NEW DELHI – Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, 53, faces a jail term of over three years after India’s Supreme Court upheld his conviction in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case.
Considered one of the deadliest terrorist attacks, the Mumbai blasts killed 257 people and injured over 700 as a series of bombs detonated across the city’s various busy locations including the Stock Exchange. Dutt was convicted by the specially set-up TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Preventation Act) court after he was arrested in April 1993 for illegal possession of a 9 mm pistol and an AK-56 rifle.
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The weapons were considered part of a consignment of arms and explosives brought to India by the masterminds behind the terrorist attacks. The Supreme Court’s judgment on the 1993 Mumbai blasts states that the attacks were organized by underworld don and India’s most wanted criminal Dawood Ibrahim (rumored to be in hiding in Pakistan) and others with the involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI.
The actor has been on bail since 2007 when he appealed against his original sentence of six years. On Thursday, the Supreme Court reduced it to five years. Dutt has already served an 18-month jail sentence which was spread over from 1995 till 2007 as the actor was arrested and released over the years.
While the earlier TADA judgment had awarded Dutt a six year sentence for illegal arms possession, the Supreme Court revised the term to five years under India’s Arms Act but ruled out his release on probation. "The circumstances and the nature of the offence is so serious that we are of the view that he (Sanjay Dutt) cannot take the benefit of provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act to release him on probation," the Supreme Court bench said in its judgment while directing the actor to surrender within four weeks.
"He will have to serve another three-and-a-half year sentence. We had prepared him for the same," Dutt’s lawyer Satish Maneshinde was quoted stating to Reuters. "We will wait for a copy of the judgment and then decide the further course of action," he said. "He is a strong man and will fight back."
"I have already suffered for 20 years and been in jail for 18 months. If they want me to suffer more I have to be strong. I am heart-broken because today along with me, my three children and my wife and my family will undergo the punishment. I have always respected the judicial system and will continue to do so, even with tears in my eyes,” Dutt said in a statement released after the judgment was announced. “I am going to complete all my films and won’t let anyone down. I am overwhelmed by the support of my fans the industry people, the media and all the well-wishers. They have always stood by me and supported me. I know in my heart that I have always been a good human being, respected the system and always been loyal to my country. My family is very emotional right now and I have to be strong for them. I am shattered and in emotional distress. I am sorry I can’t come down and meet you all. God is great and he will guide me through this."
The son of the late legendary actor couple Sunil Dutt and Nargis, Sanjay is one of Bollywood’s popular stars with a career that launched in the early eighties. His father turned to politics after retiring from acting and was a long standing member of the Congress party and also served as a union minister. One of his two sisters, Priya Dutt is also a Congress party member.
In 2006, the TADA court had convicted 100 people for the blasts — 12 of the convicts were given the death penalty and 20 others were given life sentence. The Supreme Court’s judgment upheld the death sentence of Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, brother of one of the absconding main conspirators, Tiger Memon, and life sentences of 16 of the 18 convicts. The death sentence of 10 others was commuted to life sentence by the court which directed that they will remain in prison till death.
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Known for his tough guy persona, Dutt had gained popularity in recent years with his comic take in the successful franchise. Last year, he starred in the hit action film portraying a gangster.
As news of the Supreme Court judgment hit the airwaves, an outpouring of support from various film figures went viral on social media. “My heart goes out to Sanju sir and his family..the nicest gentlest person..I pray for some respite for him through our judiciary,” top actress Priyanka Chopra posted on her Twitter account.
“I am truly shattered to hear of Sanju’s sentence…the nicest guy i have known just doesnt deserve this…my heart goes out to him….” tweeted top director/producer Karan Johar.
“I am numb, I don’t know what to say. Sanjay Dutt is not a criminal. This is too harsh a decision,” tweeted Dutt’s co-star Arshad Warsi who is expected to reteam with Dutt in the third instalment of the hit franchise.
“The ’93 blast case should NOT be made about Sanjay Dutt. The Real planners are sitting safely in Pakistan like Osama Bin Laden was,” tweeted leading film-maker Kunal Kohli.
Dutt is currently filming a remake of hit 1970s drama , while the actor’s commitments include about half a dozen upcoming films which are at various stages of production.