New Delhi: Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was on Thursday convicted of killing two endangered blackbucks in 1998 during the shooting of Hum Saath Saath Hain, while his co-stars Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari were acquitted.
While the verdict may have come 20 years after the incident took place, but the legal pressure was mounted by a Rajasthan-based sect famous for its reverence for nature and wildlife. So who are the Bishnois, the nature-loving sect of Vishnu-worshippers who brought down Salman Khan?
The origins of Bishnois date back to the late 15th Century, when a preacher called Guru Jambeshwar established the sect. While some believe the term ‘Bishnoi’ is a derivative of Vishnu, the principal deity of the Bishnois, others believe it means twenty (Bish) nine (noi) in a local Rajasthani dialect. This alludes to a list of 29 commandments laid down by Jambeshwar, which all Bishnois are required to follow.
Of these 29 principles, eight have to do with preserving biodiversity and animal husbandry. For example, the 19th commandment of the Bishnois reads, “Do not cut green trees, save the environment.” The 22nd commandment, which relates to protecting animals, is what drove the Bishnois to push for Salman Khan’s arrest and conviction in the Chinkara and blackbuck cases. “Provide shelters for abandoned animals to avoid them from being slaughtered in abattoirs,” it reads, making clear the Bishnoi’s reverence of all life on the planet.
Other commandments that encourage Bishnois to preserve nature are the 23rd (Do not sterilise bull), 28th (Do not eat meat, always remain pure vegetarian) and 29th (Don’t use violet blue colour extracted from the indigo plant). It was because of their adherence to their principles that outfits such as Akhil Bharatiya Bishnoi Mahasabha and Bishnoi Tiger Force shed light on Salman Khan’s alleged trespasses and continued to agitate against the superstar.
The Bishnoi Sabha has decided to appeal against the acquittal of actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam Kothari and Sonali Bendre in the case.