In India, the use of cannabis dates back to the sacred Vedas texts and has been a part of religious rituals and festivities for millennia.
Cannabis indica, a native strain from which charas is produced, grows wild in many parts of the Himalayas, making it almost impossible for authorities to stem production and track it back to the farmers, who have started to grow their fields ever higher to escape controls. Although widespread, there are no official figures for India’s charas cannabis cultivation as no survey has ever been conducted.
Until the late 1980s, cannabis and opium were legal in India, sold in government-run shops and traded by the British East India Company. To comply with the global War on Drugs, in 1985, India passed the controversial NDPS — narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances — Act, which criminalised cannabis but failed to curb production and trafficking, which has boomed, reflecting increased prices on the international market.
They live a humble life, far away from modernity, in extreme conditions and with no alternative livelihoods. They consider cannabis a gift from God. Charas is considered among the best hashish in the world.
Despite a change of course internationally, the debate on legalisation in India is still at a very basic stage. Nearly 400 of India’s 640 districts have had cannabis cultivation, according to Romesh Bhattacharji, a former Narcotics Commissioner of India. Since 1985, cannabis use and cultivation has only increased.
Charas, unlike other types of hashish, is produced by rubbing the plant while it is still alive and collecting the resin from the hands. Hippies and sadhus, Hindu holy men, helped the locals to improve the technique.
Back in the ’70s, the locals were already smoking pot, but it was the monks who first perfected the technique of making charas from the live plants. Both the locals and the hippies began imitating them, rubbing the big strains in their hands to extract the shiny resin, and the technique caught on. Today, this same practice is used to produce large amounts of charas each year.
Business is on the rise — peasants now prefer it to apples or beans, as it is clearly more profitable. Walking the thin line between tradition and prohibition is risky, but cannabis farming has enabled many families to escape poverty and hunger.