JODHPUR: Salman Khan, one of India’s biggest stars, has been sentenced to five years in jail after being held guilty of killing blackbuck while on a film shoot in Rajasthan 20 years ago. A court in Jodhpur called him a “habitual offender”. The 52-year-old actor was charged in 1998 with hunting the rare antelopes while filming “Hum Saath Saath Hain”. His co-stars in that movie, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam, have been acquitted for lack of evidence.
The blackbuck is an endangered species and is protected under the Indian Wildlife Act. The poaching had taken place near a village of Bishnois, a community that revers blackbuck and is passionate about protecting these animals.
- Salman Khan was in court for the verdict in what is known to be his “lucky” black shirt. His sisters Alvira and Arpita reportedly broke down in court.
- Salman Khan will now go to the Jodhpur Central Jail. In 2006, he spent five nights in the jail.
- Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari were acquitted for lack of evidence. In October 1998, they were believed to be in the Gypsy that Salman Khan was driving during the alleged hunt near Jodhpur.
- The antelopes were shot dead near a village of Bishnois, a community that revers the animals and is passionate about protecting them. Salman Khan spotted a herd of blackbuck and shot dead two of them, said the prosecution in court.
- The court heard 28 witnesses including Bishnoi villagers who came out running from their huts on hearing gunshots.
- The Bishnois alleged that they took a bike and chased the Gypsy, but the actor got away. Deer carcass was found at the spot after the actors left.
- For nearly two decades, Salman Khan had argued variously that he was not armed, that he had an air gun that doesn’t kill. Reports that the animals died of “overeating” or that they were killed by dogs were also submitted in court.
- In an interview in 2009, Salman Khan had told NDTV that he had “saved the deer” and fed it. “We saw a fawn caught in a bush. He was petrified. I took him out of there, gave him some water. The whole herd was there. (The fawn) ate a few biscuits and went away”. The whole controversy started then, he claimed.
- Salman Khan is one of the most bankable stars in India with a cult fan following. Currently, around Rs. 700 crore is believed to be riding on him in the bustling Hindi film industry dubbed Bollywood. He just completed a mega budget film, Race 3.
- In 2015, Salman Khan was cleared in a 2002 hit-and-run case in which his Toyota Land Cruiser had crashed into men sleeping on a pavement in Mumbai’s Bandra, killing a homeless man.