After posting that hemp weaving is illegal in India, I got a few comments from friends questioning this fact and then did a bit of digging myself. So, is it illegal or not? And what are the implications on the local economy either way? Well, it seems the implications are quite large as it is a prolific, cheap, resilient and multi-purpose fibre. It does come from the cannabis plant, but it seems to be legal to gro for non-narcotic purposes, which is the impression I have always been under. But, up in the Kumaon region, the general wisdom is that the government has banned hemp growing. I’ll have to dig a bit deeper on this topic.
Here’s what the collective wisdom of Wikipedia has to say about the growth of hemp for industrial purposes:
Seems that in Eastern Europe, Canada, parts of the US and Australia allow growth of hemp for non-narcotic purposes. But no mention of India here. So we continue to dig for information. Finding the line between word of mouth legend and legal fact is hard to find in any country, but I’ve found it a bit…extra challenging in India. Most of the time, collective wisdom and word of mouth prevails. But this hemp issue is too fundamental to the backbone of this entire story to go unchecked. (As I write this I hear the voice of all my journalist friends who rely on their fact-checkers for dear life. Vivre la verite!)
Here’s what the collective wisdom of Wikipedia has to say about cananbis in India:
“Often seen as the country where the plant originates from, throughout India it is illegal to grow, consume, or traffic cannabis, although there is a variation in penalties and enforcement according to the region. The law is rarely enforced and usage of cannabis, also known as ganja in Sanskrit or bhang in Hindi, is common throughout India. Sadhus openly smoke ganjaand there are government licensed bhang shops in some regions. Furthermore, on the festival of Holi, cannabis is widely consumed in the open in its numerous forms. Hashish is by far the most common form of the drug in India; it is widely available and relatively inexpensive. In Hinduism there are many elaborate spiritual practices that involve cannabis.”
What’s most relevant to the Bora Kuthalya community is that they once were hemp weavers and many are now spinning and weaving other materials for which there is a large and growing market. For the purposes of their livelihood, that’s what has made a significant difference in the life of the community. We’ll get to the bottom of this hemp issue and questions about other sustainable materials and ecosystems.