A court in Mumbai has ruled that a leading Bollywood actor should face homicide charges for a notorious hit-and-run case dating back more than a decade. If convicted, Salman Khan could be jailed for 10 years.
The star, who has appeared in dozens of films as an all-singing action hero, was initially charged with negligent driving over an incident in 2002 when he drove his SUV while drunk and ploughed into five homeless people who were sleeping on the street. One of the five was killed while the others were seriously injured. The actor did not turn himself over to the police for eight hours.
At the time, police charged Mr Khan with negligence. After taking a statement from his body-guard, who said the actor had been drinking when his Land Cruiser hit the people asleep on the pavement in the Bandra neighbourhood, they sought to file more serious charges. But the actor’s lawyers have repeatedly fought the allegations and until now they were never finally accepted by the courts.
“The court said there was enough evidence to show the act was not incidental and hence the case should be tried under a more serious section,” one of the actor’s lawyers, Kaushal Thakkar, told the Times of India after this week’s decision. Mr Khan has yet to publicly comment on the court’s ruling.
The 2002 hit-and-run in Mumbai involving the actor, whose film hits include Bodyguard, Dabangg and Ek Tha Tige, is one of a number of incidents in India where drink driving cases relating to the rich or powerful struggle to reach the courts.
In 2008, Sanjeev Nanda, son of a Delhi business tycoon and arms dealer, was convicted of a hit and run incident in the capital, in which he killed six people, including three policemen. He and his friends failed to stop their BMW after the incident and later destroyed evidence. He was initially found not guilty because the prosecution could not find witnesses who had not been intimidated but he was subsequently jailed for 10 years.
This is not the the first time that Mr Khan, who enjoys something of a bad boy image, has been in trouble with the law. In 1998, he spent more than a week in prison for killing endangered Indian gazelles in the northern state of Rajasthan.
The muscular Mr Khan has been asked to appear before the courts on February 11. However, lawyers for the actor have indicated they plan to again challenge the court’s decision to have the more serious charge levelled at their client. The lesser charge carries a maximum punishment of just two years in jail.