Paying the price for being Salman Khan 

This is not the first time that the devil of his celebrity has caught up with Salman Khan. The actor’s 72 hours in prison in 2006 before he was granted bail; his terrible and sometimes violent break-ups with girlfriends; his punch-ups with the press… all seem to be forebodings of what he now faces: five years in prison. 

It is heartening that one of India’s topmost stars can be brought to justice. It is also a triumph of the system that works, even if rarely and stutteringly, for pavement dwellers as well. 

But one question lingers: Would the system have been so alert, the accused so zealously hounded, if the person in question was not Salman Khan? 

On the one hand, it is heartening to see that no-one is above the law. On the other, we might ask if the law would have clung on with such tenacity if the alleged offender had not been a megastar.

On the one hand, it is heartening to see that no-one is above the law. On the other, we might ask if the law would have clung on with such tenacity if the alleged offender had not been a megastar.

The conviction rate in fatal accidents in India, according to news reports, is around 5 per cent. In Maharashtra, the state in which Salman lives, only 5 per cent were convicted for causing death because of negligence in 2012, and 13.6 per cent were convicted for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures. 

In 52 fatal accident cases in Gurgaon in the early half of 2011, there were only seven cases where the accused were actually convicted, putting the conviction rate at just 13.46 per cent. Violators go scot-free or with very mild punishment in an overwhelming number of cases. 

But most importantly, when ordinary people are killed by negligence or unlawful driving by ordinary people, nobody cares. It takes a Salman Khan case to make it a great circus of justice, for us to sit around and break into sanctimonious cheers. 

Besides, is five years in jail excessive? Alistair Pereira, a young Mumbai man and son of a rich businessman, ran his car under the influence of liquor over construction workers sleeping on a Bandra pavement, killing seven and injuring eight on November 12, 2006. The sessions court awarded him only six months in jail. Then the Bombay HC awarded him three years’ and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. 

The verdict also comes, ironically, long after Salman’s wildest days. In 2009, during one of our meetings, he told me the 72 hours he had spent in a Jodhpur prison before getting bail in the blackbuck case profoundly affected him, calmed him down. 

“People had seen me suffer, they have seen me as a real person. Which is why they love me, they feel, ‘Yeh apna banda hai’,” he had said. 

Suffering has matured Salman. It has not made him less magnanimous, but it has prompted him to start refusing to accept roles in shoddy movies to help friends. 

It has made him more astute about choices, aware about his own strengths and limitations. 

Salman Khan must serve the sentence he deserves to. It is also true that because he is rich and famous, he will be hounded by media and moral eagles for appealing in a higher court. That’s the devil of celebrity.