It was back in 1985 that India banned cannabis and joined the global fight against narcotic substances (including cannabis).
The law that took nearly 24 years to implement had initially started in 1961, when India, along with many other countries signed the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and took the pledge to abandon cannabis.
But, even as India took this huge step, not everyone in the country was ready to give up on cannabis, especially the villages which had for long used cannabis as a part of religious rituals and festivities.
In many part of the upper region of Himalayas, there are small villages that still thrive by growing cannabis.
On high altitudes such as at 9,000 feet (2,700 meters), few of these secluded places can only be reached on foot and the hike at times take as much as three hours.
In three decades that have passed since the ban on cannabis plantation, its production still flourishes on highlands as there is no way to take stock of its production.
The Indian government has never conducted a large-scale survey to assess cannabis production within its boundaries as it is illegal and no one will even admit to producing it.
But even with this, the police many a times find huge harvesting of cannabis indica in the villages and in turn cut or burn the plantation up.
Still it’s just a drop in the ocean as Ganja grows wild in the Indian Himalayas, and it’s nearly impossible to curb its illegal cultivation.
The production and selling of charas, ganja, and any other cannabis related product, is also one of the only ways to survive in these villages.
In the decades that have passed since the cultivation was banned, no alternate source of income was formed for these villagers, and the history of cannabis within India only makes it more attractive to many people.
This history dates back thousands of years and has even found its mention in sacred Veda texts where it’s said that Lord Shiva sat in meditation on the snowy peaks of the Himalayas while feeding on ganja flowers.
Though for majority of these farmers it is more about business and less about history, so selling charas has now become a financial necessity for them.
Harvesting the cannabis is not the only thing that these farmers do. After producing it they spend hours slowly rubbing the resin from the plant’s flowers so as to create charas, a type of hashish that’s considered to be one of the the best in the world.
These Himalayan Charas, fetch anywhere from $20 per gram in the West, to a much higher amount in other parts of the world.
The demand is increasing year by year as Charas is getting more valuable across the world, but even this increase in demand make no difference for these farmers.
Majority of them still live a humble life and only cultivate Cannabis in small fields in which 50 buds of ganja produce only about 10 grams of charas. The villages too are scattered and the colorful houses are made with dark roofs of thin stone slabs.
In many of these villages there’s only one central tap for water, an old temple, and a few small shops that sell soap, cigarettes, legumes, rice, and flour.
The extreme conditions at these heights also provides no alternative career option for these villagers and thus many of these farmers have never cultivated anything legal in their life.
Though illegal, many of these Himalayan communities are proud and very secretive of their work and strenuously work in extreme conditions to support their family.
Talking about these natives Romesh Bhattacharji, ex-Narcotics Commissioner of India told National Geographic
“Nearly 400 of the 640 districts in India have cannabis cultivation. It’s time for the Indian Government to stop being a slave of UN-backed policies: since 1985, cannabis use and cultivation has only proliferated. Prohibition has failed.”
Agreeing with Bhattacharji, Tom Blickman of the Dutch think-tank Transnational Institute said:
“The obligation to eliminate cannabis in countries with widespread traditional use is a clear example of the colonial background of the [UN] Convention. It would never pass nowadays.”