Friday, October 22 2021

Dive In


Wishful thinking is all we’ve got—if we’re not thinking wishfully, then what a waste of thinking.

That’s it. This quote from author Ali Smith is what we have for you today. We wish you a wonderful day filled with wishful thinking!


Don’t miss this: Our next Ask Me Anything session is with accomplished patissier, chef and entrepreneur Pooja Dhingra—who also hosts a brilliant podcast ‘No Sugar Coat’. You can ask her about all the things close to her heart: food, restaurants, entrepreneurship and more. Time/Date: 6 pm on Saturday, October 23, via Zoom. Sign up here for one of the limited slots. ICYMI, we did a hilarious session with comedian Aditi Mittal last time. Check it out to get a taste of how fun and lively our AMAs are.


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Stuff to check out: The latest episode of the splainer podcast ‘Press Decode’ offers a closer look at the Global Hunger Index and the bizarre TikTok trend of teenagers developing symptoms of Tourette syndrome. Be sure to head over to the IVM website, Spotify or Apple Podcasts to listen to it.

Big Story

The crimes and misdemeanours of Aryan Khan

The TLDR: We’ve avoided doing a big story on Khan’s arrest primarily because the media coverage has been characterised by bad or leaked information. And more important events were happening elsewhere. We’ve finally been able to piece together a somewhat reliable account of what happened and the reasons why he is still in jail.


Researched by: Sara Varghese and Samreen Faridi


First, a quick timeline

  • Aryan Khan and seven others were detained by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on October 2. Among those arrested: his friend Arbaaz Merchant and fashion designer Munmun Dhamecha.
  • They are currently in judicial custody—which has been extended to October 30—at the Arthur Road prison in Mumbai.
  • Khan’s bail plea has been rejected twice this month—most recently on October 20.
  • His lawyer moved the High Court for an emergency video conference hearing. The High Court has instead called for an in-person hearing on October 26.
  • Yesterday, the NCB raided Ananya Panday’s (daughter of Chunky Panday) residence and seized her phone and laptop—based on WhatsApp chats between her and Khan. She has not been accused of anything as yet, but was summoned for interrogation.


As for Shahrukh Khan: The actor has stayed steadfastly silent, and was finally allowed to visit his son at the jail yesterday. Family visits had been banned until due to Covid safety protocols. You can see the depressing scene outside the jail here.


Yesterday, SRK also received a visit from NCB officials at his residence “to collect some documents.” For some odd reason, they appear to have notified the media—who were there to record the event.


The great drug bust

The account of how and when Khan was arrested have been significantly revised in news reports—which, again, is testimony to the quality of the initial coverage.


The cruise party: The ship is owned by Cordelia Cruises, which in turn is owned by Waterways Leisure Private Limited. According to India Today, an RTI reply shows that the party was thrown by FashionTV Managing Director Kashiff Khan. And a Delhi-based event organiser, Namas’Cray Experience Private Limited, was in charge of operations—i.e. they sold the tickets, drew up the 1000-person guest list, invited celebrities etc. 


Point to note: FashionTV did not have the required permissions from the Mumbai Port Trust for the party. And the cruise ship does not have a proper license either. Senior executives of all these companies have been questioned by the NCB—but no one has been arrested.


Version #1 of the arrests: Initial news reports claimed 20 undercover NCB officials boarded the cruise ship—as part of a planned drug bust based on a tip-off. They waited until the guests started taking drugs and “caught them red-handed.” The ship was then taken back to the pier—where the eight people, including Khan, were arrested.


Revised version of events: As it turns out, the cruise ship never set sail. Here is how Khan was arrested: 

  • The ship was scheduled to depart at 4 pm. Khan, Merchant and other friends arrived at 3 pm.
  • They were stopped at the security checkpoint—where the NCB officials confronted them.
  • Some news reports claimed that six grams of charas were found on Merchant when he was searched—while none were found on Khan. 
  • But the panchnama (evidence sheet) says that Merchant voluntarily admitted to possessing the charas, and handed it over.
  • It also claims Merchant then confessed to doing drugs with Khan—who also admitted to consuming charas. And they revealed their plan to consume the charas on board the ship. 


Some points to note: 

  • Oddly enough, despite all this drama at the checkpoint, the cruise went ahead as planned—and two others were arrested on board for consuming “hydrophonic weed.”
  • Khan’s lawyer insists that he has never admitted to either consuming drugs, or to knowledge that Merchant had drugs on him. 
  • It isn’t clear why Khan and his friends were persons of interest—or why no one else was confronted or detained (presumably they weren’t the only ones with drugs on them).
  • Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief spokesperson Nawab Malik offered alleged video evidence that, in fact, 11 people were arrested that day. But three were released—including one person with BJP links, and two who had invited Khan to the party.


