World’s 9th best-paid actor dodged conviction since 1998
JODHPUR, Rajasthan, India–– “Bollywood” macho-man movie star Salman Khan, 52, dodging poaching charges for nearly 20 years, was on April 5, 2018 convicted for at least the second time of allegedly poaching two endangered chinkara gazelles, on September 26 and 27, 1998.
Four other “Bollywood” stars accused in the same case — Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, and Tabu and Neelam, who each use only one name — were acquitted by Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri.
“They were in the jeep that Salman Khan was believed to be driving during the hunt,” summarized CBS News.
Killing the chinkara, while outrageous to many people in India and abroad, long ago became less noteworthy than the length of time Khan has allegedly exercised wealth and influence either to evade justice or––as he contends––to clear his name.
Ordered to serve five years in prison, Khan was returned to the Jodpur Central Jail at least overnight, 12 years after serving a week of a one-to-five-year sentence issued after his first conviction.
“Vikram Singh, a police officer at the Jodhpur jail, told NDTV that Khan had been provided with four blankets, and would be sleeping on the floor during his time at the prison,” reported New Delhi Television.
Khan on the jail floor for two nights before winning release on April 6, 2018, after posting bail of $770. His next court appearance was set for May 7, 2018.
If money and fame alone could have bought Khan out of trouble, the long-pending case would long since have disappeared, along with key witnesses who have gone missing at inopportune times, only to reappear later, claiming they had not been notified of the court dates.
“Forbes estimated that Khan made $37 million in 2017, making him the ninth-highest paid actor in the world and the second-highest paid actor in India,” recounted Reuters stringer Dominique Mosbergen.
First convicted in 2006
After Khan was initially convicted in 2006, he was eventually acquitted on appeal of all charges. The government of the state of Rajasthan appealed the acquittal, however, winning reinstatement of the case in mid-2016.
But observers doubted that Khan would ever pay any significant penalty for allegedly killing the chinkara after Jodpur chief judicial magistrate Dalpat Singh Rajpurohit on January 18, 2017 acquitted him of related charges of possessing and using weapons with an expired hunting license.
World Wildlife Fund calendar
The Khan case erupted as an international cause celebré even before the actor was first arrested.
Among the stars-of-the-month depicted in the 1999 World Wildlife Fund-India calendar, which had reportedly already gone to press when the poaching case came to light, Khan while making a film called Hum Saath-Saath Hain in 1998 often led illegal shooting parties into the Rajasthan desert, witnesses testified at his multiple trials.
But repeated complaints made to police and wildlife officials by the witnesses, including members of the staunchly anti-hunting Bishnoi religious sect, brought no visible response.
5,000 Bishnoi marched
Finally Bishnoi leaders gathered evidence of Khan’s activities, and marched 5,000 strong on foot to Mumbai, also called Bombay, the hub of the “Bollywood” film making industry, to demand justice.
Conservationist Valmik Thapar in his 1997 book Land of the Tiger described the Bishnoi as “the primary reason that desert wildlife still exists on the subcontinent.”
Two hundred ninety four Bishnoi men and 69 women were decapitated in 1778 when they hugged tree trunks in nonviolent defense of a khejri forest against logging.
“This mass slaughter led to a royal order that prohibited the cutting of any tree in a Bishnoi village,” Thapar wrote.
To this day, Bishnoi villages are wooded oases in the otherwise harsh Rajasthan desert, where wildlife congregates in proximity to the people.
Allegedly evaded justice in other cases
Fearing the Bishnoi, despite their reputation for practicing nonviolence, even at cost of their own lives, Salman Khan reportedly hid at the home of the chairman of WWF-India’s Rajasthan committee until his arrest.
Khan has allegedly evaded justice in other cases since then.
In 2015, for instance, Khan was acquitted of killing a homeless man, Nurulah Mahbob Sharif, in a 2002 hit-and-run car crash that injured several other men, all of whom were sleeping at curbside in the Bandra West suburb of Mumbai.
After 13 years of legal delay, a lower court had found Khan guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced him to serve five years in prison. But appellate judge Anil Ramchandra Joshi then threw out the testimony of Khan’s former bodyguard, Ravindra Patil, who had died from tuberculosis in 2007 and was therefore unavailable to reappear for cross-examination.
“The acquittal raised questions about whether celebrities like Khan were being treated preferentially by the Indian justice system,” understated Reuters stringer Mosbergen.
“Khan’s ex-girlfriend, Bollywood actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, famously accused the actor of domestic abuse in the early 2000s,” Mosbergen added. “Her parents reportedly lodged a police complaint against the actor for harassing their daughter after the couple broke up. Khan has denied the allegations.”
Only actually serving significant prison time, during which Khan could not appear in films, appears likely to harm his earnings.
“Khan’s bad boy image has sustained him from the beginning of his career,” Indian film industry journalist Anna Vetticad told The Guardian. “Frequent reports of drunken misbehavior in public, indiscipline at work and girlfriend abuse, along with the hit-and-run and poaching cases that landed him in court, have contributed greatly to fan enthusiasm for him.”