On days like this, social media proves useful as it provides a listicle of the reactions to #SalmanVerdict. Some believe the government is to blame for people sleeping on pavements. Other hiss “Puke on Bollywood”. And a few even bandy photos of slashed and oozing wrists to drive home their despair. Whether the media hoopla around it is justified is another matter. But what really raises one’s hackles are Bollywood celebs saying, “Roads footpath r not meant 4 sleeping, not driver’s or alcohol’s fault” (sic, courtesy @Abhijeetsinger). What the Salman Khan case underlines is the abyss that divides India’s rich and poor.
On the day of the verdict, Aravind Adiga’s novel, The White Tiger , comes to life. In it, a drunk Pinky Madam runs over a sleeping child. And the driver is made to take the blame. The fact that Khan claimed that his driver Ashok Singh was behind the wheel at the time proves how little we value a driver’s life. So what if an Ashok Singh is to go to jail for five years, for something he never did? After all he doesn’t have ₹200 crore riding on him. Commentators have also revived the story of Ravindra Patil, the bodyguard who was in the car and who maintained that Salman Khan had been at the wheel. A former constable, he was removed from the force, and died of tuberculosis in 2007. The driver, the bodyguard, they are merely collateral damage, in the actor’s bid to lead a superstar life.
We can’t decide whether the five-year-sentence is too long or too short. But the fact that a verdict on a 2002 case is being given today shows how the case has been dragged endlessly in court. Khan and his team were hoping it would simply drop by the wayside, that the fact that he had driven over one person and injured four others would be seen as a mere skirmish in a starry career.
Perhaps we should remember that pavements were never made for cars. And when people sleep on them, it’s because they don’t have a Galaxy Apartment to return to.