Salman Khan being sentenced to a five-year prison term after a legal battle that lasted for 13 years has once again raised the question: Do people who are famous and who commit a wrongdoing get punished more severely than so-called ‘ordinary’ citizens? And if so, is this fair?
Khan’s myriad fans are up in arms about the severity of the sentence imposed on him, citing the many charitable works he has embarked on. Bollywood’s showbiz has expressed jitters about how a Sallu behind bars is going to jeopardize movie projects in the making which involve over Rs 200 crore.
Khan’s hit-and-run case (he still has three other cases pending against him, relating to wildlife poaching and illegal possession of firearms, which could add to his jail time) has made national headlines. It has also brought to the forefront the issue of the high number of road accident fatalities in India.
India has one of the highest incidences of road deaths in the world, particularly those which belong to the hit-and-run category. Many such cases go unreported or under-reported by the media, which treat them as commonplace, everyday occurrences that don’t merit news space.
Only in stances involving high-profile individuals like Sanjeev Nanda of the so-called ‘BMW case’ do such incidents highlight the hazards of rash driving and the tragic consequences it can lead to.
This is true not just of road crimes, but for all manner of wrongdoing, from fraud and shoplifting to physical violence and murder.
The more high-profile the person involved, the more the publicity generated by the case. The accused in such cases often get away literally with murder — as US sports icon O J Simpson is widely believed to have done — thanks to the expert legal help they can buy.
But sometimes the long arm of the law does manage to not only nab them but make them pay what some say is an inordinately high price for their crime.
In such cases, it seems almost as though a vengeful society was getting its own envious way back on someone who had won fame and fortune as a celebrity.
While it is not clear if this will happen in Salman Khan’s case, the question remains as to whether the punishment meted out is, or should be, co-related to the fame of the culprit.
A wrongdoing is a wrongdoing and the social or economic status of the wrongdoer shouldn’t matter. But in actual fact it does, more often than not.
The rich and powerful as a rule get away free from paying the price of their criminal acts. But in exceptional case, they are not only bought to book but made to pay a punitive price which is in direct proportion to their fame and influence.
It is as though Justice has slipped her blindfold deliberately to impose a particularly harsh punishment on a well-known individual on the grounds that this would prove a deterrent to future wrongdoers.
By this line of reasoning, the public humbling of the high and mighty has a salutary effect on society as a whole.
Will Salman Khan going to jail for five years help prevent future hit-and-run incidents? Probably not. But the sentencing has highlighted the lack of safety on Indian roads.
In that sense, Salman Khan’s pain is the public’s gain.