Ever since the sentencing of Salman Khan by the Bombay HC (and the subsequent suspension pending appeal) the internet exploded, with everyone rushing to contribute their two cents’ worth on Twitter, Facebook, and across the internet. What was most notable throughout the entire flood of tweets and status updates and whatsapp messages going around (I’m looking at you, weird uncle I meet once a year at a wedding/funeral. Please stop sending me shit) is the mindnumbingly large group of individuals who are convinced that their dear Sallu Bhai has been wronged and must be stood up for.
The arguments in support of Sallu Bhai are various and vexing. The first one, common on “We LovE SaLm@N KH@n” pages goes something like this: well, yeah, he killed one poor guy, but what about the thousands of lives he’s saved?? WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE BEING HUMAN TSHIRTS HAAN? This particular brand of Sallu Enthusiasts (is Bhaitard an acceptable term?) vociferously argues that Salman Khan has done immense amounts of charity and ‘realised his mistake’ and thus should not be punished. They cite the example of ‘corrupt politicians’ who go unpunished and demand to know why their Bhai, saviour of the masses and opponent of upper garment wearing, should be singled out for punishment?
Another argument, famously tweeted by Farah Khan Ali, blamed the government for the fact that people were forced to sleep on the streets, and that drivers couldn’t be held responsible. After all, argued the lady, could one blame the engine driver of a train when someone loses their life trying to cross the tracks at an inopportune moment? And thus, it was revealed that Salman’s fans and supporters were just as devoid of basic logic and rationality as their beloved’s films.
Jokes apart, it was quite stunning to see the sheer number of people who truly and passionately believed that Salman Khan should have been ‘forgiven’ and not sentenced to imprisonment despite the fact that it was clear that he was responsible for causing death due to rash and negligent driving while under the influence of alcohol. One fan went as far as to consume poison outside the High Court in an attempt to end his life.
What bothers me most about the entire debacle is this: why are these people so important? Why does the average Indian fall prey to hero-worship to the extent that even legal action, justice for wrongs committed, is seen as an unfair attack which must be opposed? What sort of ‘loyalty’ to a figure, film star, athlete, politician makes people go as far as to kill themselves when misfortune befalls their hero?
The problem lies in the idea that some individuals are infallible, so great that they cannot possibly be wrong. It isn’t different from the outrage which one observes every time a new book about Mahatma Gandhi reveals aspects of his life which might not be the most flattering or kosher. People cannot seem to deal with the idea that those they revere and idolise may have sides to them which are less than perfect, sometimes embarrassing or humiliating, and sometimes downright evil or wrong. The tendency to gloss over the wrongdoings of a public figure, especially one with substantial following, is an old one. Take for instance, the moral outrage that followed the publication of Christopher Hitchens’ The Missionary Position, a critique of Mother Teresa and her work in Kolkata. It seems to be inconceivable to most people that an individual who is lauded for a particular achievement, cause or movement is capable of being criticised, condemned or punished for other, less praiseworthy actions.
Coming back to the question of Salman Khan, who has achieved almost cult-like status on the basis of his loud, flamboyant and formulaic films, it is abundantly clear to anyone who has followed the hit and run case with some interest that the actor is guilty. Not only that, our valiant Bhai, often seen shirtlessly smashing the opponents of the truth to a pulp onscreen, attempted to throw his driver under the bus, alleging that it was him (the driver) and not Salman who was behind the wheel that fateful night. Why, then, should he not be punished according to the law?
In a case that stretched on for more than a decade, a rich and powerful man was finally sentenced for killing a powerless, impoverished man sleeping on the street. However, with the suspension of the sentence, one can only hope that the Supreme Court sees it fit to do justice. The conviction of Salman Khan would have implications far beyond his own case. It would serve as a symbol, a reminder of the oft quoted, yet somehow rarely fulfilled, guarantee that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Perhaps the sentiment can be encapsulated entirely in a statement from the unlikeliest of sources. Kamaal R Khan, another shining star in the constellation of Bollywood, shared this message on his Facebook page recently: Agar aaj Salman Khan ko saza ho jati, toh mera paise se poori tarah bharosa uth jata… (If Salman Khan was sentenced today, I would’ve lost all faith in money)
Yup. Even KRK gets it.