Actor Salman Khan was sentenced to five years in jail by a Jodhpur court on Thursday for killing two endangered blackbucks in October 1998. Khan had been shooting for Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Saath Saath Hain in Rajasthan when he went on a hunt with his co-stars Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre. Khan was the only one convicted in the case.
The conviction tops a long list of Khan’s runs-in with the law, all of which had ended in acquittal – until now. These legal battles unfolded alongside personal and political rows involving the actor, who continues to hold immense clout over the box office and his legion of fans.
During the 1998 shoot, Khan was involved in two other poaching cases and an Arms Act case. The actor was accused of killing three chinkaras that year, but the Rajasthan High Court acquitted him in 2017 due to lack of evidence. A case was also registered under the Arms Act in October 1998 for possessing unlicensed firearms – a .22 rifle and a .32 United States-made revolver – which he allegedly used to kill the blackbuck. Khan was acquitted in the case in 2017.
The most controversial legal matter involving Khan was the September 2002 hit-and-run case. The actor had been accused of running over five pavement dwellers sleeping outside a Mumbai bakery, one of whom died. Khan spent 18 days in prison, for the alleged incident. The protracted and dramatic case saw much back and forth over the charges to be applied on the actor and the disappearance of important case files, but eventually ended in an acquittal by the Bombay High Court in December 2015.
The 2002 accident was preceded by the actor’s public break-up with Aishwarya Rai, which turned into a sordid saga with murmurs of physical abuse. The two were rumoured to have begun dating while working on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil Chuke Sanam (1999). Following the break-up, reports of Khan verbally and physically abusing Rai began to spread like wildfire.
“After we broke up, he [Salman Khan] would call me and talk rubbish,” Rai told The Times of India in 2002. “He also suspected me of having affairs with my co-stars. I was linked up with everyone, from Abhishek Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan. There were times when Salman got physical with me, luckily without leaving any marks. And I would go to work as if nothing had happened.”
The saga continued in 2003 when Rai signed up to star in Samir Karnik’s Kyun! Ho Gaya Na... (2005) alongside Vivek Oberoi, her rumoured boyfriend. Oberoi held a press conference in April that year, alleging that Khan had called him 41 times in a single night and abused him. “He [Salman Khan] said he would kill me,” Oberoi said. “I can publish a dictionary of abuses after that conversation.”
There was more word of unruly behaviour when the actor reportedly disrupted the shoot of Aziz Mirza’s Chalte Chalte (2003), in which Rai was originally cast alongside Shah Rukh Khan. Following the incident, she was replaced with Rani Mukerji.
In 2008, the two Khans reportedly tussled again during the birthday celebrations of Kartina Kaif, Salman Khan’s rumoured girlfriend at the time. A purported eyewitness told Mid-Day that Salman Khan was drunk, and the two traded insults.
In other instances, Khan faced a backlash for wading into politics and supporting controversial leaders. In 2014, he angered Muslim organisations with his support for Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate at the time. Khan was seen flying kites with Modi, then the Gujarat chief minister, during a Makar Sankranti event in Ahmedabad in January. He also had lunch with the politician, who was unpopular among Muslims after the 2002 Gujarat riots, and called him a “good man”.
Later, in a televised interview, Khan said that Modi should not apologise for the 2002 riots because he had been given a clean chit by the judiciary.
A section of Muslim clerics called for a boycott of the actor’s January 2014 release Jai Ho. This furore came right after Khan performed during the Saifai Mahotsav in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s village in Uttar Pradesh. The Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government was in power at the time. Khan was criticised for ignoring the plight of the victims of the 2014 Muzaffarnagar riots, which the Samajwadi Party, despite being in power, could not control.
The next year, Khan attracted the fury of the Hindu Right for his comments about Yakub Memon, who was to be hanged in connection with the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. Khan tweeted that Yakub Memon had been sentenced for the crimes of his brother, Tiger Memon. In a volley of tweets, Khan wrote that he had kept his thoughts regarding the case to himself for a long time but he was finally expressing them. Calling Tiger Memon a “lomdi” (fox) that ran away, Khan tweeted, “Get tiger [Tiger Memon], hang him. Parade him not his brother.”
Bharatiya Janata Party workers protested outside Khan’s residence. Shiv Sena and BJP demanded that Khan’s bail for the 2002 hit-and-run case be cancelled. Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande called Khan an anti-national. Special prosecutor of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case, Ujjwal Nikam, found Khan’s tweets “highly objectionable” and called them an “attempt to undermine the image of the Indian judiciary”. Khan retracted his comments and offered an unconditional apology on Twitter.
In 2016, when Khan was promoting his film Sultan (2016), he got into trouble with the National Commission for Women. The actor had undergone a gruelling training schedule while preparing for his role of an Olympic gold medal-winning boxer in the film. While describing his exhaustion, Khan compared his situation to that of a “raped woman”.
He reportedly said, “When I used to walk out of that ring, it used to be actually like a raped woman walking out. The National Commission for Women demanded an apology from the actor, but he did not comply.
Weeks later, while attending the International Indian Film Academy awards, Khan quipped, “I will not take much time because nowadays the less I speak the better it is.”
Khan has also had foot-in-the-mouth moments while abroad. In 2010, in a televised interview to the Pakistani news channel Express TV, the actor said that the November 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai were hyped because “elite people” had been targeted. Outage followed with political parties condemning his statements. Khan apologised soon after.
Four years later, Khan angered Tamil politicians when he agreed to campaign for former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa ahead of the 2015 elections in that country. According to cables released by Wikileaks in 2010, American diplomats had reason to believe Rajapaksa’s government was responsible for the massacres of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils in 2009. Khan was reportedly invited by Rajapaksa’s son Namal, who was friends with Jacqueline Fernandez, Khan’s co-star in Kick (2014). Tamil organisations took to the streets to protest and some campaigned outside the actor’s house. Rajapaksa lost the elections.