A remote primitive little village in the Himalayas, Malana was isolated from the outside civilization for thousands of years.

Was never invaded or ruled by an external administration. The people there had been living in harmony with nature, an innocent pure existence with their own language, their own world, their own democracy. Their people’s republic has been governed by a village council with an upper house and a lower house like the bicameral assemblies of our parliament. The council members are chosen by the village folk through a process of unanimous selection – not an election! Their court has been resolving all their internal disputes. No manipulation, no favoritism, they have their God in front. All decisions have been unanimous; every individual’s opinion is considered – unlike the present form of democracy that leads to dictatorship of the majority. And the secret of their civilization has been trust. the democracy of trust. Since a given word is taken as absolute, they have never felt the need for formal education.

In popular belief they are supposed to be the descendants of some deported Greek soldiers of Alexander, yet some traces their existence rooted deep in Hindu mythology. Their ancestral roots may be debatable but their democratic setup with participatory court procedure has similarity to that of ancient Greece.

And they have been producing some very good quality hashish. Blessed by Lord Shiva good quality cannabis plant grows in abundance there. For ages the use of cannabis has been an integral part of their lives, from medicine to footwear. But in the past they had never traded it; neither did they know the value of it. Their only trade with the outside world had been sheep wool.

In the seventies came some white men. They taught the villagers how to rub the cream – the cleaner and more potent hashish suitable for an international market. Those foreigners drew them into business. Malana cream became an international brand. Hashish production grew like a home industry for each household. The poor villagers started earning money and they didn’t know the value of money either.

The Indian government took notice of a hidden backward tribe who as par laws of the state were into criminal activity. The outlaws were to be brought under the rule of our mainstream democracy. Malana became a part of our national electorate, a part of our mainstream administration.

And the invasion begins… To give them the light of our civilization government starts building a series of dams, tunnels through the mountain to generate hydel-power. Malana gets electricity, Television, satellite dishes, mobile phones, a vehicular road. With them comes all the vices of a modern world, comes money, comes greed. The incursion of political parties also means creation of political polarity among the beautiful people of a peaceful hamlet. With no knowledge or perspective of the outer world innocent illiterate villagers take sides of political parties and create a divide within.

And the fire strikes… In January 2008, in a devastating fire, caused by an electrical short circuit, half the village including four ancient temples gets completely destroyed. The villagers comprehend that the political divide has disturbed their unity so the God is angry. The people who haven’t lost their houses accommodate those who have lost theirs. But the fire annihilates; the curse of the modern world has hit hard upon the hidden treasure of this ancient civilization – their trust.

The rebuilding of Malana witnesses transition of an ancient civilization.

Rules of the modern world, which promote homogenization and convenience, force replacement of traditional methods and practices. In our democracy it’s illegal to cut trees, so the villagers are forced to build concrete houses instead of their traditional stone and wood ones. Poor villagers cannot understand how come the government can destroy their jungle to built the dam or the road and they themselves are prohibited to cut a few trees to rebuild their homes! Concrete house means outside knowledge, outside people, more money; so comes outside aids with their political interests! An age-old traditional society crumbles; the influential individuals turn corrupt, families break apart, brothers fight.

For the poor villagers hashish still remains their only means to earn some money, and it’s a very little money, not even enough to make their living forget about rebuilding their homes. Their production is very restricted now because of police watch. They don’t understand why they have to give away something, which has been so special to them for thousands of years! For them governance is for the people, so why can’t the government make special sanctions for these poor people in crisis! They don’t realize why they have to become a part of India and loose their sovereignty!

We can see the end is very near. In the name of progress of human civilization, like thousands others, another ancient civilization is getting engulfed by a modern one, loosing its unique identity to homogenization. When the whole world is looking for an answer to the shortcomings of the present form of democracy, we witness a beautiful model of self-governance, one of the world’s oldest forms of democracy for the people being obliterated by the rule of the majority.

I feel destined to record such a reality… some moments of truth, some disappearing myths, some wisdom of trust… a dying account of an obscured victim of human progress!

Fear and Loathing in the Magic Valley of Malana, India’s Cannabis Country
By Shweta Desai, 10th January 2014 (Republished with permission)

 

Deep in India’s Himalayas, in the remote and isolated Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh, is the quiet village of Malana.

When autumn arrives each year, Malana is enveloped in what was once a hopeful air brought on by the new harvest, as lanky cannabis trees bloom wild in panoramic fields and against scattered houses. Farmers and villagers begin cultivating in late September, rubbing the buds of fully bloomed plants between their palms to extract the brown hashish resin known mystically as Malana’s crème. Today this time of year carries with it the dark pall of police interference.

Malana’s crème has a notorious legacy in international stoner culture.

It has won the Best Hashish title twice, in 1994 and 1996, at High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup. Marijuanaphiles the world over have since made this region a popular weed-tourist destination, branded in travel and ganja-hunting literature as the exotic and alluring “Malana and the Magic Valley.” It was inevitable that the farmers would start to realize the global potential of their plants—and that the cops would take any and all measures to prevent these rural agriculturalists from increasing production. The most effective tool in authorities’ arsenal is satellite technology, but the farmers have found a workaround.

