The Tiger Verdict and the Brouhaha

Sapna K Sangra
At one point in time, I have been a crazy fan of ‘Maine Payar Kiya’ and I admit humming ‘Dil Diyan Gallan’ quite often these days but that doesn’t, in any way, affect how I look at the verdict pronounced after twenty odd years by the trial court and then the upper court suspending the same and releasing the guilty on bail after 48 hours in the actor Salman Khan Blackbuck Poaching Case. The sudden turn of events led to the furore leaving many an eyebrow raised. So, for one set of people, it has been an equal application of law irrespective of the status of being high and mighty who could exert pressure and influence every part of the social system, others feel the sentence and subsequent release of the actor on bail is just the mockery of the legal system. The arguments from the huge fan following in the form of emotional outburst are understood to be the love for the actor irrespective of any rational basis. From the ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ (Tiger is Alive) to ‘Tiger ko Pinjrey Mein Kab Tak Rakhoge,’ (For how long will you keep the tiger in the cage?) it was all there on the social media!
Actor Salman Khan is accused of killing two Blackbucks, hunting of which is prohibited under section 9/51 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in Bhagoda Ki Dhani in Kankani village near Jodhpur in the intervening night of October 1-2, 1998 during the shooting of film Hum Saath Saath Hain. A Jodhpur court convicted actor Salman Khan on April 5 sentencing him to five years jail term and fined Rs 10,000. Co-accused actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam Kothari and Sonali Bendre and local resident Dushyant Singh were given the benefit of doubt and were acquitted.
I would not say that killing of a Blackbuck wasn’t that grave a crime since it was all about killing an animal. And also, that the case became high profile just because it involved a celebrity. Rather, a crime is a crime and the punishment must be in proportion to the gravity of the crime committed. It was a case of alleged poaching which took place near an area inhabited by the Bishnois, a traditional community committed to protecting the endangered animal and which remains vigilant against poachers in the area. The case, thus, rested on the primary witness, the Bishnoi villagers. H.M Saraswat, Salman Khan’s lawyer argued that there has been a “false and malicious campaign” to target the actor and showed a video to the court purportedly showing witnesses signing the blank papers. Whatever be the arguments of the defence counsel, communities such as Bishnois deserve all our respect for coming together for the safety of their flora and fauna and their ability in standing up like a rock on the basis of the values and principles that guide their everyday lives. It’s on the basis of these principles that they could take on one of the powerful men in the Bollywood. Also, there is an element of great learning for all of us from the lives of Bishnois. We have to be constantly vigil about the lurking dangers and threats to our habitat. Our failure to protect our natural environment would ultimately lead us to our disastrous ends.
Another string of the matter relates to the longevity of the case which was dragged on for twenty years. If this was the state of affairs of the matter which the nation had its eyes on, the plight of the thousands of cases pending in various courts in our country can be well be gauged. The agony of those involved in such cases is difficult to fathom. For each and every day of those twenty long years, the Salman Khan faced sentence in the form of stigma which pretty much came to the fore on social media after the pronouncement of the sentence. Every time, Salman presented himself at the Court during the trial, he alternately faced the media trial which could be de-motivating and humiliating for anyone.
Though it took twenty years, ultimately it was proved that in the eyes of the Law, all are equal but the news about Khan’s sentence had not even sink-in that we heard about his bail. It’s not that the higher judiciary is not conscious of the priority given to the cases of high and mighty or influential’s. In August 2013, a bench of Justice B.S Chauhan and Justice S.A Bobde while dismissing the anticipatory bail plea of IPS officer P.P Pandey said, “We can say on oath that only 5 percent of the time is being used for common citizens, whose appeals are waiting for 20 or 30 years. This court has become a safe haven for big criminals. You come here for the sixth or eighth time for anticipatory bail and we should hear as if we were a trial court.”
In September 2013, a bench of Justice H.L. Dattu and S.J. Mukhopadhaya while dismissing the bail plea of former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala admitted that India’s justice system is a ‘tragedy’ as common citizens are ignored in favour high-profile cases and told senior counsel, appearing for Mr Chautala, that “Cases of known VIP convicts are given preference by the High Court over poor convicts. You (Mr Chautala) were convicted in January but your appeal in the Delhi High Court is almost complete. Here in the Supreme Court, appeals filed in 2005 against death sentence are still in the queue and we are not able to take up these matters. Look at the tragedy of the system.”
Whether verdict of the Jodhpur court survives the appeals process is yet to be seen, but the stiff sentence so far clearly reiterates that stardom does not confer impunity!
(The writer teaches Sociology at the University of Jammu and is a State Chairperson of Spic Macay. She blogs at


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