Story by YES volunteers | edited by Akhilesh
Ramesh (imaginary name), a native of Kasol village in Kullu valley speaks fluent Hebrew! In fact, almost every villager in this small hamlet speaks Hebrew. This may appear strange as folks who can’t even speak English properly can speak fluent Hebrew. This development has a startling backdrop as over the last few decades Israelis have been frequent visitors to the place and around 3,000 of them have made this village their permanent home. It was not the beauty of the place that allured these Israelis, rather it was cannabis that led them here. Today, growing cannabis is a flourishing trade in the valley and the natives of Kasol are partners in this crime. Learning Hebrew, of course, followed naturally. Hebrew provides locals money… pots of it and all illegal.
While Kasol is one example of the socio-economic transformation the area has undergone, the start reality is that the whole Parvati valley has become the axis of cannabis trade in the country, and authorities have been either watching it from a safe distance or have become partners in the crime. “Every year the area under cannabis cultivation has been increasing here, thanks to the patronage of foreigners,” a senior police official reveals. Shedding light on modus operandi he tells, “One set of foreigners gets hybrid cannabis seeds, and another set resides here and monitors the cultivation through local folks. The produce is then smuggled out by villagers to Delhi, Mumbai and Goa to be shipped abroad. The new inhabitants have rechristened their habitats. For instance, the valley next to Malana, about 15 km from here, is called Magic Valley; the neighboring valley is called the Waichin Valley. The valleys have virtually become homelands for foreigners. They not only stay here for years, but have also been marrying local girls.”
An Israeli, name concealed, reveals about the trade: “Kutla, a remote village in Parvati Valley when approached via Manikaran is the hub of charas cultivation. Police have little access here and people work fearlessly. On an acre of land foreigners can cultivate up to 40 kg of charas for just Rs 10,000. Cheap Nepali labour is available to make things easier as villages like Malana, Kasol and Tosh compete for higher production”.
Allan D’ Sa, Deputy Superintendent of Police and Anti-Narcotics chief of Goa, admitted on the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, that “Goa has become a transit point for all the drug peddlers and from here drugs like charas, hashish and ganja are being pushed to other parts. On the other hand ecstasy, LSD and cocaine are pushed into Goa from western countries.” He added that drugs entering Goa are mainly flowed from Rajasthan, Kullu, Manali, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal.
Like Goa, Delhi and Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh has also turned into a major attraction for foreign tourists. Sadly, today the tourist influx in Himachal owes more to narcotic nexus than to the outstanding geography, people and culture. Nearly 50,000 foreigners visit Himachal Pradesh annually and their movement through different parts of the state, such as Shimla, Kullu, Manali, Dharamshala and other parts of the country promotes narcotics proliferation. This has inspired local farmers to stealthily cultivate illegal poppy or cannabis crops to earn quick money. Besides marginal villages of Kullu, the malaise has spread to areas of Chuhar valley of Mandi district as well where people have abandoned cultivating other crops for easy earning through cannabis.
Illegal cultivation of opium in Kullu valley has transformed it morbidly and has turned it into a haven for drug peddlers who freely traffic cocaine, brown sugar, smack, and other narcotics. What is most alarming today is that the peddlers, besides foreigners, choose soft targets like young school children and collegiates. They primarily target government senior secondary schools and high schools at Manali, Kullu, Mohal, Bajaura, Bhuntar, Katrain and Banjar. There are also numerous cases of addiction in different schools in Mandi, Dharamshala, Shimla, Solan and other parts of the state.
Drugs are easily available at Akhara Bazar, Durganagar, Lower Dhalpur, Upper Sultanpur and Shishamati on Kullu. In Shimla, Tutu, Sanjauli and Summer Hill are major centres of drug supply. Medicines like Alprazomen, Engzit and Axinil are available without prescriptions at Kullu, Bhuntar, Manali and other places.
Heterochthonous influx in Himachal
The settlement of drug dealers in Kullu is related to Soviet intrusion in Afghanistan. Some of the displaced Afghans chose Kullu as their foster home and subsequently it led to the first planned narcotic business in the valley, though cannabis and poppy were not entirely unknown to the area.
The Afghan settlers, for climatic reasons, preferred Kullu–Manali and gradually developed links with local youth and soon heralded the era of smack, heroine and brown sugar.
The cannabis fields in the high mountains are mostly controlled by drug cartels from Israel and Italy. About 90% of the Rs 900-crore trade is controlled by foreigners. Police protection is secured – at a price. For good charas people trust Italians more and a gram of Kullu charas that costs about Rs 25 locally can fetch as much as Rs 3,000 in Holland. According to a state narcotics report, over 3000 acres of mountain land in Himachal is under illegal cannabis cultivation and is run by the Italian and Israeli mafia through remote control. Himachal Pradesh narcotics officer OP Sharma says, “Communication between those involved in the trade is so advanced that they are remote controlling it. They have taught locals so that they are not required for packaging, etc.” According to a CID report, 179 cases were registered in Himachal Pradesh in narcotics based crimes and 11 kg of opium, 155 kg of poppy husk and 60 gms of brown sugar was seized by police department last year.
Arrest of foreign nationals
Kullu-Manali’s narco-nexus with foreign cartels became more visible when foreign nationals were nabbed from the national capital and Chandigarh. For the past several years, Delhi has been one of the major transit points for domestic and international drug traffickers, especially Nigerian nationals.
However, two back-to-back arrests of Japanese nationals in the mid-November of 2007 on charges of smuggling hashish brought new facts to light. The first Japanese national, arrested at the Indira Gandhi International Airport while trying to smuggle out 1.2 kg of hashish in his undergarments, was about to board a flight to Bangkok. Within four days, another Japanese national, whose wife was still residing in Manali, was arrested from a Connaught Place hotel after being found in possession of hashish. The dissapearence of foreign nationals in the calley is also attributed to drug trade, but no one has been speaking openly about it.
Deputy commissioner of police (Narcotics Branch) DL Kashyap, said police and other anti-narcotics agencies have arrested Nigerians, Israelis and people from European countries in the past, but the fact that Japanese nationals were also initiated into this trade was a new development.
The arrest of five young Uzbekistan women from Chadiyar village after they checked out from Ambassador Resorts on 26 January 2007 without passports, valid visas and other documents, showed that foreigners can enter Himachal Pradesh with impunity. It is emerging as a safe refuge for criminals.
A distressing development is the continuous pressure from Punjab to Himachal and other states to allow limited farming of cannabis and opium. The government of Punjab is in the wholesale cannabis business. The state government sells bhang, an intoxicating preparation made from the leaves and flowers of marijuana, known locally as sukha. Himachal government is thinking the same way.21 But is that the solution? Only time would tell.
Those who have fallen prey to drug abuse need to undergo drug and alcohol treatment as soon as possible.
The rise in teen addictions can be attributed in part to the advent of cheaper and easier to procure illicit drugs.