Deconstructing the Taboo around the Use of Hemp and Marijuana in India
In an ever-changing world, the use of cannabis has remained a conflictual zone. Many countries over the past centuries have tried to ban it, and then tried to revive the culture. A Chinese emperor named shen neng prescribed cannabis tea to his people who suffered from ailments like malaria, gout, anemia, memory loss, etc. The drug has been historically used in different cultures of South Asia and even the Middle East for medicinal purposes. Within different Hindu sects of India, one can witness the opius amount of marijuana consumption in the name of religious festivities and other occasions like holi, mahashivratri, etc. Bhang is perhaps commonly available in even Indian government shops, in places like Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Delhi, NCR and Uttar Pradesh. The use of marijuana in the context of India from a historical perspective has been common and widely spread across the grassroots. Common legal usage as recreational purposes was however banned over a period of time. During the British Indian period, the Social and Cultural practises of India were reviewed by the outsiders, who distinguished Indians as primitives and uncivilised. “They tried to create an inferiority complex by saying Indian texts are lacking by faith in reason and scientific attitude. After creating hostility among Indian about their text and culture, they injected western education by replacing the traditional education in India.
It is noteworthy why were British capable of developing superiority complexes on Indians. Because Indians were divided over caste and creed, the British were capable of developing the Superiority complex against Indians. The crop which is traditional in its use for many families in the Himalayas, holds a certain degree of alienation and unawareness of its benefits in the mainstream societies of India as whole, due to the colonial hangover that our country still lives under. Criminalisation has led to middle men that make profits. Often, the business of marijuana involves a small mafia who is in charge of local deals and sales. Within India, as there is no proper legalisation on the sale of marijuana, middlemen sell the plant for as much as 2000-6000 rupees for a quantity of 35-50 grams. The consumers include people belonging from all social backgrounds, as the taboo that weed is a drug only for the poor, is subsiding, and even the rich are spending fortunes on it. There is an increase in the overall consumption of the drug within India. In 2018, the country’s two biggest cities, New Delhi and Mumbai, consumed 38.2 tonnes and 32.4 tonnes of marijuana, respectively—among the highest in the world, according to a study by the German data firm ABCD (Niharika Singh, 2019).
The period of colonial rule not only brought socio-economic and political changes in the country, but also introduced cultural changes that often tried to criminalise the use of this ancient herb. Many such attempts were made by the East India Company to ban the plant in 1838, 1871 and 1877 itself, but it was the 1961 international treaty which called for a ban of the plant as it was categorised to be equally dangerous as chemicals like opium, heroine, cocaine, etc. How does one criminalise a plant that has been historically used in traditions across South East Asia? One has to understand the agendas of neo-colonial laws that emerge to create a uniform and homogenous culture across the countries, and aim to demonize everything which could be a potential hazard to capitalist tendencies of philanthropists. When we study more about the plant, we understand the various aspects of self-sufficiency and aid it brings to people - which could become answers to a number of contemporary challenges like Climate emergencies, food insufficiency, unemployment, mental and physical health, and so on.
It is ironic, that the same countries that demanded the criminalisation of Marijuana have now become one of the first ones to lift the ban and advocate for the same, due to increasing awareness and consumption of the plant among citizens. These include Canada, California (USA), Netherlands, etc. India, too, is an avid consumer. Yet, one must consciously not relate the plant to only religious purposes (as it is a common notion both nationally and internationally that bhang is consumed by sadhus and babas), as it removes all the scientific, social and economic credibility it also provides. The stereotype of it being a 'drug' has snatched all capacity of the plant being used in households in numerous ways - which can be cost effective, and also lead to reduction in the carbon footprint of individuals and entire communities.
