It is not always wicked to rejoice at the discomfort of others. Salman Khan in a police lock-up is definitely a kind of triumph — of the firmness of law over a disgracefully abusive form of inequality. The journalists and activist who filed a public interest litigation against the actor being allowed to get away with a Rs 950 fine after a bout of murderous driving ought to see the new charges brought against him as a significant victory. He has now been charged with culpable homicide rather than merely negligent driving. He has also been asked to pay compensation — amounting to Rs 14.5 lakh — to the injured and to the family of the dead man. Apart from killing one person and injuring four, Khan has also lied, tried to avoid the police, driven without a licence and had more than the permissible level of alcohol in his blood even after more than ten hours after the accident. Moreover, he has not shown any initiative in providing medical aid to the injured. He has simply tried to vanish from the scene, his witnesses have lied to the police, and he has now been forbidden to meet the injured as the court now thinks him capable of tampering with evidence.
That such lawlessness should receive its due punishment cannot be taken for granted in India. The case against him for killing a black buck has been going on since 1990; and there is a history of violence and unruliness with this particular celebrity, to the extent of alleged mental instability. The rich and the famous get away with murder in a society that empowers certain kinds of popular appeal. The Mumbai court of the metropolitan magistrate should therefore be lauded for its firmness. In a city where right-wing activism and celebrity lawlessness wield the power of cadre and money, a fearless, inflexible and impartial law and order machinery could make a great deal of positive difference to the lives of ordinary, law-abiding citizens. The Indian courts are jammed with public interest litigation, a significant number of which often turn out to be of a frivolous nature, wasting the time of the courts. But the public consciousness acting against Khan is a hopeful and healthy sign of a robust democracy’s trust in the effectiveness of its legal machinery.