The buck stops here for the chinkara. That's the only thing for certain. Everything else can be doubted. And Salman Khan, superstar that he is, wiggled through that sliver of doubt. A Rajasthan high court acquitted him in the poaching case from 1998.
The court held there was no way to prove that Salman Khan fired the bullet. That's fair enough. Just because he is a superstar it does not mean Salman Khan cannot get the benefit of the doubt. It's up to the prosecution to prove something beyond reasonable doubt.
During his 2006 sentencing the judge had lambasted him for being a poor role model and that verdict was meant to send a message that the law was blind when it came to delivering justice. Salman Khan's superstardom did not merit him special hunting privileges.
And now he has had his day in court. And won it. We cannot begrudge him and his lawyers that victory.
But it's worth remembering how the victory transpired. His lawyer Mahesh Bora argued that Khan had been falsely framed, based on the statements of Harish Dulani, the driver of the vehicle. Bora contended that Dulani was in illegal custody of the Forest Department and had been released on 14 October 1998 after recording of statements before the magistrate but had never turned in court after that for cross examination. How convenient is that.
A report in Firstpoststates that of the 38 victims examined by the court, eight had turned hostile. It says that Khan has perfected the script for his courtroom dramas: "Delay the trail for as long as possible, ensure that key witnesses either disappear or turn hostile, pump in money to influence key records and reports either disappear or become disputed and, finally, make some other guy own up to his crimes."
Indeed it's fascinating how these high profile cases involving India's rich and famous seem to always revolve around the help, often the driver.
The missing driver weakened the prosecution's poaching case against Salman Khan.
When Salman Khan was accused of running over sleeping pavement dwellers, it was an old family faithful, a driver named Ashok Singh who appeared belatedly to claim that it was he who was driving the car that night. The court refused to accept his claim and the driver faced perjury charges for his loyalty.
There is always a driver who is key to cracking the case. There is always a driver who can take the blame. There is always a driver who can conveniently vanish as a case winds its way laboriously through the system.
Remember the Indrani Mukerjea case? It was the former driver Shamwar Pinturam Rai who proved key in cracking that case as well when he was arrested under the Arms Act. At that time Indian Express had visited his wife in their one room chawl. His wife Sharda had told Indian Express the landlord wanted them out, the neighbours wanted them gone. The aunt and uncle who had brought her up had said she and her children were not welcome at their home anymore. "Sometimes I think I should commit suicide with my children," she said. Rai allegedly helped transport the body and guarded it overnight when the initial plans to dispose of it came to naught. The IE report at least found no evidence in that one room chawl of ill-gotten gains from any alleged role in the crime. He said he got an advance salary of three months and was asked to quit his job.
There is always a driver who can take the blame. There is always a driver who can conveniently vanish as a case winds its way laboriously through the system.
The rich and the famous have a battery of well-heeled lawyers to fight their case. The help either turn approver or disappear. The Mukerjea driver turned approver. He alleged Indrani Mukerjea threatened him saying "it won't be good for him" if he spilled the beans. He also said she implicated him by planting a gun on him after Sheena Bora's murder. She also promised to take care of his children's schooling expenses and medical expenses.
There is no saying whether the driver was indeed a willing accomplice or coerced into being one.
The more we hear of these stories the more we realize what a feudal society we live in. The help is always available to clean up the master's mess. There is always a driver who can be persuaded to own up to a crime. There is always a driver on whom the case rests and who can disappear at a critical moment. There is always a driver who can be coaxed or threatened into cooperation because his family's future rests on it. And the longer a case takes the more vulnerable his situation.
As Shovon Chowdhury comments darkly in Quartz: "Drivers in India do much more than drive. They run errands, bear witness and confess to your crimes. This is a very vital position. Inflation is hitting all of us, but it would be a mistake to economise on this front."
You never know when you will need a good driver. If there is one lesson we must take from Salman Khan's travails let it be that.