Sunday, April 11, 2010

Towards a Drugs Free Society: Manipur’s War against Opium

Manipur has been waging an all out war against opium since the time British commercially introduced the addictive narcotic extracted from seed capsules of the opium poppy towards the end of the 19th century. Although effects of the drug have not reached the magnitude similar to that of the Chinese society in the 20th century, still a common sensical approximation can say that our society is equally affected. The substance is dreaded more so in our society on account of the prevailing situation of HIV-AIDS.
Dependency & Opium Trade
One of the most sinister impacts of British’s colonization of Northeast in general and Manipur in particular was the monetization of the economy and commercialization of trade. For example, traditional trade carried on under an equitable exchange system suffered immediate rupture as a system of unequal exchange based on cheap manufactured consumer items flooded the hill areas. A penchant for the new items grew alongside the rapid strides made by cultural encroachment as the tribes become increasingly dependent on imported commodities. The merchant class of Marwaris and Bengalis from mainland India sub-serving the interest of the colonizers were also introduced to facilitate monetization of tribal economy in the region. This merchant class introduced opium and carried on a brisk trade with far reaching consequences for the people in the hills as they were made to trade natural products like timbers and rubber for opium.
Whereas tea plantation in the hill areas of Manipur was averted on account of vehement opposition from the Maharaja of Manipur, rubber, cotton and opium including cannabis (Ganja) were cultivated as commercial crops by the British. Soil texture and weather conditions of Manipur is said to be very suitable for the cultivation of high yielding poppy varieties as well as Ganja. Today, Manipuri Ganja is well known both within and outside the State. As a result of the British initiative, dependency thus grew amongst the tribes for manufactured commodities from outside and along with consumption of opium destroyed the traditional economy and depleted traditional resource base. Integration of the economy of the region into the world capitalist system through the mechanics of colonial imperialism led to its transformation into a peripheral underdeveloped economy.
Here mention can be made of the traditional usage of opium on religious occasions and as medicine by the traditional medicine men to cure certain ailments. However, opium was never planted for commercial purposes on a large scale. Just as colonial modernity has played havoc with our contemporary lives, the introduction of opium as a plantation crop by the colonial British continues to have a negative impact on our society and health.
Manipur & the Golden Triangle
International watch dogs on drugs trade affirm that Manipur is the opium producer for the infamous Golden Triangle. Some of the important factors cited include fertile soil, vast economic disparity and availability of cheap labor in the remote hilly areas of Manipur. Reports by these agencies again blame the “wealthy but unscrupulous elements” (in most instances top military and para-military personnel, politicians, police officers, chiefs, etc.) for exploiting the conditions to reap poppy harvest for producing heroin for the notorious Golden Triangle. Perhaps, one reason for the failure to end opium plantation in Manipur could be on account of the involvement of top-notch personnel. Moreover, in the present situation, there are reports of involvement of (apart from local elements), drug mafias from foreign countries such as China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. They are said to not only have contacts in many remote villages where poppy cultivation are being taken up on a massive scale, but are also investing huge amounts. Either the investors themselves or their representatives foray into the cultivation sites, on many occasions posing as tourists to keep their activities under wrap.
Topological factors of Manipur, such as sharing porous boundary with Myanmar, have been indicted for the involvement of opium trade in the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is located in the hilly terrains of the Southeast Asian countries namely Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, and is considered to be one of the largest heroin producing zone of the world. Moreover, with reports about scything of poppy plants by both law enforcing agencies and NGO activists at remote corners of the State that share boundaries with the neighboring Myanmar, being regular news item in the recent past, there had been apprehension of whether the plantation are limited to opium production for local use.
