Bollywood superstar Salman Khan has been sentenced to five years of imprisonment in a hit-and-run case that has attracted much debate and deliberation for over a decade now. The actor was convicted of culpable homicide, rash and negligent driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol. The Mumbai sessions court, which gave the verdict, was teeming with news reporters and Salman Khan’s family as the judge held him guilty of seven charges, turning down the defence’s argument that he was not behind the wheel at the time of the accident.
After the Bombay High Court verdict on 6 May, Salman Khan was granted two-day interim bail until 8 May.
The Hit-and-Run Case
On 28 September 2002, actor Salman Khan was returning home from a bar in Bandra when his racy SUV ploughed into five men sleeping on the pavement outside the American Express bakery in Bandra West (Mumbai). One of the five victims died as a result of the accident. The actor fled the scene, later stating that he was not under the influence of alcohol and was not driving the white Toyota Land Cruiser involved in the accident. Over the past 12 years, a number of hearings have been held and apart from the victims, a constable and some witnesses also testified in the case.
The case proceeded, quite in the manner of Bollywood flicks, full of contradictions and dramatic twists. The constable retracted his testimony several times before succumbing to tuberculosis in 2007. Over the years, the prosecution has produced the testimony of about 27 witnesses to support their charges. Apart from eyewitness testimony, forensic evidence and blood samples drawn from the actor soon after the incident were also introduced. The employees of the bar where Khan was drinking ruled out the possibility of him being sober during the accident. The police had not, at the time, collected fingerprints from the steering wheel, thus failing to produce any conclusive evidence.
Salman Khan’s defence team, however, alleged that the actor had only been drinking water all day. They said that the death of the pavement-dweller occurred due to the bumper landing on him while a crane attempted to move the crashed vehicle.
After almost 12 years of the accident, Salman Khan’s driver Ashok Singh stepped forward and confessed to driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. He said that the vehicle’s front left tyre had burst and he ran over the victims. Singh’s statement has been the subject of much ridicule and mistrust over the past month.
“Fines are Not Enough”
“Fines are not enough”,claimed the public prosecutor, Pradeep Gharat, trying the case. The prosecution was gunning for a 10-year sentence. The defence lawyers, led by Shrikant Shivade, argued against a prison term for Salman Khan saying that the actor has been suffering from a stress-related neurological condition and that his charity work through the organisation ‘Being Human’ would suffer greatly. Even as the judge handed Salman Khan a five-year term, his defence attorneys sought to reduce the sentence. They said that the actor had paid INR 19 lakh as compensation to the victims and was ready to pay whatever more money the court deems fit. Judge DW Deshpande, however, remained convinced that Salman Khan had been behind the wheel at the time of the accident and said, “After going through the arguments put forth by both sides, I have come to the conclusion that five years is proper punishment”. Salman Khan and his sisters broke down in the courtroom when the judge pronounced the verdict. A number of legal experts have, however, lauded the verdict as the triumph of justice over clout.
What Happens Next?
Three hours after being convicted, Salman Khan applied for bail and returned home. This brings in some relief for the actor as the court will go on vacation the next week. However, all eyes are on 8 May when the actor’s bail ends and the court takes the next course of action. His bail may or may not be extended on Friday. In case the latter happens; Salman’s legal team will move the Supreme Court.
Bollywood Supports Salman Khan
Salman Khan is an iconic Bollywood hero who has given some of the biggest box office hits. Khan’s imprisonment is likely to cost movie and television show producers about USD 31 million due to cancellations, said a news report. Most Bollywood actors have rallied in support of Salman Khan and expressed regret at the verdict. Khan is known to be a genial and kind soul, though often found to have troublesome run-ins with the law. In 1998, Salman Khan was booked for hunting and killing a blackbuck – a protected species of antelope – during a film shooting in Rajasthan. He was sent to a week-long prison term in 2006 for the offence.
Mumbai High Court Suspends Actor’s Jail Term
Much to Salman Khan’s relief, the Bombay High Court on 8 May suspended the actor’s five-year jail term, which is pending appeal. The actor will continue to be out on bail while the High Court hears his appeal against the lower court’s order.
According to a Bombay High Court ruling on Wednesday, December 10, 2015, the prosecution did not succeed in providing material evidence to confirm beyond doubt that Bollywood actor Salman Khan was driving in an inebriated state. No evidence could be found on whether the accident occurred due to the bursting of tyre. Justice A.R. Joshi added that Khan’s former police body guard and first informant (who is now dead) was not a ‘wholly reliable witness’. It may be recalled that it was based on the body guard’s account that the prosecution had rested its case.
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