Malana is perched on a treacherous cliff, and until recently the only way to reach it was by foot. This helped marijuana farmers avoid the close monitoring of local and national police. But new roads connecting the village with surrounding towns and cities have resulted in a harsh reality for farmer-businessmen ambitious with their valuable crop. Because of these recently paved roads, cops are now able to respond quickly to intel provided by satellite Global Positioning Systems (GPS). They have destroyed Malana’s visible, free-range hemp crops three times in each of the last three years, prosecuting villagers—this year there have been 42 cases—who were growing crops on their private land. Repeated offenses can lead to cancellation of land ownership. This approach by the authorities has prompted citizens to cultivate cannabis in large tracts of government forest, making it difficult to prove ownership.

“The plant was here long before the police came—or the foreigners, the road, the electricity,” says 22-year-old Shanta, a grower. “Even before this bhang [cannabis] became the famous Malana crème. Why are we being made criminals?”
Perhaps the most interesting question is not why, but how.
“With the GPS system we can spot the exact locations of the crops,”

says Vinod Dhawan, superintendent of police in the Kullu District. “These places are videographed and marked once the crop is destructed to ensure the villagers don’t come back for cultivation.” With Western customers, comes Western-like authoritarian overreach.

Satellite images procured by the Narcotics Control Bureau—the country’s main drug enforcing agency—have identified 52 independent regions in the districts of Kullu, Mandi, Chamba, Kangra, Sirmour and Shimla, including an estimated 2,500 villages, where cannabis cultivation is a major source of livelihood. The police can act only when they have some information, of course, but the percentage of crop destruction stands at around 40 percent of Malana’s annual take. It’s not a tenable business model for farmers with no other income, so they’ve taken their farms elsewhere.

“We go deep in the forests, where the police cannot see the farms,” says Shanta, who treks five hours each day from Malana into the forests to reach his cannabis farms.

“It takes an expertise of a mountain climber and at least eight hours for the police to climb the high peaks where these farms are,” says superintendent Dhawan. “With the production of cannabis in the valley taking place between September and November, it is practically impossible for us to eradicate cannabis 100 percent in two months time.’’ With little incentive and a tiny budget, the police are fighting an uphill battle.

High yield coupled with cheap labor makes India’s retail prices among the lowest in the world based on quality. The popularity of Malana’s hashish is now intrinsically attached to the livelihood of the villagers, with the majority of the 2,000 or so inhabitants involved in cannabis farming in one way or another. But the production and cultivation of cannabis in India was not always prohibited. Its consumption even today is widely accepted in both religious and social settings. In fact, the government used to set up weed retail shops during holidays like Holi, a festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil.

But growing international pressure in the 1960s, largely led by the United States of America’s war on drugs, led India to codify recreational drugs like weed with harder ones like cocaine and heroine under the Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985. Conviction under the law for cultivation or sale of any of these carries a prison term of no fewer than 10 years.

For local farmers in Malana, not cultivating marijuana is like living on an island and not fishing.

Historically, Malana’s villagers used the indigenous plant’s strong fibers to make shoes and its seeds to brew hash oil for cooking. It remains integral as a religious offering to the presiding local deity, Jamlu Devta. It is only recently that the locals have started to truly understand the financial value of their treasure. The cultivation of the crème is a full-fledged trade industry—one unlike any other the people have.

“The police say it’s a drug,” Shanta says. “That it is dangerous. But this is just a plant—a naturally grown one. We don’t know why this is dangerous.”

According to the “World Drug Report 2012″ from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, India has over the course of the last decade become one of the major global sources of hash, along with Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon. The reported cannabis cultivation in India stands at 10,539 acres, which is low in comparison with Afghanistan (59,305 acres), Mexico (40,772 acres) and Morocco (23,227 acres).

Villagers say of the 1 million pounds of cannabis and 500,000 pounds of hashish produced in India, a meager 330 pounds comes from the Malana village. The rest, they claim, is from surrounding villages, and even Nepal. Though tasked with cracking down on cannabis production and preventing its circulation in the cities, the police are aware of the sociological difficulties of playing by the book.
“Cannabis is a social and cultural issue,” says Dhawan. “We take all the possible action, but we cannot fight this menace by registering offenses against the local villagers and putting them behind bars all the time. We cannot make these people from Malana orphans.”

Filmmaker Amlan Dutta, a vocal supporter of legalization of cannabis in India, agrees with Dhavan.

“The harsh reality is that hashish has become a means of livelihood,” says Dutta. “However, cannabis farming for social and cultural reasons should not be criminalized.”

 

In his award-winning documentary BOM: One Day Ahead of Democracy,

Dutta highlights the transition in Malana due to development and the struggle for sustenance under the growing police intimidation. Decriminalization of cannabis, he says, would relieve the drug enforcing agencies from the added burden of destroying cannabis plantation and registering criminal offenses against the villagers. It would also allow people from Malana to grow cannabis legally as in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, where the Indian government provides production licenses for medicinal and research purposes.

Filmmaker Amlan Dutta smoking…something.

In the last few years, Dutta initiated the BOM BOM trust with like-minded supporters to retain Malana’s self-sufficient, weed-heavy economy. The trust offers vocational training in sheep rearing, wool production, jam making, honey collection and the creation of alternate products from cannabis like hemp oil and hemp paper. It also sponsors students from Malana for higher education in Kullu valley.

“The villagers know that their sustenance is on something which is illegal,” Dutta says. “So it has become a criminal community. If we can reduce their dependency on hashish production in any way and legalize the cannabis cultivation, we still can save Malana.”