Salman Khan, one of India's biggest stars, arrived today at a court for a verdict on whether he killed two blackbuck near Jodhpur in Rajasthan nearly 20 years ago. The 52-year-old actor is accused of hunting blackbuck while working on the film "Hum Saath Saath Hain" in 1998. His co-stars Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam are also in court. If Salman Khan is convicted, he could face up to six years in jail.
Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam are also accused in the case and could face a similar jail term. They were present in the Gypsy that Salman Khan was believed to be driving during the alleged hunt in Kankani village near Jodhpur. Salman Khan and the other actors are facing charges under the Wildlife (Protection) Act. According to news agency ANI, Saif Ali Khan, Neelam and Sonali Bendre's lawyer has said, "If they are found guilty then there is equal punishment for all. The maximum punishment will be for six years, while the minimum sentence will be for one year."
The blackbuck is an endangered species and is protected under the Indian Wildlife Act. The alleged poaching took place near a village of Bishnois, a community that revers blackbuck and is passionate about protecting these animals. On the night of October 1, 1998, the Bishnoi villagers, on hearing gunshots, came out running from their huts. They allege that they chased the Gypsy that Salman Khan was driving, and that the actor fled. Deer carcass was found at the spot from where the actors drove away. The Bishnois are key witnesses in the case against Salman Khan.
Salman Khan was charged with four cases for poaching and one under the Arms Act in Jodhpur in September-October 1998. His lawyers claim there is no forensic evidence to prove the deer were hunted by guns and killed. In an interview in 2009, Salman Khan had told NDTV that he had "saved the deer and fed it".He claimed that the group had spotted deer fawn trapped in the bushes. "We saw 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 and millions ride on him in the bustling Hindi film industry dubbed Bollywood. In 2015, Salman Khan was acquitted 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 one. Saif Ali Khan, who arrived in Jodhpur yesterday for the verdict, was caught on video getting annoyed at the airport over reporters' questions. "Roll up the window and drive or else you will get it," he is heard telling his driver.