Celebrity drug use in India raises privacy, civil rights questions

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It was grim news in India when Aryan Khan – the son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, and a full-fledged celebrity – was arrested by the country’s equivalent of the DEA while on a luxury cruise ship from Mumbai to the party city of Goa.

During the October 2 raid, officers seized 21 grams of charas (hashish), 13 grams of cocaine, five grams of mephedrone and 22 tablets of MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy). Eight of Khan’s other high-class revelers were also arrested.

Lease refused for 27 days

The nine were locked up in Mumbai and formally charged the next day with violating several provisions of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act. This despite the fact that no drugs were found on Khan.

The Narcotics Control Bureau (BNC) said it listened to his WhatsApp conversations and found evidence that Khan was a “regular smuggler” and may even be involved in international drug trafficking. On this basis, he was refused release on bail.

Khan’s powerful father lined up India’s former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi for his defense team, but the Bombay High Court’s special anti-drug chamber continued to refuse to grant bail until to October 30. Khan and his arrested colleagues each had to post a bond of 100,000 rupees (approximately $ 1,350) and surrender their passports.

Khan could face 10 years in prison if convicted.

And the case sparked a secondary investigation by Mumbai prosecutors into allegations BCN agents tried to shake Shah Rukh Khan’s manager Pooja Dadlani for a bribe to free the youngster. Khan without laying charges. Dadlani was called to testify in this case but twice failed to appear.

Other high level busts

This is just one of the many cases making headlines right now and rocking the Indian elite. Another concerns the son-in-law of none other than NCB chief Nawab Malik, who is also government minister of Maharashtra state, India’s second most populous state. The son-in-law Sameer Khan was arrested in January in a raid on a private house in an upscale suburb of Mumbai that revealed nearly 200 kilograms of dried cannabis.

Sameer Khan was not present in the searched house, but was nevertheless quickly charged with conspiracy to traffic based on his WhatsApp chats. He was finally granted a bond of 50,000 rupees on September 27 and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.

Interestingly, authorities said the 200 kilograms had been imported into the country. Although India is a major producer of cannabis, with a millennial tradition of spiritual use of the plant, Canadian hydroponics are reportedly all the rage among the country’s fashionable classes, with authorities recording recent large seizures of this plant. product.

And to bring even more water to the Indian yellow press, actor Armaan Kohli, the son of legendary Bollywood producer Rajkumar Kohli, was arrested by NCB agents in August for possession of 1.2 grams of cocaine. He is denied bail by a Mumbai court while the NCB investigates the trafficking charges against him – again based on his discussions on WhatsApp.

Concerns about confidentiality and civil rights

While these cases have attracted attention because they have ensnared descendants of India’s elite, they raise issues of concern to the people in a country where political space has closed under seven years of rule. of right.

It has been speculated that Aryan Khan was targeted because he belongs to a prominent Muslim family who failed to align with the fundamentalist Hindu government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Bollywood has been widely criticized by the “Hindutva” right for supposedly eroding traditional values ​​in the same terms that Christian fundamentalists castigate Hollywood in the United States.

Aryan Khan’s case has also drawn public attention to how a citizen can remain locked up for a significant period of time without any conviction – even a citizen of a wealthy family who can afford to post bail. In India, 70% of people behind bars are in pre-trial detention. At the end of 2019, more than one lakh (100,000) had been in prison awaiting trial for over a year, The Hindu newspaper reported last year.

And then there is the issue of police surveillance in the digital age, where every communication leaves an indelible mark. Two Indian jurists, in a commentary on the Aryan Khan affair for the Jurist website, write: Private discussions on forums like WhatsApp… One can only hope that the Aryan Khan saga will feature much more than a simple Bollywood gossip episode.



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