The courts have spoken. Salman Khan is guilty. He ran over the homeless sleeping outside the American Express bakery, killed Nurullah Sharif and constable Ravindra Patil, who died in 2007 having filed the case against Salman and providing crucial testimony, stood vindicated against the backdrop of a vile police force that failed to stand by him.
Justice has been served. Yes. But how useful is it to us?
Salman Khan, he of the pelvic thrusting blockbusters, will go quiet for the next five years, be released on furlough a couple of times, probably parole for good behaviour, his crime and sentence will be forgotten, and the thrill of having seen a superstar head to Arthur Road Jail will give everyone the superficial satisfaction of believing our judicial systems work just fine.
Except, consider this. Would a Salman free achieve more? Much has been made of his philanthropy via the Being Human Foundation, donations amounting to Rs 42 crores towards education and his personal medical involvements in the needs of those who require aid. Except hitherto nobody is buying the chicanery of a trust set up to cover up misdeeds.
But given his public following, would a court-ordered involvement in public awareness serve the needs of India better? Apart from massive compensation to the victim's families, there is much Salman can do. Given the Rs 100 crore club Salman Khan is president of, would mandatory investments of his wealth towards creating awareness of drunk driving, medical facilities along highways and expressways for accident victims, procurement of breathalysers and better testing facilities, equipping of rehabilitation centres, court-ordered public engagements and what the hell, while we are there throw in the creation of public service films and a feature dramatising the ill-effects as subliminal messaging. Would these not create a more suitable "punishment" to the needs of Indian society?
What does a Salman in jail do for us that a Salman free cannot? Of course this raises debates of whether punitive action can be restricted to throwing money at the crime. But in the interests of Indian society, will harnessing a superstar factor with this much impact on the masses, actually make a difference?
If so, does the legal community need to rethink what constitutes punishment at all?