Understanding the system of corruption around the valley’s drug trade.
It is easy to dismiss the reality of the drug situation in Himachal by immersing yourself in the Valley’s unimaginable beauty. But it is 2017, and I was in Himachal again, after a year. This time, without even trying, I found out things I was probably better off not knowing. I had read umpteen articles lashing out at the locals, over-simplifying the truth by saying something dismissive and ill-informed like “they had resorted to greed and fallen into the vicious cycle of meeting tourist demands.” But the reality was far from this.
I hung out with a family that had so much money stuffed in their cupboard, they did not know what to do with it. Their needs were unlike ours and while they had made a fortune selling charas, I realized that things weren’t nearly as simple.
Spoils of a trek
Over the last few years, `Season Time’ (referred to as the period when weed is cultivated and hand-rubbed to form charas) had been extended to go on for two months instead of one, to increase output so it meets the ever increasing demand for hash. Tourists have prolonged and preponed their visits year after year, so that the confused privileged foreigner and the liberated millennial can make the most of their holidays before diving back into their cosmopolitan first world lives.
The reason for this is that the hand-made pure charas of Himachal can be found only in this corner of the universe. And it’s a fact known by everyone from the Brazilian lawyer who took ayahuasca and became a Yoga teacher, to the B.Com dropout from Hans Raj College. It was almost like the authorities had given it their blessings, because every other 16 year old psy-trance loving, pill-popping yuppie knew that this was where the drugs were. It was a racket carrying on as smoothly as a BCCI test series between Bangladesh and West Indies.
Cultivators of a high. Image source: YouTube.com
My host Bhaiji tells me that every day during the season, the village of Rasol alone makes 1.5 quintals of hash. If we take into account the entire Parvati Valley and the fact that each village produces a near amount per day, for two straight months, that’s charas worth billions. It’s not only huge, it’s a massive industry – cultivation.
A friend who has been spending years with this family tells me, “It is crime but in an entirely different dynamic. People don’t want to shut this down because in trading and hash lies an opportunity for them to get an income. How do you think everyone from Mumbai to Hyderabad to Kolkata to Bangalore is managing to smoke this same stuff?”
Wading through the wild
This meant that people at all levels and in all cities were involved. I asked one of the older brothers about Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh’s statement regarding burning all weed plantations and replacing them with apple orchards in an attempt to fight hash trade. He laughs and tells me all it takes is 50 buses and some military personnel to burn a large number of plantations, so why haven’t they done it yet? Everyone is involved. I shouldn’t have been shocked. I had devoured both seasons of Narcos so finding out that something similar was happening right under our noses wasn’t surprising. It turns out that drugs seized after a raid are basically sold back to another mafia or organization. I was being acclimatized with such absurd and shocking specifics, I think I began smoking more during the two hour conversation.
As the stories unfolded I realized that at the receiving end of this marriage between growers and receivers were the locals, who were dealing and selling hash independently. These were the people who were a much smaller and almost insignificant spoke in the wheel.
As the sun begins to set, Bhaijis youngest brother joins us. I was more than happy when this ruggedly handsome man joined in on this conversation. With a more practical grasp of the situation he says, “In 2010 Malana had one check point Hirang. Today there are five or more. Your friend here has been travelling and he already knows that there are a thousand ways in and out of Malana via Manali and through the Chandrakhani Pass. Everyone knows that”. The point of these check points was never to stop large scale trafficking because those aren’t even the routes used by runners.
If in a day each village churned out 1.5 quintals of charas, that adds up to 30 crores in two months alone, from one village. The numbers are staggering, the wealth unimaginable and yet there is no development in these villages. What I understood was that Himachalis weren’t selling hash for the heck of it. No other form of business was half as profitable.
Bhaiji’s house right on top
No measures were being taken to actually educate them about the maladies of their business and nor were they being encouraged or informed about the legal utilization of marijuana plantations that can be achieved through hemp production - a more sustainable, achievable and profitable alternative to charas.
As a result of the lack of education and awareness, absence of alternate sources of livelihood and government inaction, locals had resorted to drug trade with more and more people getting actively involved with foreign mafia, selling and consuming hard drugs like MDMA, acid, ecstasy and cocaine, with no knowledge of the repercussions of their sale or consumption, steering this pure haven into speedy degeneration.
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By Suman Quazi
Photographs by Suman Quazi and Sarah Saha