The country has spent the last week watching the news with a strange mix of fascination and horror as the legal system took on the sons of two powerful men for two different, unrelated cases. Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) last week through a raid conducted on a cruise ship. The same day, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra’s son, Ashish Mishra’s SUV allegedly ran over farmers who were taking part in the protest at Lakhmipur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh; an incident that was caught on video. Eight people died. While Aryan was arrested immediately after the raid, it took the police a week to take Ashish into custody. These two cases, where the severity of the reports and allegations varies wildly, have raised several questions in people’s mind about the framework of law and order in our country. A quick recap.
What Happened On October 3rd?
The anti-drugs agency raided a high-profile party on a cruise ship, which was attended by Aryan Khan. He was arrested by the NCB along with Arbaaz Merchant, Munmun Dhamecha and five others during the raid. Aryan was reportedly invited as a guest to the cruise ship rave, which also hosted 1,300 other guests. It has been reported that Aryan arrived at the venue and was escorted by Merchant but they were stopped by the NCB even before they entered the ship. It has been widely circulated that despite not having found any incriminating evidence on Aryan, he was detained almost immediately. According to reports, his mobile was soon confiscated, and the NCB took control of his chats and photos for further investigation.
Seven videos captured how a speeding car drove into a protesting crowd in Lakhmipur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, leaving eight dead, including four farmers. The car reportedly belonged to the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra’s son, Ashish Mishra. While no one was arrested or taken in for questioning, the state government imposed Section 144 and deployed police forces to control the situation. Opposition leaders trying to meet the victims’ families were stopped and arrested. The video of this spine-chilling incident also shows a man dumping the car and fleeing the spot after running over the people.
Aryan Khan was taken into custody almost immediately. The anti-drugs agency presented the case to the court and sought custody of Aryan for a day, which was later extended to a week. Their request for further detention was not permitted by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate RM Nerlikare, who stated "simply remanding the accused to NCB custody without reason is a cogent ground for violating liberty."
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh stated, "They are influential persons... is a chance of tampering with evidence. Had it been one person with small quantity, it would be different. We have a lot of material... protection like bail at this stage will hamper the investigation," argued the defence counsel, adding that Aryan could tamper with evidence and influence witnesses. After hearing the arguments, the Mumbai Magistrate read out a 15-page report rejecting Aryan’s bail, who will now spend 3-5 days in the quarantine cell at the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai.
Ashish Mishra was arrested after a week of reportedly dodging the police. He was summoned by the UP police for questioning, where he failed to appear citing health reasons. "We have full faith in the law. My son is innocent. He will appear before the police on Saturday to record a statement," said Ajay Mishra. Following a huge uproar across the country and on social media regarding the incident, the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure with the actions taken by the state. An arrest was then made on the grounds of non-cooperation. “Ashish was arrested as he was not cooperating during the interrogation and didn't answer a few questions. He will be produced before the court,” said DIG Upendra Agarwal, Saharanpur. After an 11-hour-long interrogation, he was finally arrested by the UP Police SIT probing the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case.
Why, And What Now?
Stars — and their progeny — are constantly under the scanner. Sometimes that works in their favour and sometimes it doesn’t. People are often frustrated by how the rules are different for celebrities in our country, and, while that holds true most times, most agree that the NCB’s reaction to finding Aryan at the party has been disproportionate. Despite finding nothing on him and knowing that he’s not a flight risk, his bail has been denied for arbitrary reasons. Being able to secure bail is every Indian citizen’s constitutional right and we should all be worried that Khan — regardless of who he is — has not been able to exercise it.
Ashish, on the other hand, ignored summons even though those charges usually merit an immediate arrest. Citizens are up in arms about the VIP treatment a minister’s son is getting even though lives were lost in this instance. Aryan’s arrest was a priority even though nothing was found on him. It’s not a stretch to say that the disparity is evident.
