losing control over the vehicle ran over homeless men sleeping on the pavement killing one of them.

In many road accident cases which lead to causalities, the driver is often subjected to an angry mob's fury, even though the crash may not have been caused by his reckless driving. He either escapes the spot quickly or is lynched.

But in the 2002 hit-and-run case something completely opposite happened, thanks to the prime accused being a film star with a huge fan following.

Unfortunately, the series of episodes – a Mumbai court sentencing Salman to five years of jail after 13 years of the incident, certain celebrities denigrating the homeless for sleeping on that ill-fated pavement, the superstar pulling in one of the most expensive lawyers money can buy and finally Bombay high court's suspension of the sentence – will keep reminding us over and over again that in our country the rich and the powerful can flex muscles and pull strings to evade the law.

In fact at one point in the case, the star's lawyers had said that it was not Salman who was at the wheels but his driver, Ashok Singh. In this regard, Salman's hit-and-run case resembles strikingly to Aravind Adiga's Man Booker-winning novel The White Tiger in which the protagonist, a rich man's chauffeur, is forced to own up a car accident caused by his boss's wife. In the novel, Adiga describes the plight of the poor and exposes the heartlessness of the rich.

The people crushed under the wheels of Salman's Toyota Land Cruiser belong to a social strata completely opposite his. One of the injured, Abdullah Rauf Shaikh, told Mid Day how his life was shattered after the incident. His right leg that came under the tyres of Salman's car is still far from healed and he is still trying hard to make ends meet.

Another man injured in the accident told the Indian Express that his injuries have not healed yet and putting Salman behind bars will not improve their disastrous financial condition. One of them reportedly said, "We are poor people, we would rather earn money than fight a case" —leave alone hiring the legal services of a Harish Salve.

A 2003 study by Action Aid estimated that there are 78 million homeless people in India. And these are the people compared to street dogs by singer Abhijeet.

These people, unlike Salman, are not celebrities—the media does not rave about them neither are they invited to the Prime Minister's swearing-in. They are the ones about whom no one talks – the unemployed, poor and 'ugly' sights of our swachch Bharat whose shacks should be displaced to clean up cities before any important event.

Another story associated with Salman's case is that of Ravindra Patil, the actor's bodyguard who was the first to lodge a police complaint that it was indeed the actor who was driving the SUV.

Patil, a constable with the Mumbai Police, was assigned as Salman's unarmed bodyguard in September 2002 after the actor complained of underworld threats and was in the car when the accident occurred.

Media reports have said that after giving his statement Patil was under a lot of pressure to withdraw his statement.

"Patil was later locked in Arthur Road jail because he failed to appear for 5 consecutive court dates. He lost his job as a policeman and was kept in jail with hardened criminals for his absence from the court. He was reportedly ill-treated and tortured inside the jail," said a Tehelka report.

Patil was reportedly found on the streets of Mumbai as a beggar in 2007. He died in October 2007 after suffering from tuberculosis, uncared.

So much for being human and seeking justice.

(The views expressed are personal. The writer tweets at @saha_abhi1990)

First Published: May 08, 2015 15:46 IST