French director Valentin Hénault. Photo: Screengrab of Youtube video/LYON CAPITALE TV

By The Wire Staff

New Delhi: French film director Valentin Hénault was arrested last October after allegedly attending a Dalit march in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. He was subsequently released on bail but was unable to leave India even six months after release due to a look out notice (LOC) issued against him, Le Monde reported

Speaking about his ordeal, Hénault told The Wire that he found “the moral torture” the most difficult to deal with in the entire process. “The moral torture: you don’t know if you’re in jail for some days or some years. And technically it’s presumption of guilt,” he said.

Hénault had arrived in India on August 10, 2023 to work on a film focussing on atrocities committed on Dalit women. He travelled in Bihar and Jharkhand before Uttar Pradesh. On October 10, 2023, Hénault had attended an “Ambedkar’s people’s march” led by peasant women in which they were demanding land rights for Dalits. As per the report, he was surrounded by “local intelligence agents” after a speaker at the podium who knew him for earlier mentioned his name to recognise the presence of “international observers”. 

While Hénault was allowed to leave the venue after a few “customary questions” by the “agents”, police took him to the police station on the same day from his hotel room, Le Monde wrote. The police reportedly accused him of “violation of visa conditions” under Article 14b of the Foreign Act which states that if a person knowingly uses a forged passport for entering into India or remains in the country without the authority of law shall be “punishable” with imprisonment for a minimum two-year term which many extend to eight years.

While the law enforcement officers suggested that he had “indicated on his visa application a reference contact in Dhanbad and was not allowed to leave Jharkhand,” as per the report, “the accusation is totally far-fetched, his e-business visa, valid for one year, does not include any geographical restrictions”.

A day after his arrest, Hénault was taken to a “parking lot” where a judge signed the documents relating to his arrest following which he was sent to Gorakhpur prison, as per Le Monde. “We slept on the floor, with so little space that it was impossible to turn around at night. The entire floor space was occupied by bodies,” the French daily quoted Hénault as saying while speaking about his jail term.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath is the head of the Gorakhpur mutt. Previously, he was an MP from the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency for five consecutive terms, he is known to act as an all-knowing head of the region, propagating hardline Hindutva ideologies through policy and governance.

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