The final haul: After the dust settled, the NCB managed to seize 13 grams of cocaine, five grams of mephedrone, 21 grams of charas and 22 pills of MDMA (Ecstasy). 


The three troubling Ws

Wankhede factor: The NCB’s high profile drug busts aimed at Bollywood personalities have been directed by Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede


  • He was transferred to the NCB after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput—and took the lead in the case against Rhea Chakraborty and her brother Showik (explained here). 
  • Wankhede has focused on cases that involve very small quantities of drugs—but target big names. For example, he arrested an employee of Dharmatic Productions—who told the court that Wankhede offered to let him go if he named Karan Johar.
  • And he is focused on consumption—which is unusual for law enforcement agencies. As one Mumbai police official puts it: “Even our constables hardly do consumption cases.”
  • NCP has made several allegations about Wankhede’s credibility—including the charge that he summons Bollywood actors to Dubai and Maldives to extort large sums of money. 
  • OTOH, Wankhede claims NCP spokesperson Malik is smearing him because the NCB recently arrested his son-in-law in a drug bust. Watch his latest response here.
  • But Wankhede has also been credited in neutralizing several big gangs, as well.
  • In August this year, Wankhede and his team got the Home Minister’s medal for “excellence in investigation.”
  • Irony alert: He is married to a Marathi actor Kranti Redkar


WhatsApp: Once again, law enforcement officials have relied entirely on WhatsApp messages to build a case against Aryan Khan—as they did with Rhea Chakraborty. In this case, they point to:


  • An exchange between Merchant and Khan where “they said ‘they’ are going to have a blast.”
  • Khan mentions “bulk quantity”—which indicates the drugs were not just for consumption but also distribution. 
  • And the NCB claims that the chats show that Khan was “in touch with foreign nationals and other drug dealers who appear to be part of an international drug network.”


Point to note: The WhatsApp messages were a primary reason why Khan was denied bail by the special court—which cited them as “prima facie” evidence of his guilt.


Witnesses: As per the law, any evidence seized by law enforcement officials has to be witnessed by five independent witnesses (panchas)—and recorded in a panchnama. Questions have been raised about the witnesses in these arrests. One of them is linked to the BJP and was seen escorting Merchant into the NCB office—which is bizarre behaviour for a pancha (watch him here). The other is a private detective with a criminal record—who took a selfie with Khan while he was in NCB custody.


The bottomline: Whether or not you think it’s okay for rich kids to ‘smoke up’ on cruise ships, all of us should be concerned with the NCB’s increasing focus on small-time drug offenses. In 2020, of 59,806 drug cases, only 44% were related to distribution and trafficking—while the largest share (56%) involved small amounts intended for personal consumption. Is that really the best way to fight a drug war?


Reading list

Indian Express has a number of reports on Sameer Wankhede, the NCB raid and the panchnama. Quint has more on the owners of the cruise ship. Worth watching: NDTV’s breakdown of India’s drug laws. Or read Ronny Sen’s critique of our laws in Outlook magazine. Chinmayi Sripada’s Twitter thread tells a lovely story about SRK and her mother. Priya Ramani in BloombergQuint offers a passionate defence of the actor—who is seen as the real target of this drug bust.


Headlines that matter

A leaked climate change report

A big trove of internal UN documents show how governments are frantically lobbying scientists to play down the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels. For example: A Saudi oil ministry adviser demands phrases like “the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales…” should be eliminated from their final report. The leaked documents also show that India—the world's second-largest consumer of coal—has told the UN that coal will “remain the mainstay of energy production in the next few decades for sustainable economic growth of the country.” Why this matters: India is under pressure to commit to net zero emissions. BBC News has more on the leak, and the India angle.

Christopher Columbus loses his crown

Nope, he did not discover America after all. Researchers have now discovered that Vikings crossed the Atlantic 1,000 years ago—thanks to evidence gathered from a settlement in the Canadian island of Newfoundland. So the Scandinavians got there first, 471 years before Columbus’ first ship voyage. Why this matters:


“The Viking voyage represents multiple milestones for humankind. The settlement offers the earliest-known evidence of a transatlantic crossing. It also marks the place where the globe was finally encircled by humans, who thousands of years earlier had trekked into North America over a land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska.”


Reuters has more intriguing details. 


Gender bias in unexpected places

A new study shows that the world’s top natural history museums have a deep-seated gender bias… in their bird collections! Only 40% of their specimens are female—which poses a serious limitation to ecological research. One possible reason: Male birds are showy and bright—which attract humans just as well as they do potential mates. (Audubon)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • A tribute to effortless and minimalist chic of Indian royalty


Weekend Advisory

  • Good stuff to watch this weekend
  • A list of good reads

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