Bollywood Actor Salman Khan Contends with His 20-Year-Old Poaching Scandal
Salman Khan has been released from jail as he appeals for a conviction in a poaching case the Bollywood star has been dealing with for two decades.
Khan was convicted last Thursday by the Jodhpur Central Jail in Rajasthan for killing two rare antelopes, known as blackbucks, while on a hunting troop with fellow actors in “Hum Saath Saath Hain” back in October, 1998. Eight years later, he was tried and sentenced to five years in prison, but the decision was suspended. The other actors involved, namely Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam, and Sonali Bendre were acquitted of the crime.
Though Khan’s latest conviction involves a five-year prison sentence, he has only spent two days in jail thus far. He was released after being granted a bail set at $1,500.
Khan has repeatedly denied killing the animals, claiming instead that they died of “natural causes” and that the forest department was framing him “for publicity.”
The blackbucks are protected by wildlife laws that make the action of hunting them completely illegal. Additionally, the blackbucks are considered sacred creatures by the Bishnoi communities that live near Jodhpur. The members of the 530-year old Bishnoi Hindu sect are ecological guardians whose practices place the lives of animals above the lives of humans. They are forbidden from hurting animals in any way.
The Bishnoi community has been utterly determined to see Khan face his crimes ever since the case first emerged in 1998.
"If you kill our children (wildlife), we will make sure you are brought to justice. It doesn't matter if you are Salman Khan or anyone else,” stated Ram Nivas Dhoru from the Bishnoi Tiger Force to Agence France-Press.
However, the Bishnoi community’s fight against Salman Khan stands in direct contrast to the outpouring of support Khan has received from his friends and fans for two decades.
Fans crowded outside his apartment in Mumbai after he was released from jail, patiently awaiting their icon’s return. Some held up signs that proudly stated: “We Support Salman Khan.”
A Tweet posted on Monday by Khan read: "Tears of gratitude. To all my loved ones who are with me and never lost hope. Thank you for being there with all the love and support. God bless.”
Khan’s star status in Bollywood has surely granted him with thousands of adoring fans and supporters, but he is no stranger to run-ins with the law. Khan was cleared from his conviction of killing a homeless man in a drunk driving accident in 2015, 13 years after the incident supposedly occurred. Additionally, actress Aishwarya Rai, Khan’s ex-girlfriend, has leveled domestic abuse allegations against him. He repeatedly rejects the accusations.
Khan’s next court hearing is scheduled for May 7th. Until then, it may be worthwhile to evaluate the impact the outspoken Bishnoi community has had on the outcome of Khan’s case. In a nation whose courts often silence less prominent witnesses and victims, Khan’s case may end up breaking the pattern.