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November 18, 2017

Salman Khan, 2002 hit-and-run case and the Indian Justice delivery system


Thinking Beyond

Anoop Swarup

Anoop Swarup

Anoop Swarup

My head hangs in shame as I cannot speak against the judiciary in a free and democratic India where my right to expression and freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Yes, there are over 3 crore cases pending in our courts while scores facing prosecution continue to languish in jails or so many others have breathed their last hoping for justice, which remains a far cry for countless citizens. Yet the ‘rich and famous’ of India, so often get away from the long arm of law and this would continye until the nation gets a conscience and rises for the have nots.

Our laws and court processes are antiquated from the British Raj but have adapted well to the Money Raj of modern India. As the media trial goes on even as the High Court grants bail to Salman Khan, the anguish of the common man is at its peak and to top it all, this morning I saw a very sarcastic message taking rounds on WhatsApp ‘People have lost faith in the judiciary today … but if Salman had not got the bail people would have lost faith in money too’. The public perception is a telling commentary on the state of affairs in India today. Yes, no one is above law, but for sure in posterity we will look back to agree that there are humans who can always rise above law, in free India.

Well this is not just about actor Salman Khan and the 2002 hit and run case or for that matter even his 2008 black buck case and a few other matters that did or did not end up in the courts. But it is, thanks to Salman, that we once again have the opportunity to talk about inequity, inequality and injustice in our society, and about a tale of two nations, ‘India and Bharat’ where same law and same judicial process have been allowed to be partial.

As about the media and the film fraternity of India, who have spared no thought for the victims, the solidarity and all the talk of justice delivered appears ridiculous perhaps hypocritical. Mr. Khan, you have been gracious enough to thank all those who prayed for you but please do also spare some time for your own conscience as being human is not running away from the site of the accident and delaying the process of justice on various technical, or perhaps flimsy grounds. But you are not alone in this as in my free country a good and competent lawyer employs a man of law who is well connected and is also good in subverting the process of justice on various technicalities.

The national television channels for the last three days have been on a hyper drive, nothing has been more important in this world of ours than : Salman gets 5 years for hit & run, What next for Salman ! Salman, Bail or Jail! 2002 Hit and Run. Salman didn’t provide medical aid is well made out in the 240 page judgment. It was apparent that Ashok Singh was a got up witness as the tyre burst theory was rejected, apparently for 13 years Salman didn’t admit he was driving. As it transpires now the defense lawyer’s approach was perhaps fallacious as to who was the driver: Altaf or Ashok who was driving from J W Marriott. When it comes to crime and punishment it is almost 13 years since that fateful night in Mumbai that the star is convicted for culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304-II IPC- 5 years imprisonment and INR 25000/- fine read with Section 338 IPC, causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others, one year simple imprisonment and Rs 500/- fine, Section 337 IPC, causing minor injuries, three month simple imprisonment and fine, Section 187 Motor Vehicle Act, failing to give information on name address and license to police, three month simple imprisonment and Rs 500/- fine, Section 185 of Motor Vehicle Act, drunk driving, six month simple imprisonment and Rs 2000/- fine, Section 3(1) read with 181 of Motor Vehicle Act, driving without license, 2moth imprisonment and Rs 500/- fine.

