By Arré Bench Sep. 10, 2020
India has a long history of marijuana, often associated with Lord Shiva. But as Rhea Chakraborty’s arrest has proved, at some point we collectively decided that weed is something evil. How did this happen?
The arrest of actor Rhea Chakraborty on Tuesday by the Narcotics Control Bureau has had the entire country up in arms. After months of being informed by news channels that she had drugged Sushant Singh Rajput, siphoned money from his bank account, and performed “black magic” on the late actor, all Chakraborty was eventually charged with was procuring a paltry amount of marijuana for her boyfriend.
For some, this crime was worthy of her having been targeted and hounded by reporters and three central agencies for the last few months, but for most the revelation came as a bit of a let down. After all, it’s no secret that a large part of the country has at some point in their lives either consumed marijuana or been around someone who consumes it — from college students to professionals to uncles on Holi with glasses of bhang.
Our country’s connection with marijuana, in fact, goes back a long way, with Lord Shiva often depicted smoking a chillum, and his disciples, the Kanwariyas still known to roam with large quantities of cannabis to this day. At the Kumbh Mela, which is the world’s largest religious festival, it’s a common sight to see sadhus lighting up all through the day, as well as receive offerings of cannabis from their followers.
But as the events of the last few days have proved, at some point we collectively decided that marijuana was something to be looked down on. How did this happen?
The answer dates back to the 60s, when the “reefer madness” propaganda was first picking up steam in the United States in response to the hippie anti-war movement. Back then, India was famous around the world for its cannabis — which historically has been called Indracanna, or the food of Lord Indra, in works of literature, and ancient scriptures.
Amid a range of allegations, all Rhea Chakraborty was eventually charged with was procuring a paltry amount of marijuana for her boyfriend.
As a result of this history, our country was also one that led a group of cannabis and opium-producing nations, which in 1961 opposed the US and UN’s proposed treaty to club cannabis with other hard drugs, such as cocaine, or heroin.
It took over 20 years, but eventually in 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi government, succumbed to tremendous pressure from the United States, and the United Nations and hastily passed a law that conformed with the treaty — the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, or NDPS Act, which in effect made smoking marijuana the same thing as shooting heroin. This is the same Act that Rhea Chakraborty, her brother, and Sushant Singh Rajput’s former house manager have been arrested under.
As an article in Scroll.in points out, however, this clubbing together of drugs is just one of the NDPS Act’s flaws, considering it doesn’t take into account the connection between addiction and drug abuse, and fails to acknowledge drug addiction as an illness at all.
“More fundamentally,” the article says, “Since the Act does not define what addiction is, how can it successfully treat addicts? Furthermore, it is not able to successfully differentiate between a recreational drug user and an addict.”
The various problems associated with the Act have been acknowledged by many voices over the last few years, as calls for decriminalisation have grown. With the United States moving to legalise weed at a federal level, outfits such as the Great Legalisation Movement, which in 2019 filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court seeking the legalisation of the plant for medical purposes, have emerged as vocal supporters back home.
Our country’s connection with marijuana, in fact, goes back a long way, with Lord Shiva often depicted smoking a chillum.
Similar pleas have also been made by political heavyweights, including Members of Parliament like the BJD’s Tathagatha Satapathy, Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, and the BJP’s Maneka Gandhi. A cardiologist and Aam Aadmi Party MP from Patiala, Dharamvir Gandhi, had even introduced a bill in the winter session of Parliament last year, calling for the separation of marijuana and the more toxic drugs in the NDPS Act.
However, as the vicious trolling of Rhea Chakraborty following her arrest, and the number of TV channels attempting to connect marijuana use with large-scale “drug abuse” proves, the country doesn’t seem to be ready to accept our rich history with a plant we once revered as the food of the gods.