Indians love to worship their heroes especially when the hero or heroine is a film star. I was perplexed to notice the reaction of general public and that of fraternity of Mumbai film industry who came out in open and ridiculed the verdict of District and Session Judge of Jodhpur who found actor Salman Khan guilty of killing two blackbucks in Jodhpur during a film shooting in 1998. The judge Ravindra Kumar Joshi pronounced Salman guilty on April 5 and sentenced him to 5-year jail term under the Wild Life Protection Act on April 6, 2018. On April 7, the judge granted bail to Salman.
In three days, what one heard was an outcry against the conviction of the actor. Some termed the sentence “too harsh” while others from the film industry said Salman does not deserve punishment since he is a “reformed” man now; he spends good money on charity and for philanthropic work. By implications, this class of people want that the law of the land should not apply on people like Salman Khan who is a celebrity. If the views of the fans of the celebrities are taken into consideration then, Indian Parliament will have to amend and enact new laws to effect changes in the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.). Also, a new clause has to be added that a person who spends part of his income on charity and for philanthropic cause should not be punished even if he or she commits crime. Nothing can be more dangerous a trend than this.
It is possible and it may be a fact that Salman spends part of his earnings in charity and helps the needy. But this is also a fact that some film stars, Salman Khan included, are hot headed, Film Stars often beat their fans and get them thrashed by their body guards and bouncers for going too near to them. Even journalists are insulted and thrashed for asking uncomfortable questions. The stars throw tantrums around them while in public.
There are fewer film actors in Mumbai today who are gentle and well mannered. In the past number of such gentle characters in film industry was big. To name a few, actors like Dev Anand. Guru Dutt, Balraj Sahani and Motilal were great men of endurance.
Another bizarre argument heard in the past few days (April 5-7) was some people in film industry saying that by sentencing Salman Khan to jail term has put an investment of Rs 500-700 crores at risk since producers who are making films with Salman as actor may suffer losses. What a rubbish argument it is? Perhaps, the big pull of Salman and big money that he generates from his films make his fellow actors support him; had a lesser known film maker of actor was punished for the same crime as that of Salman, the Mumbai film industry would not have reacted at all.
If one goes by such argument, a person who is in the process of investing millions of rupees in industry or trade and if such a person commits an offence, he should be allowed to go scot free for the reason that ‘investment’ will be at risk.
There were some sensible voices though muted from film industry who held the conviction of Salman Khan right since it violated the Indian Wild Life Act. Blackbucks are not only endangered species but it is worshiped like God by the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan. The Court decided to pronounce the actor guilty on the basis of evidence and eye witnesses who saw Salman using rifle to shoot Blackbucks in Jodhpur. The court took a lenient view on another actor accompanying Salman Khan in shooting of two Blackbucks. Saif Ali Khan, who was present when the killing of blackbucks took place, was acquitted in the case and with him three actresses Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam were also acquitted. The women were in the same jeep which was used for hunting.
A dim view of public on killing of animals is the factor behind the outcry against jail term for Salman. People think that heaven will not fall if an animal protected under the Wildlife Act is killed. After all, we kill thousands of goats, chickens, pigs and buffaloes for meat every day. General view is lenient on poaching of Rhinos for their horns, Elephants for their trunks, Tigers and Leopards for their skin and deer for its musk. There are dozens of Animal Rights Groups over the world including in India which fights for animal rights and are against cruelty to animals. There are guidelines and rules even for animals or birds being taken to slaughter house that says that animals should not be carried in suffocating condition in trucks or in any transport. Animals should not be subjected to pain before being slaughters etc. etc.
In the mediaeval India, hunting used to be a sport. Kings and Emperors would go for hunting in jungle to kill lion, tiger and leopard. Deer and wild boar were killed for its meat. Even today, despite stringent laws against poaching and killing of endangered species, smugglers and professional poachers are actively killing animals for money. Government at the Centre and in the States should increase vigil and our justice system should be more active in punishing the killers of endangered species.
R K Sinha
(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)