Since Abdul Rashid Salim Salman Khan got arrested, a section of the mainstream media and social media has gone into a frenzy. He has a significant following in Asia and the Indian diaspora worldwide; Salman is cited in the media as one of the most commercially successful actors of the Indian cinema. Khan is the eldest son of screenwriter Salim Khan and his first wife Sushila Charak (who later adopted the name Salma Khan because she got married to Salim Khan). His paternal ancestors were Pathans from present-day Afghanistan, who immigrated to Indore, Madhya Pradesh in the mid-1800s. His grandfather Abdul Rashid Khan was a DIG (Deputy Inspector General) of the Indore state who was awarded ‘Diler Jung’ award of the Holkar times. Salman’s mother is a Maharashtrian, whose father Baldev Singh Charak comes from Jammu-Kashmir and whose mother comes from Maharashtra. Khan’s stepmother is Helen, a former actress.
In a short span, he got both fame and controversy together. He is the only actor to star in the highest-grossing Bollywood films in 10 separate years. He is one of the Indian actors who topped the Forbes India charts for 2014, in terms of both fame and revenues. According to the Forbes 2015 list of Top-Paid 100 Celebrity Entertainers in the world, Khan was the highest ranked Indian with 71st rank with earnings of $33.5 million. In addition to his acting career, he is a stage performer and an active humanitarian through his charity work with his non-profit organisation, Being Human.
Khan’s off-screen life is marred by hullabaloo and legal troubles. His rampant relationship with Aishwarya Rai, his hunting of endangered species and a negligent driving case, in which he ran over five people with his car, killing one, have been extensively covered by the Indian media. For the last of these, Khan was sentenced to five years imprisonment in 2015, but was later acquitted. On April 5, 2018, Khan was convicted in the blackbuck poaching case and sentenced to five years in jail, for which his bail hearing was all set to happen on April 6 morning, but has now been rescheduled for April 7.
The lengthy judicial procedure has pulled this case for 20 long years. After Thursday’s verdict, Salman Khan, qaidi (prisoner) no. 106, spent a night in the Jodhpur Central Jail and had his own guards, as informed by the officials a day after he was sentenced to five years in prison for killing blackbucks in Rajasthan in 1998, during a film shoot. The 52-year-old actor was served dal-roti and vegetables for dinner, but according to media reports, he refused it. He didn’t call for food from outside either. He will have a simple wooden bed, a rug and a cooler in his cell. He was given normal jail diet like dal-chapati and the morning meal will include a simple khichdi, which I am sure Salman is used to having as this is not the first time for him in the prison. Salman Khan has been kept in ward no. 2, next to the cell of self-styled Godman Asaram, who has been in prison since 2013, after getting arrested for allegedly raping a 15-year-old schoolgirl at his ashram.
On September 28, 2002, Khan was arrested for reckless and negligent driving after his car ran into a bakery in Mumbai; one person who was sleeping on the pavement outside the bakery died and three others were injured in the accident. Charges of culpable homicide were laid against him, but dropped later. On July 24, 2013, he was formally charged with culpable homicide in the case, to which he pleaded not guilty. On May 6, 2015, Khan was found guilty of all charges in the case. The Bombay Sessions Court concluded that Khan was driving the car under the influence of alcohol. Sessions judge DW Deshpande convicted the actor for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to five years in prison. Later on the same day, Khan, being represented by Senior Counsel Amit Desai, was granted bail by the Bombay High Court till May 8, 2015, on which the court suspended his prison sentence until the final appeal hearing in July. His driver Ashok Singh, who had given the testimony that he was himself driving the car at the time of the accident, was charged with perjury for misguiding the Court with false testimony and was arrested. The kidnapping and eventual death of prime witness Police Constable Ravindra Patil remains a mystery, with some suspecting the involvement of organised crime.
In India, the testimony of the prime witness is considered the most important document in a criminal case, which often influences the final verdict. In the 2002 hit-and-run case of Salman Khan, the man who found himself in the epicentre of the controversy, was the prime witness of the case — Constable Ravindra Patil. Those close to Patil admitted that he was under enormous pressure to change his statement. There were many who wanted Patil to change his statement. They preferred that Patil maintain that Salman leaned back to listen to him seconds before he lost control of the wheel. This would mean that the accident was caused by a ‘human error’ and not because he was drunk. Some people wanted him to say that Salman was not drunk at the time of the accident. Whatever be the case, Patil did not change his statement until the last day. It was unclear who was putting pressure on Patil — some say they were all ‘well-wishers’ of Salman Khan from the police force while others say that those talking to Patil were Salman’s common friends from the film industry. Whoever they were, the pressure tactic seemed to be working as Patil was showing signs of a nervous break down.
Patil was a constable and hence belonged to the lowest rung in the police force. He admitted numerous times that he was under pressure and he would always try to duck the media. During 2006, when the examination of witnesses was going on, Salman had hired the best lawyers in Mumbai who were all charged up to cross-examine Patil. But then, something unexpected happened. Patil just ran away one evening. His brother lodged a missing report about Patil at a local police station. Day after day, Patil chose to skip court dates because he didn’t want to face the defense lawyer. Soon, Patil came under the scrutiny of the court because he remained absent at the court hearings. The court proceedings were stuck because Patil was absent in the witness box. It also came to light that he had run away without applying for leave. In a strange twist of fate, a man who had actually lodged the first information report (FIR) against Salman Khan, now had an arrest warrant issued against him for not turning up at court hearings. The arrest warrant was issued after he failed to appear for five consecutive court dates. As the judge ordered that he should be arrested and produced in the court, his seniors at the police force simultaneously approved that Patil get sacked from his job because he was absent from duty. His seniors chose to ignore the fact that technically Patil was ‘missing’ and not ‘absent’ according to their own records. Nobody was interested in knowing why he had run away from his house or, why the same person who was so forthcoming in lodging a complaint against a Bollywood star like Salman Khan, didn’t want to take the witness box. Patil was never put under any witness protection programme. Patil was sent to the Arthur Road jail with hardened criminals. Like how they deal with a hardened criminal, a task force was prepared to nab Patil and find out where he was ‘hiding’. Finding him was easier than anybody had thought because Patil was not hiding anywhere. Ravindra Patil was actually staying in a small hotel in Mahabaleshwar, just a few kilometres away from Mumbai. He would come to Mumbai often to meet his wife and family. He was not on the run from the police and was going around telling everybody that he wanted to stay away from the Salman Khan case. He had repeatedly requested his colleagues in Mumbai Police to work out a way so that he can be spared from the case. The problem was, he was the prime witness and without him, the case didn’t stand a chance in the court of law.
(This is the first part of the editorial and remaining portion will continue on Sunday.)
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