Are they guilty as charged?

Salman Khan, Bollywood heartthrob and one of Indian film industry’s biggest box office stars, was sentenced on Wednesday to a five-year prison term for crashing his SUV, under the influence of alcohol, into a group of people sleeping on the pavement, killing one and injuring four others. In the painfully slow-moving Indian justice system, like Pakistan’s, it took 13 long years for a sessions judge to announce the verdict. What has generated immense interest in the case is not only Salman Khan himself but the generic issue of justice being served in an incident involving a rich and famous person. In India, film stars are revered like gods. And money and power are generally believed to help people literally get away with murder. Wednesday’s verdict against the superstar would help inspire public confidence in the justice system.

Throughout the court proceedings there was a marked difference between the real and film life. Much admired for, aside from his good looks, six-pack abs and macho roles such as the one in the film “Dabbang”, the actor broke into tears on hearing the verdict. Earlier, like ordinary mortals, he had pleaded innocent, maintaining that his driver was behind the wheel at the time of the incident. But the judge remained unconvinced and unimpressed, declaring the actor guilty of culpable homicide and other charges. “After going through the arguments put forth by both sides, I have come to the conclusion that five years is proper punishment,” said the judgement. The case may still drag on for several more years as Khan is appealing the verdict in the relevant high court; and in the event the high court upholds the sessions court’s decision he can go into appeal before the Supreme Court.

The verdict has reverberated in this country because of the celebrity involved as well as a general similarity of conditions, including use of false/real accusations and intimidation tactics. The same day, Sindh was abuzz with reports of a high profile case involving former interior minister Zulfiqar Mirza, who has been hurling all sorts of accusations at the Sindh’s ruling party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari. During the recent days, he and his wife, former National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, have also been complaining of registration of false cases against them. Sceptics point out that during his time as home minister Mirza had been using similar tactics against opponents. Needless to say, though, two wrongs do not make a right. If the government has reason to try and arrest Mirza, or he has genuine complaints, both sides should adopt the legal course. For now Mirza needs to appear before an anti-terrorism court. The electronic media has captured his gung-ho (armed) threatening appearance in a police station at Badin. However, we fail to understand how Mirza is being termed a ‘terrorist’. Mirza is not above law. The two sides must refrain from resorting to open confrontation to settle the issues of contention between them. The higher judiciary, conscious of its relatively new-found independence, is very assertive too. The government should have no hesitation to take the former home minister to court for whatever reasons it is insistent to have him arrested by the police. The judiciary should be trusted to deliver justice.

Bigger headache for PPP appears to be the former Speaker Fehmida Mirza – the spouse of Dr Zulfiqar Mirza. Unlike Mirza’s, her remarks are quite measured. She has exhibited a lot of maturity so far. It should serve as an eye opener for all politicians, particularly her husband.