A Crackdown on Cannabis
Over the past six months, nearly 280 people have been arrested and 115 criminally charged in police raids on the city’s Pashupatinath Temple complex, a UN World Heritage Site that is annually visited by thousands of Hindu pilgrims from Nepal and India alike.
“We have sent some of the drug users to rehabilitation centers. There were 20 children and 18 women among those arrested,” boasted Anup Shrestha, deputy superintendent of police in Kathmandu, to DPA news agency. Especially disconcertingly, he said three holy men (sadhus) were among those arrested.
Shrestha said the crackdown began in September after authorities received complaints about the widespread use and sale of hashish inside the temple complex.
Thousands of pilgrims converge on the temple for the Hindu festival of Shivaratri, which falls on Feb. 13 this year. This honors Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction—for whom hashish is a traditional sacrament. Generally, only the sadhus—itinerant spiritual seekers held in high regard even by many conservative Hindus—have been allowed to partake in temple hashish for the festival. Other pilgrims merely have their foreheads dabbed with the ash. But now authorities say the general public has also been taking the opportunity to imbibe.
Authorities in both Nepal and India are making a great effort to suppress the traditional economy revolving around cannabis cultivation and hashish production in the Himalayan ranges.
Asia Times profiles a government initiative in India to encourage crop-substitution programs in the hashish-producing Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. The account focuses on the high mountain village of Malana in Himachal’s majestic Kullu Valley. Nearly the entire populace is involved in the production of an annual estimated 500 kilograms of hashish. Migrant labor from Nepal is also drawn to help in the cannabis harvest and processing. The village has famous hash “brands” with monikers like Malana Cream, Malana Gold, and Malana Biscuits, highly sought throughout northern India and Nepal alike.
But in 2017, police eradicated over 440 bighas (88 acres) of cannabis crop in Malana. And official efforts to encourage substitution crops like apples, peas and the medicinal herb Lilium (tiger lily) have been met with little success—only the hearty cannabis plant does well on these rugged lands nearly 3,000 meters above sea level.
“Once upon a time, villagers involved in this business used to earn millions per month but the police drive affected them very badly,” said one local observer, meaning millions of rupees—that is, tens of thousands of dollars, if this is to be taken literally.
If a cannabis crackdown is going to be futile anywhere, it is in the Himalayan fastness of north Indian and Nepal, where the use of the herb and manufacture of its concentrated resin stretch back centuries and even millennia.