Salman Khan's conviction is welcome relief in a country where people expect the rich and powerful to get away with murder. Seeing him go to prison will serve as an example to other men in the country, writes Shivam Vij.
The wheels of justice in India move so slowly that it has taken 13 years for the killer of a homeless man to be convicted by a court in Mumbai. The surprise is that he was convicted at all. The killer in question is a top Bollywood actor: Salman Khan.
Khan was driving his Toyota Land Cruiser in an inebriated state when he mistakenly drove over five homeless men on the pavement, killing one of them. Amongst other ways to keep Khan out of jail, his lawyers attempted to put the blame on Khan's driver. The court rejected the idea, and the witnesses stood firm.
It is only in Bollywood movies that you would see the rich and powerful going to jail for killing the weak. In real life, this does not happen. In real life, the prosecution and witnesses are all bought off with hard cash. The biggest disincentive to pursue justice in India is that the case will go on for years and sometimes decades.
The making of a bad guy
Salman Khan began as a romantic hero in the '90s, but by the 2000's his image had been taken over by his real life persona as the bad guy who often found himself on the wrong side of the law. He'd been accused of beating up his girlfriend once, something everyone believed given his bad boy image. As Khan flaunted his 42-inch pumped-up chest, taking off his shirt at every instance, he became a symbol of Indian masculinity.
Yet the fear of the law also changed the super-hero, who also faces another charge of hunting endangered black bucks in 2006. He went on a PR drive trying to show he had become a good guy, doing charity work, helping the needy and taking up social causes. Salman Khan's non-profit, Being Human, became a brand of merchandise in 2012. All over India you can find men wearing a T-shirt that says "Being Human."
This was also the time Salman Khan managed to revive his film career by delivering box office hits. His conviction on Wednesday evoked a sympathetic response from all of the Mumbai film industry. That wasn't only because he's one of them, a friend or fellow actor, but because Khan and his family are tremendously influential in Bollywood. A word from them can make or break somebody's film career.
When Salman Khan enters jail
Salman Khan has been sentenced to five years, but he can appeal. He's been released on bail for two days. His future is uncertain, but it seems very likely that he'll have to spend at least some time in jail. When Salman Khan does enter Mumbai's Arthur Road jail, it will be symbolic of many things. It will be a reminder to Indian masculinity that men are not infallible, that wisdom is as important as strength, and that what goes around comes around.
It will also be a message to Bollywood - a place where stardom can be so extreme you may start thinking you are above the law. There have been two other Bollywood actors who have spent time in jail recently. One is Shiney Ahuja, who was arrested for raping his maid, and the other was Sanjay Dutt, who possessed illegal arms in 1993, a time when Bombay, as Mumbai was then called, was burning with violence. And now the biggest of them all, Salman Khan, is set to walk into a jail as well.
Bollywood may mourn this, but the homeless in Mumbai must be cheering. And the men driving after getting drunk at parties will remember to actually hand over the keys to someone sober.
Shivam Vij is a journalist in Dehli with the Indian news website Scroll.in. He tweets as @DilliDurAst.