Unmasking a Silent Killer: The Opium Threat of Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is so beautiful, it can take your breath away! The meandering beauty of River Kameng in Bhalukpong, the snow-clad mountains of Bomdila, the exotic orchids of Tipi reserve, the hot water springs of Dirang – Arunachal is an essay on nature’s brilliance. But, that is a story for another day. Today, we will talk about the silent, dangerous, serial-killer that lurks in the region, and kills for fun – Kaani, better known as Opium. The opium threat of Arunachal Pradesh has become a major security threat to the country. It also bears the death warrant of the beautiful people of the region.

The Beginning of Kaani

In the realm of Modern History, opium was introduced to Arunachal Pradesh by the British, in their bid to appease some hostile tribes in the region. And in the 150 years that have followed, the plant, and the addiction, spread extensively in the region.

Opium, comes from the poppy plant, scientifically known as Papaver Somniferum (somniferum literally means ‘I bring sleep’). It is a physiological and psychological depressor, bringing a sense of calm and well-being to the user. It doesn’t have any debilitating side-effects on the health of the person. But, its addiction is so intense, that the pre-occupation to acquire and use, leads to malnutrition, and suppressed immunity.

‘False’ Paradise?

Opium first made its way to the tribal communities as a folk medicine. Tribals use Opium for diarrhea, or as an analgesic. Women use it as a painkiller after long hours of work in the field.

Today, the Mishmi tribes of Lohith and Anjaw are the biggest ‘illegal’ producers of Opium, followed by the Khamti and Singhpo tribes. The Mishmis were largely food-gatherers and hunters, with very little knowledge of farming. This meant there was food scarcity in the region, and opium was easier to grow. Their poverty, and lack of resources, led them to keep at farming opium, despite the de-legalization earlier in the 20th century.

Every single tribe in the region resorts to long, ‘peaceful’ hours of ‘opium parties’ in the evenings. There is a local saying that opium keeps peace at the home front. This extrapolates to the crime situation in the state too, with very few violent crime cases reported. But, this aura of peace is one induced by the ‘harmless’ Kani, seems to be a false one.

In reality, Kaani is killing the tribes. For example, 150 years ago, there were 40,000 people in the Singhpo tribe. Today, that number stands at 923. One of the least discussed side-effects of opium addiction is the loss of fertility, and malnutrition. The double blows have rendered the tribes helpless, and dying.

Narcotics Terrorism

Unfortunately, there are more agents adding fuel to the fire. Most of the illegal opium produced in India goes to Myanmar, through the border with Arunachal. The market in Myanmar is controlled by Chinese drug mafia. They refine the opium, and send back cheap ‘brown sugar’, which has paralysed the youth in the borders states, in a stupor of false security. This is scary, and the problem can easily spread to other parts of the country as well, creating a major security situation for the nation.

The Solution?

The Anti-Narcotics department has tried a few times to destroy the opium crops in the state. The missions have proved futile. This is because much of the production happens in inaccessible areas. The State government has launched multiple anti-opium crusades, trying to spread education to the youth to refrain. Many NGOs are also trying to help the tribals with alternate income resources, such as poultry, ayurvedic herbs etc. But, the efforts might prove hollow, unless border patrols are made much tighter. Myanmar grows sufficient opium to keep the supply undeterred. And, the profits from the business are phenomenal.

The only hope is running a mass-scale education campaign, and hoping the youth understand the bane of the drug. Otherwise, the problem is self-sustaining.

Outside of the state, we need to understand the problem, be aware, and help their fight against a dependence that’s killing them. Do your bit, spread the word!


About Anumita Ghosh

Anumita believes her calling has to do with the written words. She loves to write and read, and has recently given up a(n) (almost) rocking career in the Corporate to pursue her passion. Yes, she is slightly off her rocker, but then the society has been largely accepting of her madness. She is the co-founder of Blank Slate Chronicles and a struggling domestic apprentice, not to mention a loving (yet inadequately skilled) mother to a toddler.

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