Life of Pi's Tabu among Bollywood stars face trial over poaching case
Four could be jailed for six years if found guilty of involvement in hunting endangered antelope
Four Bollywood stars, including Life of Pi actress Tabu, have been charged in a 14-year-old poaching case and will finally go on trial next month for alleged complicity in the shooting of an endangered antelope.
Another actor - Salman Khan, who allegedly killed the two blackbucks in the early hours of October 2, 1998, near Jodhpur, where all five actors were shooting a Bollywood film - has already been charged in the case for hunting a protected animal.
Besides Tabu, the other actors who allegedly accompanied Khan on the illegal hunting trip are Sonali Bendre, Neelam Kothari and Saif Ali Khan, son of cricket legend Tiger Pataudi.
If convicted, the actors could be jailed for up to six years.
Salman Khan - who projects a macho image in his action-packed movies, as well as his controversy-ridden private life - is one of the Indian film industry's biggest money-spinners, with a huge following of fans.
He has already been convicted in two other poaching cases during the same visit to Jodhpur. He was sentenced to a year in prison for shooting two endangered chinkara deer, and to five years' jail for shooting another blackbuck days before the October 1998 shooting.
He has launched appeals against both the sentences.
The poaching case involving the five actors underwent an intricate process of appeals even before the trial could begin.
The five were initially charged with hunting a protected animal, but the prosecution also introduced the strange charge of rioting. This allowed the accused to go to higher courts to appeal against the charges.
In January, the Supreme Court in New Delhi told the Rajasthan government to drop the rioting charge - all that the government prosecutor had achieved was to delay the trial for several years.
On Friday, according to the Mail Today, two eyewitnesses testified before a magistrate in Jodhpur that when the hunting party sighted two blackbucks at 2am on October, 2, 1998, four of the actors shouted in Hindi, "Salman, chhodna mat, maaro, maaro!", or "Salman, don't let them go, kill them, kill them!"
The four will now be tried only for abetment to committing an offence of hunting, while Salman Khan faces the main charge of shooting the two blackbucks. The trial will begin on 27 April.
Salman Khan's poaching spree took place in an area inhabited by the nature-loving Bishnoi community. The Hindu sect was founded in 1451, and the Bishnois regard the blackbuck as a manifestation of their guru, who told them never to kill animals.
In 2005, the Bishnois were in turmoil when Pataudi allegedly shot a blackbuck in Haryana, a northern state bordering Rajasthan. He was arrested but died in 2011 before the trial concluded.
"For us, the hunting of a blackbuck is like the killing of our guru," a Bishnoi leader had said after Pataudi's sensational arrest.