Sangai Express (Imphal, February 13, 2010) carried a news in which a top ranking official of the Narcotics Control Bureau (on condition of anonymity) disclosed that poppy produce from Manipur’s interior areas have direct link with drug/heroin manufacturing units in the Golden Triangle. According to the official, NCB received specific information that the crude produce of poppy grown in Manipur are being smuggled out to Golden Triangle through the porous Indo-Myanmar border.
“It is just a matter of an hour or two from the cultivation site to cross the border from where the yield/consignment could reach clandestine laboratories in Golden Triangle where heroin are manufactured with different brand names – Tiger and Cobra,” the NCB source said adding that government agencies are put on high alert to curb these illicit activities (Sangai Express, Imphal, February 13, 2010).
Lure of money is the main force behind drug trade. The value of heroin per kilogram in the local market is put in the range of Rs 10 lakh whereas the same quantity could fetch up to Rs 1 crore in the international market. At the same time, drug analysts say the poppy cultivators in Manipur fetch around Rs 30,000 from about 400 square meters of cultivation from which one kilogram of the poppy fluids (opium) could be extracted from the seeds.
Today, some of the known areas where opium and Ganja are planted in large quantities include Nongmaiching (Baruni hill range), Ukhrul and Churachandpur. Plantation sites in Ukhrul and Churachandpur districts are said to be mostly at inaccessible areas lying close to the Myanmar border, the Baruni hill range in spite of its location within Senapati district, is at the periphery of Imphal East district.
War against Opium & Heroin
A recent conversation with a friend, who has taken part in various raids at plantation sites of the poppy crops in remote hill areas, revealed a different tale of the so called raids. He said: In most cases, we were taken aback by the remoteness of the areas as well as by the lack of minimum facilities (health, education and so on) of the inhabitants. For example, a child has to travel miles for school, sometimes in Mizoram, if the site happens to be in Churachandpur. In most of the cases, people we pick up are the labourers, who are paid Rs. 50 per day and two square meals. There was a time, these labourers kissed our legs and begged us not to hack down the beautiful flowers or burn them down. They pleaded that these were the only sources of livelihood for them, and the only means to send their children to schools. Damn! Schools mean private schools, not a single functioning Government school!
Yenning wanted to challenge his humaneness at the cost of duty. But then, if we were humane enough many of the bad things happening in Manipur would have never occurred, just as Plato once opined virtue is the basis of justice.
The same old friend also narrated us of a friend of his, who once in a while carries Ganja on foot from Bishnupur to Jiri. Many people are involved, he says, and for a mere Rs. 300/-, one has to porter 20 Kg of Ganja from Bishnupur to across the Jiri River. He boasts, his friend could carry 60 Kg on a single trip.
As a means to combat illegal plantation of poppy crops, the Opium (Manipur Amendment) Bill, 1976 was introduced on September 6, 1976 and consequently passed on September 8, 1976. Mention can also be made of Nameirakpam Bisheswar’s book titled Down with the Heroin War towards an attempt to fight drugs and narcotics. Moreover, under section 48 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is informed to be empowered to attach and destroy illegal cultivation of poppy plants among other narcotic substances.
Of late Government’s anti-drug units along with security force personnel and NGOs such as the All Manipur Anti-Drug Association (AMADA), Coalition Against Drug Abuse (CADA), etc. had been reaching out to people living in the hills of Manipur, particularly at areas close to the neighboring Myanmar to prevail upon them against nurturing poppy plantation. These agencies/NGOs apart from hacking down large poppy crops have been spreading awareness on the harmful effects of opium and heroin. Moreover, in continuation of the poppy destruction programme, personnel of the NCB, Customs, Assam Rifles and State’s Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB) along with civil police under the initiative of the NCB’s Regional Director reportedly cut down poppy plants cultivated at about 50-100 acres of land in the interior areas of Churachandpur district, destroyed poppy plants in a Ukhrul district area in collaboration with local villagers and in many areas of Baruni hill range.

While the attempts are to be appreciated, a larger issue seems to be evading us, for example, are we in a position to provide alternatives to the laborers and cultivators alike, such as, making the lands permissible to cereal and vegetable plantation (infrastructure support and availability of seeds, etc). Successful fight against opium can be achieved, if the alternatives are provided first and bring the remote areas under the fold of development.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, April 11, 2010 

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