Ten-year-old Joel Dhawan spent all of Thursday afternoon crying. An ardent fan of Salman Khan, the Class 5 girl had travelled to Mumbai all the way from Sirsa in Haryana to catch a glimpse of her favourite actor – only to hear that he had been sentenced to five years in jail for poaching a blackbuck in 1998.

“I really love him a lot and I know all these cases against him are false,” said Dhawan, whose mother claims she had been given admission in kindergarten when the school heard her sing a song from Khan’s film. “We have come to Mumbai only for him. I am praying to god that they release him from jail soon.”

Dhawan and her family were among the dozens of fans who stood outside Salman Khan’s building in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb on Thursday afternoon, looking dejected after a Jodhpur sessions court convicted him in the 20-year-old blackbuck poaching case.

Khan was awarded a five-year jail sentence and a Rs 10,000 fine under the Wildlife Protection Act for hunting the endangered deer in Rajasthan’s Kankani village, where he had been shooting for the film Hum Saath Saath Hain. Four of his co-stars who were also accused in the case – Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam – were acquitted.

Salman Khan fans outside his building in Mumbai. Photos: Venkataraghavan Rajagopalan

‘Why have the others been let off?’

Since the court will hear Khan’s bail plea on Friday, the movie star is due to spend Thursday night in jail – something that the fans outside his house in Mumbai were passionately disturbed about.

“Already Salman Bhai has had so many troubles, and now he has to spend the night in jail. This is very sad,” said Sheikh Alimuddin, a social worker from Hingoli, Maharashtra, whose uncle had sought financial aid from the actor’s charity for cancer treatment. “In this country, the killers of humans like Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin and Justice Loya roam free. And Salman Bhai has been convicted for killing an animal?”

Sheikh Alimuddin is troubled about Salman Khan spending a night in jail.

Mohammed Arbaz, a 24-year-old fan from Malegaon, had travelled to Mumbai on Thursday morning on the assumption that Khan would be acquitted. “I thought that Bhai [Salman Khan] will come and meet his fans after getting done with the hearing,” said Arbaz, who has been a fan of the actor since he watched the film Tere Naam. “Now it turns out everyone else has been freed and only Bhai has been punished in this case! I am very sad about this. I don’t think he is guilty in any case.”

Mohammed Arbaz thought Khan would be acquitted.

Like Arbaz, free-lance dancer Sahil Khan also believes that the accusations against Salman Khan – both in the blackbuck case and the 2002 hit-and-run case in which he was acquitted – are false.

“This is wrong. Why have the other actors been let off but not Salman? I appeal to [Prime Minister] Modi ji to let Bhai go,” said Sahil Khan, who works as a background dancer in movies and has seen his favourite actor several times outside the star’s house. “I am waiting for an opportunity to dance in Bhai’s film. He is a very good guy and supports a lot of charities.”

Sahil Khan has seen his favourite actor several times.

Fans repeatedly cited Salman Khan’s charity and social work as evidence of his good character, and if not a proof of his innocence, they claimed it was proof that he deserved a lighter punishment.

“I want the judge to give him the most minimum sentence possible, because Bhai is still young and can act in many more movies,” said Santosh More, 31-year-old pharmaceutical factory worker from Maharashtra’s Sangli district. In a bright red jacket and hair dyed maroon, More said he was currently sporting the look that Khan had in the movie Yuvraaj. A few years ago, he had also bought a “Being Human” t-shirt to support the charity that the actor founded. “So many people die in India but the courts never investigate. They are doing this to Salman only because he is famous, because they want publicity.”

Santosh More dresses like Salman Khan.