I am also equally compelled to share this piece that is taking rounds on the new media that the visual media has not fully taken cognizance of: The reason why Salman Khan and his advocate are alarmed at Ravindra Patil’s statement is because Patil is the only eye witness in this case. He was sitting next to Salman Khan on the dreadful night of September 28, 2002, when Salman Khan under the influence of alcohol drew his car recklessly. In his statement, recorded by the magistrate, Patil had categorically declared that Salman Khan was under the influence of alcohol and despite his repeated requests to let him drive, Khan ignored his pleas and rammed his car into a bakery in suburban Bandra, killing one person and injuring four others who were sleeping on the pavement. After the ugly accident Ravindra Patil was the first person to lodge an FIR against Salman Khan as a concerned citizen. However later he had to pay a heavy price for his civilian act. Though Patil was a constable in Mumbai police and employed as a body guard to Salman Khan, he was immediately stripped off duty as Khan’s body guard due to his bold remark. Soon he was also pressurized by his department to change his statement. But he was adamant. Later the pressure became so extreme that Patil was compelled to flee from Mumbai so that he could not be present during trial in the court. Patil’s absence was cleverly exploited by Khan’s men as Patil was declared an absconder by the judge for not being present in the court. A warrant was issued and without hearing Patil’s pleas he was arrested and sent to Arthur Road jail. To make his life worse his police job was also stripped! With no job Patil’s family too abandoned him and he was left to begging. The young and handsome Patil’s condition deteriorated to such an extent that he contracted TB and was reduced to skeleton! He was last seen by a news reporter at the Sewri Municipal hospital in Mumbai in 2007. Despite such hardship and humiliation Patil was adamant on his stance regarding Salman Khan’s statement in the hit and ran case.

We came across a series of lies from the appearance of Ashok Singh – accepting that he was driving and not Khan and a sudden change of statements by Khan himself that present a discomforting picture of an actor who runs the Being Human charity. The court antics in fact wash away all the good work that he may have done. Patil died an unsung death on October 4, 2007 lamenting that neither the society heard his cries nor God paid heed to his pleas.

The question remains, is Bollywood out of touch with the world and the ground reality. The convict in this case Salman Khan, who is now out on bail, had no valid license, was responsible for not only rash and negligent driving but was under the influence of liquor and has been indicted for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Perhaps rightly enough one of the panelists on TV was fuming that a case of perjury should be made out for a got up witness and that 340 CrPC for false evidence the term of 7 years should have been applied as the entire made up defense case had boomeranged. Salman Khan ’s paradropped alibi was strongly opposed in the trial court, but the appeal against the quantum of sentence, why was Kamal Khan allowed to get away by the prosecution were taken as valid arguments by the High Court. Now again the facts do speak for themselves as the captions and banners in prime time media channels and the print media run: 13 year delay in trial but just 48 hours for bail, 13 years on and no closure for the victims, even without a copy of the entire judgment, will you be heard this quick, the High Court was kept open beyond thet 5 pm closing time for the common man, special treatment indeed. Is speedy justice only for those who can afford and book the top lawyers. The extreme alacrity in the deliverance of justice has been debated time and again. In the instant matter, I shall not discuss that any further as the matter is subjudice and I cannot afford a contempt.

Yes in the bold new world of today, it is not news any more but views that drive the info media! and one of our national newspaper was more concerned with the ‘Stars many moods” and the stoic expression on the actor’s face, to add to our star obsessed mindsets the actor who had all along been merrily away from the long arm of law could also manage with a two day bail even after conviction on the grounds that he did not get judgment copy. The last straw, indeed was the observation of the Hon’ble Judge of the High Court that the charge of culpable homicide we discussed above, requires serious consideration as he asked the public prosecutor “Why will this … not be a case of only rash driving” and went on to pronounce the bail orders on a bond of Rs 30,000. In the end it was the extreme alacrity and speed of the due process of law that perhaps was the winner apart from Salman Khan and his defense counsel.

It is said that the person with the long leg cannot be caught by law, as more importantly though everyone is said to be equal before law, but the vice versa need not be true as the same law can always be applied differently. I always thought that bail should be the rule and jail should be an exception, yet amazingly 2.43 lakh of our fellow countrymen who lack the resources to afford the rising cost of lawyers or cope with the whole process of the judicial delivery system are forced to languish behind bars without any bail! Will each of them get the same treatment?

At the end of the day it appeared, thanks to the glitterati of our country that it was perhaps Salman Khan who appeared to be the victim and not those who were mowed down and injured and the unfortunate soul who lost his life. Indeed that led me to wonder as to what has gone wrong with my country’s conscience.

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