Salman Khan Finally Loses Celebrity Cover

Salman Khan started a line of merchandise whose proceeds were donated to a trust called 'Being Human' almost a decade ago, soon after a case was filed over his SUV running over a group of men sleeping on the pavement outside a bakery in 2002.

The actor was drunk, the court said on Wednesday. The hit-and-run took place as he was on his back at night to his suburban Mumbai residence. The victims, according to some reports, pleaded that he slow down, but the actor apparently ignored what Being Human entails.

It was around the same time that there were allegations of the actor being in touch with the underworld and resorting to violence with the women he was reported to be seeing. Years after the accident, he allegedly gatecrashed the shoot of his then girlfriend's film and abused the actor. His co-actors told the media that he was a spoilt child but "a gem at heart". There were certainly many who praised him for the money he would lavishly donate to crew members on his films who were in a crisis. He had a heart of gold, said supporters and he would spin around the streets of Mumbai with his fans cheering 'Salman bhai.'

In Bandra, outside his residence at the Galaxy Apartments, 'bhai' would emerge in his balcony on festivals like Ganeshotsav and Eid and wave at the sea of fans gathered outside. His female fans would stand outside with placards and roses waiting for salman. Male fans with well-built quadriceps are often found waiting to pose with him for photographs.

In 2004, after he was taken into custody and released on bail, he gave a TV interview wearing a Muslim cap and told the anchor that alcohol was 'haraam' in Islam and he would try to be a good Muslim and quit drinking. 

By sharing this anecdote, one does not wish to pass a moral judgement on Salman or his real or misreported drinking issues, but it's what comes across as one of a series of convenient attempts to approximate morality (along with the charity Being Human) that bothers one. In court today, his lawyers argued that a long jail sentence would mean the actor cannot donate to the trust; there are some reports that the actor gestured to the lawyers against trying to leverage his charity work in their request for a lenient sentence.

As I write, some of Salman's friends from the industry are talking about him paying the price of being a celebrity. Ask them about the first name of the man who was killed, and most are likely to struggle.

Perhaps Salman's well-wishers would want to answer where was his humanity when his driver stepped forward to claim he was at the wheel - a version firmly rejected by the judge today. 

Today, as Salman Khan is convicted of all the charges including culpable homicide and negligent driving under the influence the alcohol, his friends should refrain from blaming the legal system of being harsh on celebrities. For if that was indeed to be the case, Salman should have been sentenced thirteen years ago. 

Spare some time and thoughts for those pavement dwellers - the injured, the family of the man who died - who would have to shell out an extra rupee of their daily livelihood to appear in the court and testify for as long as thirteen years.

If Salman wants to set an example of being human the least he can do is to apologise to the family and face the sentence instead of employing a battery of high profile lawyers who could come up with another alibi.

My friends and I have been lauding the recently released marathi film 'Court' which portrays the ordeal of a poor and powerless man and his tryst with the law. Most of my friends from the industry suggested it should be our entry at the Oscars. Hope my friends agree with my sentiments and that of the middle class in India when we hail the judiciary today in the Salman Khan verdict. Justice delayed but not denied, that's being human!

(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is working on a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will be published later this year.)

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