Historically Cannabis has been found in almost all parts of the world. Besides being grown in the Americas, it's also been found in abundance in Persia, Turkey, China, India and in Africa. In 1855 it was estimated that world-wide almost 300 million people consumed Cannabis in one form or another. This represents a huge percentage of the earth's population at that time.
Throughout history, Cannabis or hemp has had a wide variety of uses. One of the oldest archaeological relics in existence is a piece of cloth made from hemp, found at Catal Huyuk dated about 8,000 B.C.E. The oldest pharmacopoeia, the Pen-Ts'ao Ching, which was complied in China, from ancient fragments existing about 2,3000 B.C.E., mentions hemp as a useful medicine. The historian Diodorus Siculus reported that the women of ancient Egypt used Cannabis as a medicine to relieve sorrow and bad humor. The Ayurvedic physicians of India have long used Cannabis to treat dozens of diseases and medical problems including headaches, menstrual pains, anemia, gout and poor appetite. I have also found Cannabis mentioned in the Indian scripture of the Atharva Veda where its use is considered to "preserve one from disease . . . and prolong the years we have to live".
The ancient Aryans of India who called Cannabis "bhang", indirectly contributed to the naming of the modern Indian state of Bengal. The name Bengal literally means "bhang land". Bangladesh on the other hand means "bhang land people". The people in this area of India have had a long history of using Cannabis to make excellent cloth and medicine for which they were famous.
In this same scripture we also find a prayer or mantra that is said before one consumes the sacred herb: "Bhava na sana hridayam", which means: "may this sana (Sanskrit for Cannabis) be a blessing to my heart."
"The Grass is Greener", an article by Arvind Kala about the use of Cannabis and Charas in India.
Why doesn’t a globalising India harmonise its drug laws with the rest of the western world? Holland, which legalised cannabis (charas) way back in 1976, has 1200 licensed “coffee shops”where any individual over 18 can buy up to five grams of marijuana — enough for five ‘joints’.
Portugal has no criminal penalties for use, possession and acquisition of even illicit drugs in quantities up to a 10-day supply. Spain, Belgium, and Italy allow a person to use hashish privately. And in Britain’s Brixton area of South London, the police don’t prosecute a marijuana-user, they just confiscate his stuff.
In fact, most of western Europe, Canada, and pockets of the US have concluded that drug-users should be left alone because they harm nobody but themselves.
But in India, an individual with a few grams of charas gets 10 years in jail while the punishment is just seven years for a robbery, kidnapping, or maiming a child for beggary. Not just that, the 10-year sentence comes with a Rs 1 lakh fine, bail during trial is difficult, and a second conviction attracts the death penalty.
The result is that this draconian 1985 law has been an instrument of extortion in the hands of the Indian police for 19 long years. Though the 10-year prison sentence under the NDPS (Narcotic & Psychotropic Substances) Act is supposedly for drug traffickers while users get just one to three years, in practice most offenders are threatened with prosecution as traffickers to make them pay up.
Many of the victims are India’s poorest people like coolies and rickshaw-wallahs who smoke charas or ganja to seek temporary oblivion from the wretchedness of their daily lives.
Arrests under the NDPS increase every year. They rose 10 per cent from 22,866 in 1999 to 25,126 in 2000. Ironically in India, the less serious a crime, the higher is the chance of punishment.
The conviction rate for murder is 35 per cent, it’s 29 per cent for rape, 29 per cent for kidnapping and abduction, but it’s 50 per cent under the NDPS Act. And the cases awaiting trial accumulate with passing years. They numbered nearly 90,000 in the year 2000 and they clog our already over-burdened law courts.
The NDPS Act also hurts India economically. For decades, India has gained tourist dollars from tens of thousands of backpackers who come here for an inexpensive holiday and also to smoke hashish.
In Manali I’ve been witness to how their spending fuels the local economy and enriches the locals. The foreigners rent village rooms, dine at roadside eating houses, buy handicrafts, they hire local motorcycle and local guides to take them trekking, their overseas calls sustain STD booths, and their need for Net access has given birth to Internet cafés.
But the foreign visitors have dropped by 80 per cent because they’ve been scared away by the Manali police cracking down on and extorting money from them.
The backpackers are stopped, searched, and they have to pay good money to avert arrest if they are found with even a tiny amount of hashish.
These horror stories of cop terror have spread through the world’s back-packer communities, so they avoid India and head for fun-filled Thailand or Laos which ignore pot smoking by foreigners because the visitors bring tourist dollars.
So India’s loss becomes Thailand or Laos’ gain. The Manali story of cop harassment is repeated in Goa where back-packers have also dwindled in number.
Why does India harm itself this way? If we want tourist dollars from westerners, our laws must decriminalise personal drug use. If we do this, we may get some of the millions of Europeans, North Americans, and Australians who like the recreational use of hashish or marijuana (ganja).
As a Third World country we are a uniquely placed destination for western backpackers. We are a democracy, lots of us speak English, we have fascinating Godmen, and we are the world’s only Hindu civilisation because India contains 90 per cent of the world’s Hindus. (Nepal is too small to count.) White foreigners feel safe here, but they don’t in Africa or in Islamic countries from the Middle East to Pakistan.
Attracting westerners apart, ganja- and charas-smoking has been a part of Indian village life for centuries. Even today India’s villagers call these mild hallucinogens Shivji ki booti, or a gift from Lord Shiva.
Till 25 years ago, many Indian states had licensed ganja shops, and even today, bhang is sold legally, bhang being made from dried and ground cannabis leaves which produce a weaker high than charas made from the plant’s resin and buds.
Justifying Holland’s ‘coffee shops’ a Dutch minister recently said that people died from alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, and cocaine, but he had never heard of anyone dying from marijuana. The Indian state always believed that.
Besides, why should the Indian state interfere with and penalise a drug-user’s private behaviour? Even if he harms himself, so what? People die from excessive smoking, drinking, over-eating, and in accidents while climbing mountains.
But they aren’t stopped from engaging in their indulgences. So a European or American tourist who wants to smoke hashish on a Goa beachside should also be left alone. His spending sustains local Goans.
The greatest tragedy with the NDPS Act is that it’s selectively enforced. Tens of thousands of sadhus in India smoke hashish and ganja but they aren’t arrested because they have nothing that can be extorted.
But catch a Fardeen Khan or a rich Delhi cocaine-user (or a European) for a violation and it’s a bonanza for the cops. But a mindless enforcement of the NDPS Act ruins even India’s poorest people.
Three years ago Julakha, a poor woman slum-dweller of Delhi with five small children, was jailed for ten years for possessing seven grams (a teaspoon) of heroin.
Incidentally, this punishment is mandatory as India’s judges sometimes lament when they put away a poor individual for a decade. The law doesn’t permit them to reduce the sentence.
Contrast this Stalinist mind-set with Europe and America, where the state of Alaska allows people to grow and consume marijuana at home. Belgium books a hashish-user only if he’s a problem to others.
And several states in America have passed ballot initiatives legalising the personal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Let’s learn from these nations. Let’s repeal the NDPS Act.
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