Chinkara Salman
By Maxwell Pereira

This is about film star Salman Khan and his conviction for killing the Chinkara of the endangered species. There has been much furore, breast-beating and rallying round for expressing solidarity…. on the part of his large fan-club both locally at the scene-of-crime-and-court in Jodhpur Rajastan, and more on home turf in Mumbai. The conviction has also attracted considerable amount of indignant criticism from the film fraternity who perhaps feel specifically targeted; and has generated debate among a wide cross-section of the citizenry and the media who have unabashedly thrown the convicting magistrate to the wolves.

A vastly touted reaction voiced and projected by the actor’s bollywood buddies sought to tell all what a nice guy Salman is, and how an insensitive system has made him a victim because of his celebrity status – while actual murderers involved in more serious and heinous cases cock a snook at the Criminal Justice system (CJS). Preity Zinta was the first to state this on camera while reacting to the acquittal of all the accused in the Jessica Lall murder case. If one were to be taken in by this argument, there would be no end to such. One must realise two wrongs cannot make a right. We cannot on the one hand complain about the suborning of the CJS in the likes of the Jessica Lall and the Nitish Katara cases and equally complain on the other when Salman is convicted after a full trial without hostile or perjured witnesses. In the Salman case, one must admire the tenacity exhibited by the local Bishnoi community who doggedly pursued the case providing crucial evidence that nailed him.

The detractors have argued against the judgement, “….if killing of two Indian gazelle – Chinkaras of the animal world can land Salman behind bars, then why those accused in the human killings of the Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal cases are allowed to move around scot free? If law is equal for all, then why a man is punished for killing Chinkaras when others involved in human killings get acquitted?

And then the subjective bias of those speaking in favour of Salman. Listening to a cross-section of voices on television on the issue, one was further amazed to hear some go to the extent of saying “….if Salman Khan has killed the chinkaras…. which is yet to be proved….!” Will some one ask these worthies whether a sentence in a trial comes after the guilt is proved beyond all reasonable doubt, or there is yet something more to be proved even after a fair trial that took over five years to conclude!

Many have tried to brush aside the super star’s aberration as a trivial crime, arguing that this by any other ordinary person would have attracted less legal scrutiny, ignored as a minor matter not worth the laboriously grinding wheels of law and justice to be set in motion.

The counter view too, questioning the right of any one to decide whether the actor’s deed was a trivial crime or not? That he has a history of criminal behaviour for treating law as if it is in his pocket. That by punishing him rightly and justly the right signals have been sent down, unequivocally sending out messages which are welcome and over due: That any one breaking the law would similarly face punishment irrespective of the face he portrays to the public. That Wildlife Protection laws are viewed seriously, and the days of the lords and serfs with some people deemed above the law being a thing of the past.

The super smart media mandarins have reacted cautiously, stating it is not any one’s case that the slayer of the endangered species of deer be “simply rapped on the knuckles and let off”. In an across the board opinion in most editorials and comments, the quantum of punishment meted out is under attack. That a prison sentence of five year rigorous imprisonment and Rs.25,000 fine is preposterously on the higher side not commensurate with the nature and gravity of the crime committed. The convicting magistrate’s pontificating view that Salman as a “hero with a large following” should have exhibited responsible behaviour and led by example is faulty.

For interpreters, law often recognizes also the mitigating circumstances; and along same principles, must also recognize the aggravating circumstances to punish the evildoer harshly when such aggravating circumstances exist. In this case the aggravating circumstances being the actor’s rich and role model status that requires him never ever to commit a heinous crime of pushing the endangered species towards extinction.

I believe it was Samuel Johnson who bluntly said, “Show me the face and I will tell you the law for it” – thereby emphasising how blind law and its application actually is. Unfortunately what we enforce today are codified penal laws and not actually “the rule of law” respected and applied uniformly for all. Promoting the rule of law needs to be paramount – irrespective of the fact whether the crime committed is minor of major. Any violation that spells disrespect for the rule of law needs to be treated on the same footing, ‘zero tolerance’ being the operative words.

Rules are enacted, made, and are there, to be respected and followed. They need to be enforced if violated. Punishment for crime cannot be ignored, merely on grounds that it is minor or otherwise. Uniform and balanced enforcement helps discipline people, instilling in them a sense of adherence to follow rules. And thereby help establish a healthy respect for the rule of law.

April 18, 2006: 900 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// and


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