The verdict in the high-profile actor Salman Khan hit and run case has finally been delivered by a sessions court 13 years after the incident occurred, reminding us of the inordinate delays that the Indian legal system is dogged with.
Salman, who is believed to be the highest-paid actor in the country today with his annual income running into tens of crores has been found guilty on all counts, the most serious of them being culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
That he was in a drunken state when his vehicle ran over five homeless people who slept on a roadside, killing one of them and injuring four, has been borne out by the judge who disbelieved his contentions that he was not at the wheel on the fateful night and that he was not high on liquor.
Salman has been handed out an imprisonment of five years while the maximum punishment for the offence could have been 10 years. He still has an opportunity to convince the higher courts that it is miscarriage of justice.
While it is reprehensible that Salman’s driver ‘confessed’ to a crime that he had not committed, whether he did it under inducement or threat, the mitigating factor for Salman is that he is known to be a very humane individual and has been reputed to open his purse strings liberally for many good causes and philanthropic activities.
Arguably, had Salman confessed to the crime and not taken recourse to the alibi that his driver was at the wheel, the court may have taken a more lenient view but this is in the realm of speculation.
The court needed to set an example for others who drive rashly in a drunken state, especially those of great means, and to that extent it has done a good job in establishing Salman’s culpability.
To those film producers who have huge amounts at stake with films starring Salman in various stages of non-completion one can only express sympathy. The judgement could not have been otherwise on that count. The Indian judiciary can hold its head high that it has made no distinction between rich and poor, between a celebrity and a commoner. That is how it should be.