Desis and the Drug Wars: Why South Asians for Justice Are Needed To Dismantle the Drug War, Free People and Plants, and Foster Health and Development for Millions – Part 1

Desis and the Drug Wars: Why South Asians for Justice Are Needed To Dismantle the Drug War, Free People and Plants, and Foster Health and Development for Millions – Part 1

The Vision Statement for South Asians for Justice acknowledges the private-prisons-backed, corporatist-police state-driven, racially-skewed ‘new Jim Crow’ era of mass incarceration that currently reigns in the US.  What we must also see is the unjust racist-colonialist ideology that underpins its legitimation, here and abroad, and seek to challenge that ideology and articulate new visions.  For this, we must familiarize ourselves with the ubiquitous matrix of US-led national and international, low-intensity deadly conflicts predicated on saving and punishing certain people who consume certain substances, many plant-based, known as drugs.  The fact of the matter is that the key factor in growth of the incarceration industry has been the enforcement of drug control laws.  We must develop a more critical and radical understanding about these ‘drug plants’ and understand how their suppression is responsible not only for cultural suppression but also the hamstringing of scientific and medical progress, the disallowance of relief from pain and suffering, the propagation of epidemic diseases, and the perpetuation of brutal violence against masses caught in the crossfire of cartels and gangs.

While we look at how circuits of power cause and influence the production of mass social disparity, as we stare just above and beyond the vigil of Occupy Wall Street and face the growing, yawning chasm between the haves and have-nots, it is sensible to look at what resources are available in our immediate environments … beneath the heel of state-cartel monopolies.. and what may be reclaimed and beneficially cultivated so we may be enriched, well, and socially reformed towards tolerance and understanding.

Being post-colonial and aware of casteism, South Asians can appreciate the subtle ways that domination can be achieved through the seemingly arbitrary categorization of customs and practices as impure or pure, and through the association of certain states of being and behaviors as underclass and upperclass.  Based on racist colonialist ideology, whole practices can become interpreted as foreign, exotic, bizarre, or mad, based on the idea that the dignity of a pukka-sahib, an English gentleman, is greater than the inherent dignity of an Indian laborer such as a coolie.  It was under such prevailing ideological conditions that a subset of South Asian and Oriental cultural consumption practices over the last 100 years came unjustly to be seen as inherently less dignified, and the now-global state-cartel policy of systematically excluding certain botanicals from everyday common use and practice by threatening criminal penalty was born and fostered.

As we reflect on our common vision of the archipelago of jails, prisons, and holding centers that dot this landscape, filled with human bodies that are incarcerated en masse, disproportionately of non-white racial makeup– a literal caging and warehousing of millions of human lives, I want to argue that it concretely represents the actual continuation of the original colonialist-racist framework, which has grown in its reach as awareness and underground trade in banned substances has spread from the margins of the empires to the centers.   It has matured as racist-colonialist moralistic attitudes became veiled with the patina of medico-scientific legitimacy that is then inculcated into schoolchildren and their parents.

What are some of these banned plants?

First, the great Green Botanical that may be the most widely domesticated plant in the world, a 37 million year old plant that evolved in South/West Asia that is sacredly figured into numerous South Asian cultural-spiritual-religious traditions and has various names: Bhang, Vijaya, Soolphia, Ganja, Charas, Indian Hemp, Cannabis Indica, Cannabis, Marijuana, Marihuana.  Its use has spread around the world and a significant portion of that can be traced back to waves of low caste migrants from South Asia in the 19th and early 20th centuries who brought with them the practice of cannabis use.

Denigrated as Pot, Weed, or Dope, this plant actually can be used in deliberate and rational ways to bring better health and well-being, to ease stress and pain.  When the UN meetings were held in 1961 in NYC to Internationally prohibit cannabis save for an elite monopoly and categorize it as a substance which ought to be removed entirely from medical practice because of its risk to public health, the delegate representing the Indian government stated that “India would not be able…to enforce prohibitions on the use of those substances [ganja and bhang], particularly in remote localities where, as inexpensive sedatives, they were used for medical and quasi-medical purposes.”  Delegates from countries such as Ghana, Pakistan, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Uruguay, and Burma verbally supported the Indian concerns and mostly wished to see cannabis treated like opium, for indigenous and traditional uses to be tolerated, and for future medical applications to not be foreclosed.

Interestingly, it is a South Asian leader of human rights at the UN nowadays who is championing the cause of recognizing the traditional use of cannabis and doing away with criminalization in matters related to drugs.  His name is Mr. Anand Grover.  The United Nations Human Right Council appointed him as the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health at its eighth session held in June 2008.  Mr Anand Grover, a practicing lawyer in the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India, who was instrumental in overturning in the Indian Supreme Court colonial-era anti-sodomy law, took up his functions as Special Rapporteur on 1 August 2008.  I invite you to read his report on the right to health and international drug control:

More in Part 2….