Salman Khan, one of India’s biggest stars, was sentenced today to five years in jail for killing blackbucks while on a film shoot in Rajasthan 20 years ago. The 52-year-old actor has also been fined Rs. 10,000 for hunting the rare antelopes in forests near Jodhpur while filming “Hum Saath Saath Hain” in 1998. His bail request will be heard tomorrow. His co-stars in the movie, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam Kothari, have been acquitted for lack of evidence.
Salman Khan was in court for the verdict in what is known to be his “lucky” black shirt. His sisters Alvira and Arpita reportedly broke down when the judge read out the order.
Salman Khan was taken straight to the Jodhpur Central Jail, where he had briefly served time in 2006. As he emerged from the court, a loud cheer rose from a crowd of Bishnois, the community that is passionate about protecting the blackbuck, an endangered species. The news of Salman Khan’s jail sentence saw varied reactions on micro-blogging website Twitter.
Because of threats to the actor’s life from gangster Lawrence Bishnoi, heavy security has been arranged at the jail where he is likely to be put up in the same barracks as Asaram Bapu, the self-styled godman accused of raping a schoolgirl.
The antelopes were shot dead near a village of Bishnois, who are the main petitioners in the case. Salman Khan spotted a herd of blackbuck and shot dead two of them, the court was told.
The court heard 28 witnesses including Bishnoi villagers who came out running from their huts on hearing gunshots.
The Bishnois alleged that they took a bike and chased the Gypsy, but the actor got away. Deer carcass was found at the spot after the actors left.
In hearings over two decades, the actor had argued that he had an air gun that doesn’t kill. Reports that the animals died of “overeating” or that they were killed by dogs were also submitted in court.
In an interview in 2009, Salman Khan had told NDTV that he had “saved the deer” and fed it. “We saw a fawn caught in a bush. He was petrified. I took him out of there, gave him some water. The whole herd was there. (The fawn) ate a few biscuits and went away”. The whole controversy started then, he claimed.
Salman Khan is one of the most bankable stars in India with a cult fan following. Currently, around Rs. 700 crore is believed to be riding on him in the bustling Hindi film industry dubbed Bollywood. He just completed a mega budget film, Race 3.
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In 2015, Salman Khan was cleared in a 2002 hit-and-run case in which his Toyota Land Cruiser had crashed into men sleeping on a pavement in Mumbai’s Bandra, killing a homeless man.