Voices Stand In Solidarity
People across the country have voiced their concerns on Aryan’s arrest. Social media has been abuzz in the last week with strong reactions highlighting the disparity in actions taken against Aryan and Ashish. From an average Twitter user to journalists and members of the opposition, no one has been able to hide their shock at how unexpectedly these cases have been pursued. It’s clear that one doesn’t have to be an SRK fan to recognise that something is amiss.
Salman Khan, Farah Khan, Hrithik Roshan and many of Shah Rukh’s co-stars have shown their support. Hrithik Roshan took to Instagram to write an emotional letter for Aryan, which reads, "I've known you as a kid and I've known you as a man. Own it. Own everything you experience. They're your gifts. Trust me. In time when you connect the dots... I promise you, it’s gonna make sense. Only if you have stared the devil in his eyes and kept your calm. Keep calm. Observe. These moments are the makers of your Tom [tomorrow]. And Tom [tomorrow] is going to have a brilliant sun shining. But for it, you must go thru the dark. Calm, still, owning your own. And trusting the light. Within. It's always there. Love you man (sic)."
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor wrote, “I am no fan of recreational drugs & haven’t ever tried any, but I am repelled by the ghoulish epicaricacy displayed by those now witch-hunting @iamsrk on his son’s arrest. Have some empathy, folks. The public glare is bad enough; no need to gleefully rub a 23yr old’s face in it,” he tweeted.
Opposition leader Adhir Chowdhury tweeted a strong message, questioning the actions taken in both cases. “The alacrity of arresting the son of @iamsrk who is allegedly a drug-addicted kid, was conspicuously absent in the case of arresting the son of Mr Ajay Mishra, MoS Home affairs. It is intriguing as the wayward kid of Mr Mishra is alleged to have mowed down by the self driven car in a savage manner to the innocuous protesting farmers. Severe punishment to teenage khan for a venial offence should not be awarded,” read his tweet.
. #AryanKhan had no drugs on him.— Tehseen Poonawalla Official ðÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ®ðÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ³ (@tehseenp) October 8, 2021
No evidence to connect him to any drug deals. Cooperated with agencies yet he is in Jail.
Ajay Mishraji's son is a prime accused in the massacre of 4 farmers. All his defense has been proved a lie. He skipped Police summons yet he is not in Jail.
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The alacrity of arresting the son of @iamsrk who is allegedly a drug addicted kid, was conspicuously absent in the case of arresting the son of Mr Ajay Mishra, MoS Home affairs.— Adhir Chowdhury (@adhirrcinc) October 9, 2021
Shameful politics being played out.. it’s a young mans life and future they toying with … heartbreaking .— Raveena Tandon (@TandonRaveena) October 7, 2021
In a bailable offence with no posession or evidence of consumption. Arrest of Aryan Khan by NCB is outright illegal.#AryanKhanArrested— Abha Singh (@abhasinghlawyer) October 5, 2021
How many Producers, Directors who have worked with #SRK in last 30 years are standing in solidarity with him today ?— DHOOPASHWINI (@DhoopAshwini) October 8, 2021
We’ve always been told that the legal system is just and fair for everyone, but it’s not rare to see the rich and the privileged being given special treatment. In this scenario, however, while both cases revolve around high-profile men, the implications of denying bail to a 23-year-old who just happened to be at a party while delaying the arrest of another who allegedly ran over people is not lost on anyone.
The attention and interest shown by the system in one case was desperately needed in the other one, from where it was clearly missing. Since Ashish was detained only after mounting pressure from all quarters, it has now become impossible to distinguish between what is being done for optics versus what is being done according to the right procedure. After all, power cannot lie in the hands of a few people in a democratic system.
It should have been simple – take swift action against the person allegedly involved in a crime where lives were lost. What we witnessed instead was a circus around a star kid who was detained despite no evidence in a bailable offence. This begs the question — one we should all be asking. For all the (often valid) furor against selective treatment in this country— who decides our fates? With Aryan still being held, we’re wondering how it all actually works, and where the average citizen actually stands.