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Author Topic: with love from the opium farms of Manipur  (Read 2280 times)

Offline clinton (OP)

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with love from the opium farms of Manipur
« on: November 15, 2015, 07:12:51 PM »

Whilst human civilization vibes upon the glory of modernity and urbanization, we are also witnessing the increasing lack of confidence and appreciation towards rural life and agriculture. This is despite the fact that the world is facing an unprecedented scarcity and inflation of basic food items. Consequently, acres of farmland, forests and wetlands are being wiped out to make way for new infrastructures of urbanization. Even our Prime Minister Modiji has set a goal to carve out 100 cities in India within the next three years because of the belief that all urban are better. In this mad rush for urban life, the society seems less concerned about its devastating impact on the rural folks currently engaged in various agricultural activities. Without enough lands to sustain their practice along with the declining respect for farmers among the masses, a rapidly growing population of farmers and their families have left the agricultural sector. It may be noted that more than half of India’s total population is agrarian.

Mostly uneducated and timid, the rural unemployed bear the most when deprived of their jobs. Not very long ago, the villagers of Machikhul in Manipur were living a carefree life of abundance before urbanization hit them. And when it happened, the villagers were caught off guard. In less than a decade, more than two – third of the agricultural land in and around the area were washed out leaving almost the entire population of the village without a secure livelihood. In this deprivation, some of the villagers began illicit cultivation of poppy for opium production which is further used to produce the most potent and powerful drugs.

Located in the blue mountains of Manipur, Machikhul, with its black mountain soil, high altitude and low temperature, shares stark resemblance with the notorious opium belt of Afghanistan, famous for its premium poppy plants. Nonetheless, it was not until the start of the 21st century that the residents of Machikhul adopted the poppy cultivation because opium is a big taboo in Manipur. “Initially, we were more concerned about our reputation. Only a handful of villagers were secretly engaged in the cultivation… it has been just four or five years since the mass plantation began,” a farmer confides. Having witnessed the significant profit, several other villagers and many from the nearby villages followed the poppy farmers’ bandwagon.

To the poor folks of Machikhul, nothing was more appealing. Apart from the financial gain, poppy plantation neither needs hefty investment nor constant care or irrigation like cereals or vegetables. Since the farms are established deep inside the forest, the poppy farmers do not have to worry about rent or nosy landlords. “It is always good when there is no one to bother you or force you to doll out unreasonable taxes or rent. On the other hand, the return is significantly higher than growing rice or potatoes,” Tomba, a 42-year-old farmer says. According to these cultivators, raw opium is extracted from the poppy blossoms every year around November and December. These are then sold to smugglers from across the Myanmar border. Here it may be mentioned that some parts of Myanmar is part of the Golden Triangle, a notorious imaginary area adjoining Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia that was once the world’s biggest source of Heroin or pure morphine, a very potent and addictive narcotic substance. According to the farmers, a kilo of raw opium extract fetches around Rs. 35,000 upward in the local market which is doubled once it crosses to Myanmar. Meanwhile, the average yield of the farms in Machikhul is estimated to be around 90 kilograms per hector or up to Rs. 55 lacs per hector every year which is a significant return for an area of one hector.

“In just 2 years, around 50 acres of forest have been burnt down to make clearings for fresh poppy cultivation and still the number of new farmers is increasing rapidly,” says Mouna, an elderly woman guarding one of the farms along with his son and a grandson. “Comparing with growing rice, growing poppy is convenient and saves a lot of effort and resources unlike the paddy fields that need extensive caring and maintenance because of the sheer size,” 24 year old Henkhollet informs. His wife further adds, “There is no need for extra hands during the harvesting and sowing seasons; once the sowing is completed the mountain soil does the rest.”

Back to the cluster site that we visited, the clearing was about 8 or 9 hectors that was carved out at the peak of a mountain enveloped by a dense and hostile forest. There were no proper tracks leading to the farms and it was very quiet. Unfortunately, we could not see the vast poppy flower beds because the farms had been harvested some few weeks before our visit. Prior to the journey, I had anticipated an intimidating confrontation with hostile gangs of farmers because of the clandestine nature of opium. But when we reached the place and met the planters, it was a surprise and nothing that I anticipated. We were greeted by a small group of half a dozen planters including an old lady, a housewife and a toddler. Instead of showing any hostility, the group welcomed us with a smile once they established that we were no policemen or the army or militant. Indeed, the people were happy to see us, new faces in this forsaken and isolated place. While appraising of the farms and the poppy extract, each of the individual shared the same story of deprivation and struggle linking behind their new occupation. For them, it was not greed or power, but a compromise compelled by days of starvation and the deprivation to their loved ones.


42-year-old Tomba lost his younger brother six years ago to heroin overdose while several of his friends and relatives were killed by HIV/AIDS. It is worth noting that the first endemic of HIV/AIDS in India was recorded in Manipur which also recorded the highest prevalence rate of drug users that gained the state’s reputation as the Drug Capital of India. Sharing needles to inject heroin or ‘No. 4’ as the drug is locally known was the main cause of spreading HIV/AIDS. Every year, hundreds of people die because of AIDS and drug overdose in Manipur. Despite these facts, Tomba went on to have an illicit affair with poppy which is the key source of the mentioned drugs.

“I cannot justify this job with any excuse and I won’t let my son follow… For me, this job was a necessity to pay off my debt culminated during the idle seasons of my farming carrier,” he claims. Tomba spent two gruelling years looking for a decent job after the field that he used to rent gave way to a high school. Similarly, Henkhollet and his wife joined the cluster site one and a half year back because of the same despair of losing their livelihood and the acute state of unemployment. “Despite having enough academic qualification and ability, a decent job is very hard to come by in Manipur because of corruption. So, my parent sold our land to bribe the officials in police sub-inspector recruitment, but I was rejected and abandoned without any platform to secure my livelihood,” Henkhollet recalls. Meanwhile, 62-year-old Senpao gave the usual conclusion of their illicit profession, “Five years, this thing was a taboo and any contact with opium brings shame to the family so everyone avoided. It was only after experiencing the worse circumstances that we adopted this life. People cannot judge us because they were not there when we were starving.”

Even so, most of these Machikhul farmers are still searching for a job to replace their current occupation even if that means considerable cut to their income because of the prevalent stigma. “No matter how lucrative poppy farming is, it is a risky affair and sometimes very disturbing. At any instance, I would choose another job that pays me one third of what I’m earning right now,” Mouna, an elderly woman says.

The tales of Machikhul are just echoes of similar stories that are happening everywhere. For all that matters, urbanization has certainly stolen the innocence and humility out of these agrarian communities. Notably, there is a strong vulnerability among these marginalized communities to criminal mentality and conscienceless acts which may turn into a bigger problem than HIV or drug abuse. Having experienced the indifferent response from the ruling elites and intellectuals upon their prolonged misery and subjugation, the farmers are less concerned about morality or compassion towards humanity. Therefore, it is a high time to rethink and introspect our attitude and concept of urbanization.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2015, 07:13:37 PM by clinton »
In the vein...


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