Authorities in Bengaluru, India arrested actor Chekwume Malvin last month on suspicion of selling drugs. The acclaimed performer in the Indian film world was allegedly caught in possession of 15 grams of MDMA and 250 milliliters of hashish oil, all in proximity of an old school campus in the city. In addition to criminal charges, Malvin may face consequences with his immigration status.
Malvin's arrest was reported by The Hindu Times, who heard from local police that the estimated street value of his haul was ₹8 lakh — the equivalent of about $10,800 in the U.S. They also found a small amount of cash and a mobile phone on the actor, and they will be analyzing these for further evidence. Malvin was searched and arrested under India's controversial Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substance Act, which passed in 1985 and is considered by some as one of the harshest drug policies in the world. It could force him to leave India.
Malvin is 45 years old, and he originally moved from Nigeria to India on a medical visa. He then enrolled in the Mumbai branch of the New York Film Academy to study acting, building on a six-month course he had taken at the school's branch in Abuja, Nigeria.
Since then, Malvin has acted in over 20 films, including some prominent titles like Vishwaroopam, Singham, Anna Bond, Dilwale and Paramathma. Police say he confessed to peddling drugs for "quick money," utilizing his network of friends and connections in the acting world.
The Indian government is often criticized for its harsh drug policies - particularly their emphasis on punishment over treatment and recovery. The 1985 law under which Malvin was arrested has taken particular criticism. In a recent op-ed for The Economic Times, writer Ronny Sen called it "one of the world's most overly punitive, confusing and ineffective drug laws."
According to Sen's article, the NDPS Act punishes possession of "hard drugs" just as harshly as their sale, production or purchase. It does not distinguish between personal use and "intent to resell" in the same way that other countries' drug laws do. While some amendments have been made in the last decade, Sen joined other Indian public figures in calling for more change.
A call has reportedly been rising among Indian lawmakers to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs that can reasonably be assumed to be intended for personal use. An amendment has already been made so that drug addicts can opt to enter addiction treatment rather than prison. With new proposals on the table, cases like Malvin's could look far different in the years to come.