Brat culture is not as new as it appears to be. But it is now more wide-ranging, more obviously on an upward trend, and the havoc it wreaks more visible than before. The Hindi film actor, Salman Khan, has been able to add a fatality to his list of misdemeanours. He drove into a bakery in Bandra killing one man and injuring four others, all of whom were sleeping on the pavement. It could probably have remained a mysterious hit-and-run episode had the policeman accompanying the actor not registered a complaint with the Bandra police. The actor is said to have “surrendered” to the police eight hours after the incident, although there are some reports that he had to be arrested after a “manhunt”. This is a disgraceful story in itself. What is far more disturbing is the disproportion between the action and its immediate fallout. The actor has been released for the time being on a surety of Rs 950. This laughable amount will keep him free and on the roads till the law takes its course — and that may be a while. The case against Salman Khan for killing a black buck in 1999 is still on, for example. In this case, Section 304 (a) of the Indian penal code states that “death caused by a rash and negligent act does not amount to culpable homicide or murder”. That is logical enough — as far as it goes. When the same logic leads the court to release on a bail of Rs 950 anyone who has killed by rash and negligent driving, it is time to see where and why the logic fails.
It so happens that this particular actor is associated with a string of violent incidents, some to do with his personal life, and has also been questioned in connection with violations of the law more than once. But in spite of this he is not exceptional within the social circuit he treads. Violence is a part of life for the young rich, both in the country’s capital and in the capital of the Hindi film industry. Children, usually male, of politicians and their friends, of film stars and some young stars themselves have found that the system goes easy on them. Murder, killing or maiming by negligence, irresponsible use of firearms are all ultimately forgotten or evaded. One Sanjay Dutt in jail really does not make a difference. The son of the actor, Raj Kumar, killed three people and crippled one by driving rashly. He got off lightly because a senior actress had once got off with a light fine on an appeal to the high court after being sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in a lower court. The maximum penalty for such cases is jail for two years or a fine or both. Unless the rigour of the law is brought to bear on all equally, such precedents will continue to multiply.