New Delhi, May 7: Never before has a section of Bollywood come out in such a blatant manner to support one of its own.
An exception was actress Alia Bhatt, who was hailed on social media as one of the few voices of reason from showbiz. "It hurts when your own are punished, even if they are in the wrong. We love you and are standing by you," she tweeted.
But singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya returned from the wilderness and plumbed the depths to tweet: " Kutta rd (road) pe soyega kutte ki maut marega, roads garib ke baap ki nahi hai I was homless (for) an year never slept on rd (If dogs sleep on the roads, they will die a dog's death on the roads. Roads are not the property of the poor)."
"Mumbai ke road aur footpath pe sone ka shauk hai?? (You want to sleep on Mumbai's roads and footpaths?) Y not at your village no vehicles to kill u... Come out fraternity, support @BeingSalmanKhan boldly not hypocritically. Roads, footpath are not meant for sleeping, not driver's or alcohol's fault."
According to the 2011 census, 17.7 lakh homeless people live on roadsides, railway platforms and under flyovers in India. In urban areas, the homeless population grew from 7.78 lakh in 2001 to 9.38 lakh in 2011 but rural areas saw a decline from 11.6 lakh to 8.34 lakh.
The singer's tweets sparked outrage even as Bollywood in general came out in support of Salman. Abhijeet later clarified that he wasn't speaking up for the star but raising a crucial issue.
"I did not defend Salman, I was addressing a more serious issue. It is a question of dignity of a human being who are all creatures of God. Why should they sleep on roads?" Abhijeet asked.
Farah Ali Khan
"For more than a year, I was homeless in Mumbai but I never slept on the roads because I knew that if a drunk driver mows me down, I will die and my loved ones will also die with me. People have a choice not to sleep on roads. If they do not have any option, there should be an option of clearing these roads for cars, so that vehicles don't ply in those areas where people are sleeping," he added.
"To sleep on the pavement at night is like suicide," he said.
Abhijeet's comment, however, continued to evoke strong reactions. One Niliam Kumar tweeted: " Abhijeet ji bade ghar mein rahte hai, unko ye pata nahi ki gareeb aadmi ka pariwar raat kaise basar karta hai (Abhijeet lives in a big house, he doesn't know how a poor man's family spends the night)."
The singer wasn't the only one who blamed it on the pavement-dweller. Jewellery designer Farah Ali Khan, the sister of actor Zayed Khan and the wife of DJ Aqueel, tweeted: "No one should be sleeping on the road or footpath. It is dangerous to do that just like it is dangerous to cross tracks.
"It's like penalising a train driver because someone decided to cross the tracks and got killed in the bargain. The government should be responsible for housing people. If no one was sleeping on the road... Salman would not have driven over anybody."
Like Abhijeet, Farah's remarks drew criticism. She clarified: "Maybe my opinion stems from the fact that he is a friend and I know his family but I will still maintain my stand.
"I didn't justify the fact that Salman was right in drinking and driving. I was mocking the government for not providing homes for the poor, and not mocking them."
A Calcutta-based Twitterer, Utpalendu Ghosh summed it up: "#SalmanVerdict shows that strong class barriers exist. It is stunning that people have the audacity to question why someone is homeless!!!!"
Psychologist Harish Shetty feels that the "cruel" reaction towards the hit-and-run victims is a response to the shattering of the image of "invincibility" that the film industry seemed to have.
"They have an inherent sense of invincibility, omnipotence and they feel like real-life heroes.They feel that nothing can touch them as many had escaped with minimum punishment. However, in the past few years, the film fraternity is realising that the glass ceiling has broken. They thought that the ceiling was, in fact, made of steel," said Shetty.
"It is typical that the industry shows sensitivity while portraying issues in films but they are extremely cruel when it comes to testing situations. These responses show what the industry thinks and feels from within," he added.
Another argument some celebs underscored was the extent of Salman's "humanitarian" work through the NGO, Being Human, which was launched shortly after the 2002 hit-and-run.
"It doesn't matter what anyone or any court says. He doesn't deserve this at any level... will stand by @BeingSalmanKhan no matter what...," tweeted Arjun Kapoor, who for a while dated Salman's sister Arpita.
"@BeingSalmanKhan is a man who has always helped d underprivileged! A man who has done so much humanitarian work. Prayers for a fair judgement," tweeted Bipasha Basu.
"Today I wish he wasn't a superstar. Prejudice," tweeted Pulkit Samrat, who acted in Fukrey.
Sushmita Sen tweeted: "Prayers n strength 4 my friend @BeingSalmanKhan n his family. Harsh sentencing doesn't mean justice. Must appeal. Deeply saddened."
Supreme Court lawyer Ravi Kant said that the tweets were not just "disgusting" but also amounted to "contempt of court."
"If someone casts aspersions on the orders of the court, it amounts to contempt of court," he said, adding that if anyone has any problems with the judgment, they should "approach the high court".
"The conviction has come as a rude shock, so the outrage. It is disgusting and reflects the mindset of the people living on the other side of poverty-stricken India," said Kant.
Actor Kamaal R. Khan suggested that Salman leave India forever - "like M.F. Hussain Sahab instead to spend many years of his life in jails".
"These kinds of comments are unacceptable in any civilised society. There should be some respect for the rule of law. These people should be prosecuted This shows the divides that exists in our society. How the rich expect to get away with crime. This is the real India, where the rich can do and say anything they want and go scot-free," said rights activist Suhas Chakma of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.