NEW DELHI: Cannabis, the plant from which bhang, ganja and hashish come, has been regarded a traditional intoxicant in India. And yet it is outlawed in its homeland.
Around the end of the 19th century, the British imperial government in India wanted to import Scotch whisky. This was also the time when resentment against the colonial power was gathering critical mass. Hence, there were protests — bhang and ganja, argued some, were indigenous intoxicants; alcohol, it was claimed, was alien to Indian culture.
The British government, always correct in procedure, set up an inquiry commission — were bhang and ganja as safe as Scotch whisky? Christened the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, the inquiry was characteristically thorough. Hundreds were interviewed, including medical experts. At the end of its two-year labour (1893-94), the commission concluded that bhang or ganja were only as harmful as scotch. That, sadly, stymied the entry of scotch whiskey into India. But it also proved that cannabis derivatives, such as bhang, ganja and hashish, were ‘soft’ drugs; not injurious to health as ‘hard’ drugs.