Of Tigers, Blackbucks and Bhai’s Fans

The tiger of Bollywood has finally been convicted of killing two blackbucks, and 20 years after the event, the souls of the two animals are put to rest. This is a strange sentence that no one thought could ever be true, and yet it is. The Jodhpur court on April 5, 2018 passed judgment on the 1998 case, in which Salman Khan and four of his Hum Saath Saath Hain co-stars were charged with hunting endangered deer in Rajasthan. So when news of the actor being found guilty hit the public, it shook them to the core.

In a country where gods are celebrities and celebrities are gods, there is hardly any room left for logic. Voices of reason that do attempt to speak up are met with a generous serving of aggressive abuses, along with a side of death threats by motivated bhakts. These bhakts have taken it upon themselves to defend, by hook or by crook (but usually by crook), all that they devoutly worship, ranging from cows to Salman Khan.

Firstly, fans of bhaijaan were left aghast. Not at the realization that their beloved actor was in fact a criminal, instead they took offence at the law. The Jodhpur court was questioned for running a seemingly useless case, while there were more pressing crimes at hand. Well, at least they acknowledged, however selfishly, that the country is plagued with issues that require serious consequences.

Some fans even went on to express the silliness of such a situation where the lives of mere animals were being valued over the life of a human, conveniently omitting the 2002 hit-and-run in which Khan killed a man. They believe that the ability of thought issues them a license over other life forms. If only they exercised this thought with as much vigour as they do their privileges. Instead all they exercised were their fingers by hurling volleys of insults at those who dared to express joy at bhai facing jail time on Twitter.

Credit: Bollywood Existentialist Memes

Other people were amazed at the judgment too, but for very different reasons. They were left feeling bittersweet about the judgment. Bitter, because even with ample evidence and an eyewitness, it took two whole decades to convict a man of his crimes. Sweet, because however delayed, justice was delivered to a superstar despite the influence he commands in the country. Even though a thousand pending cases are catching dust, the rightful judgment of a high-profile case such as this extends a great degree of credibility to the Indian judicial system. Nevertheless, it would be naive to put too much faith in the judiciary because it has been known to adopt a hypocritical approach in dealing with those who exercise power in the country, from politicians or public figures. This was proved when, only a few hours after being convicted, news of Khan’s bail hearing came in.

For years, Khan has evaded the law. It is now common knowledge that in 2002 he ran his car over several pavement dwellers, killing one in the process, was charged with illegal possession of arms in 1998, was accused of physical violence by Aishwarya Rai in 2002 and has faced repeated backlash for his controversial comments in the media. Yet, he had been given the clean chit all these years, not just by the law, but by the general public too. Who would dare challenge someone who looks like a strongman, has the backing of a million such others, and is the epitome of male chauvinism? He even founded the Being Human Foundation, shrouding his crimes under the blanket of charity work. This fooled many who swear by bhaijaan’s kind heart and helping nature.

There are big bucks currently invested in him, and there is a lot of anxiety in Bollywood surrounding the news. Supportive messages have also been pouring in from the industry, wishing for Khan to get the justice he deserves, which is, a release from jail. And just like that, they can sway the opinions of a thousand people towards believing that the law is being unfairly harsh on their beloved star, when in fact this is an instance of the law actually working. Celebrity status is a very powerful, and therefore dangerous thing, especially in a country like India.

The mere thought of the reigning celebrity of the film industry spending five years in jail is laughable due to its impossibility. But what’s life without some hope? Hence, one can only hope that Salman Khan, better known as Qaidi No.106 in the Jodhpur Central Jail, serves the time he deserves.