The biggest confusion about the plant is also related to its types and categories. Hemp is different from Marijuana as it contains less than 2% of THC and since it cannot be used for recreational purposes, it is used to produce beneficial goods that could replace Jute, cotton and synthetics like plastic, hence promoting environmental sustainability and less erosion of soil. It also provides farmers self-reliance as they can switch back to traditional art and handicrafts which they could independently sell in the market without having to compete and be in distress about it selling or not. However, when marijuana cultivation got banned, it also brought a halt in the production of hemp due to similarities in the physicality of the plant, and the more 'taboo' it became in mainstream society. For a person who has lived in Delhi all their life, I have personally witnessed the confusion that surrounds Hemp, as no one is willing to easily accept the benefits it reaps but are quick to judge those who grow/advocate it. One of the reasons the government disallows its use is because of the threat it brings to capitalists - as it can easily replace big industries.
The following are the uses of Hemp - and each use speaks volumes about how it can break ground and benefit the society in different ways -
Textiles - Clothing, Handbags, Diapers, Denims, Shoes, etc.
Paper - Cardboards, Newspapers, Printing, Packaging, etc.
Heavy industrial textiles - Ropes, Canvas, Carpets, Nets, etc.
Building Materials - Acrylics, Fibreboards, Substitute for fibreglass, Insulation.
Industrial Products - Oil Paints, Varnishes, Ink, Fuel, Solvents, Coatings.
Food - Protein Powder, Seed oil, Food supplements, etc.
Body Care and Beauty - Soaps, Shampoos, Lotions, Balms, Cosmetics.
Other uses include composting, and the root of the plant has been traditionally used for joint pain, eczema and fibromyalgia.
Moreover, hemp can yield 3-8 dry tonnes of fibre in a single acre, 4 times more than what an average forest can produce. It requires no pesticides, insecticides or chemicals that damage the soil. One acre of hemp also produces more Oxygen than 25 acres of forest. It is about time we make ourselves aware of the plant and demand for its recognition as one of the best alternatives for legitimately every industry that have for decades been profiting from exploiting nature, along with our minds and our pockets. It is an alternative provided to us by nature itself before a collective of individuals came forward to demonize the plant for their own benefit. For decades we have become trapped under the hegemony of flawed ideas of "markets" and modes of "development" that have caused nothing but trauma to mother nature and created an idea in front of us that in order to lead a sustainable life, we have to go 'vegan' or shift to bourgeois organic products, that end up creating more trouble for farmers and labourers along with the environment.
Not only this, but colonial and postcolonial laws such as the NDPS Act have created a sense of ghettoisation and stereotyping of Marijuana as it demonizes the poor and creates a class divide. The political consequences vary for different users, depending upon 'who' is using it. Executive stands on cannabis have begun to change as politicians like Maneka Gandhi, Tathagata Satyapathy, and BJP MP Vinod Khanna have begun supporting pro-legalisation sentiments. Cultivation of marijuana, though illegal, has potential in the States of Kerala, Orissa, Meghalaya, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur and even Kashmir. The economic benefits of replacing Hemp with expensive plants like Jute and Cotton, is both a sustainable, economic and environmental approach that will also help in generating income for small scale industries.
Many anti-arrack movements have taken place in parts of Uttarakhand, which were headed by women, who urged that alcohol made their husbands violent and dysfunctional. People for decades have been forced to live under professional and personal circumstances due to which they fall victim to alcohol abuse as a means to escape the harsh conditions of their reality. Alcohol and cigarettes are one of the most heavily regulated and taxed substances, sponsored by the State. Cases of drunk driving headline newspapers every week, yet there are no Government data statistics to justify the same. In comparison to what is previously available, can one say Marijuana is addictive? The answer would possibly be no, as it is only when done in excess of something that it leads to harm.
Using the drug, and abusing it are two different things that an individual needs to consider before becoming dependent on the substance. What can be suggested is proper access to knowledge, absence of restraints, regulation and monitoring, as well as awareness about the same. It is about time we change our preconceived notions about the plant, and spread awareness among each other about the multiplicity of its uses, before we exhaust all our resources and cry foul at the governments. The time for change and action is NOW.
Shared by Anysha Choudhary