There is an interesting thing I have observed in Indian culture, if someone is admired, lauded or dare I say worshipped, for some reason they seem to be above the law. They can do as much wrong as they want, but very few seem to care. Worse still, if you are poor, then your life has virtually no value. This part about Indian culture is one I have a lot of trouble swallowing.
A case in point is Bollywood star Salman Khan. One of the most recognisable faces in India, is apparently almost impossible to track down by the police. Why do the police want to track him down? Well in 2002 he allegedly ran his car off the road near his home, killing one person and injuring four others.
Interestingly he has tried to claim that he isn’t at fault because there isn’t a designated spot for people to sleep on the street. Umm this is Bombay, a city where people sleep everywhere on the streets and under the cover of shop eaves is very common. Unfortunately, it is not only common place to see people sleeping everywhere on the streets, they even sleep on the road as well. In my opinion it is more than reasonable to expect someone to be sleeping on a footpath you drive your car on here in Bombay.
Despite this, Salman Khan has not fronted court for his alleged crimes because a court in 2005 gave him an exemption from appearing in court and he has used it to his advantage to avoid appearing in court 83 times, yes 83 times. Police have tried to summons him but had trouble finding him…. this I find almost impossible to believe given that there are at least 50 young boys standing outside his apartment at any point in time hoping to get a look at him. I am sure some of them could tell the police when he was last seen and when they are expecting him home again.
The police have had such a hard time trying to find Salman Khan that they allegedly couldn’t even track him down at a a party that the Special Inspector General of Police was also attending late last year. What makes it even more amazing is that this actor receives extraordinarily high fees (sometimes up to Rs 5 crore or about $1m) to be present at award ceremonies and product launches, even I can work out where he is going to be due to the amount of advertising for these events.
So why hasn’t he been caught?
In my opinion, I don’t believe the police, courts or justice system in general really care whether he killed or maimed a few homeless people. It is this that makes me feel so sad. These poor people who were killed or hurt have such little value placed on their life, and an actor has such a high value placed on his life, that he can literally get away with murder.
Can it get any worse? Unfortunately it can!
Khan was ordered to pay compensation to the injured and killed in 2002, but one family is still waiting to receive their compensation for the death of their father and husband because they don’t have identity papers. Many births don’t happen in hospitals here, and there isn’t always documentation of someone’s existence, let alone their relationship to another. So based on this technicality, this family haven’t been compensated the paltry amount of Rs10 lakhs (about $20k) for the loss of their loved one from the man who killed him. A man who would probably earn that amount of money in the time it takes him to sneeze.
This whole situation reminds me about an observation I have made about Indian society; it is a truly selfish one. So whilst the west is considered to be capitalist and self-absorbed, and the romantic hippies view India as a place of communal living and open hearts, I see it the other way. If roles were reversed, and Australian film star Russell Crowe for example had hit and run in Australia in a similar way to Khan, I believe he would have been crucified by the media, abandoned by fans and left desperately trying to demonstrate his compassion and remorse. Heck, the man threw a telephone at someone once, bruising them slightly, and was decimated by the media.
But here in India, heroes can be villains in real life and they will still be revered and protected by everyone around them. It is those with nothing who are left to fend for themselves, it really is a brutal demonstration of survival of the fittest.