Culture, drug abuse and some reflections on the family


The case of home-brewed liquor
Tribes and alcohol in Gujarat
Alcohol in a tribal district
The case of ganja (marijuana)
The case of opium use
The case of Goa - tourism
The case of Delhi - performative blueprint
The case of Bombay - marginalization
Overall conclusion


Pages: 67 to 86
Creation Date: 1994/01/01

Culture, drug abuse and some reflections on the family*

M. CHARLES Scientific Research Director, National Addiction Research Centre, Bombay, India
E. J. MASIHI Research Director, Western India Zone of the National Addiction Research Centre, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
H. Y. SIDDIQUI Honorary Research Adviser, Society for Community Action and Research Programmes and Professor of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
S. V. JOGARAO Faculty Member, National Law School of India University, Bangalore, India
H. D'LIMA Director, Research Unit, and Principal, Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, Bombay, India
U. MEHTA Director, Development Research Centre, Mithibai College, Bombay, India
G. BRITTO Director, National Addiction Research Centre, Bombay, India


The authors recently completed a set of monographs on culture and drug use and abuse in a tribal district in Gujarat in western India where changes have occurred in alcohol consumption, two districts in Karnataka in south India where widespread use of cannabis is prevalent, six districts of Gujarat where extensive opium drinking is common, and also on the drug abuse situation in Goa, Delhi and Bombay. On the basis of those studies, the authors call for decentralized planning and a review of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961,* and they critique some of the dominant practices in contemporary prevention and rehabilitation of addicts. The role of the family is examined as a socialization institution for transmittal of culture. The limits posed by patriarchy on the extent to which the family can be an agent of primary or secondary prevention of drug use and abuse are indicated.

*The present article is an outcome of the project entitled "Culture and Drug Use and Abuse in Asian Settings", sponsored by the International Federation of Catholic Universities, Paris, and the Commission of the European Communities (CEC) and coordinated by Guy-Real Thivierge, Director-General, International Group for Research on Drug Abuse - International Federation of Catholic Universities (GRITO-IFCU), Paris. The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and of the National Addiction Research Centre, Bombay, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of CEC or GRITO-IFCU.

See United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 520, No. 7515.

The case of home-brewed liquor

In India, most of the tribals (aboriginal people) used to brew their own liquor made of either rice, mahua flowers or some other nutrient. Several macro changes have impacted on the life of tribals, leading to alcoholism on a wide scale. Industrialization, commercialization, westernization, monetization and concomitant government policies have brought change among the tribals. Land has become a marketable commodity. Through the promulgation of forest laws, restrictions have been introduced denying tribals their traditional rights over the forest and its produce. In India, the tribals constitute about 9 per cent of the population. Similarly, in Australia, Canada and other countries, aboriginals form a segment of the population that has been adversely affected bymajor social changes leading to alienation, hopelessness and alcoholism. Alcoholism and drug abuse among aboriginals is a neglected area of study.

Tribes and alcohol in Gujarat

The British introduced the policy of prohibiting tribals from distil- ling liquor on their own to extract revenue from the tribals. They issued licences for liquor shops, through auctions for the highest bidders. Not only was the alcohol very expensive, it was also harmful; and being shorn of their cultural context, a sizeable section of tribal society turned into addicts. The intensification of the process of alienation, deprivation of forest land and dehumanization aggravated the problem of alcoholism in tribal society in most parts of the country. There were also attempts by social reformers to combat, and, more importantly, cultural expressions of opposition to, the consumption of alcohol. Followers of Mahatma Gandhi discouraged people from the use of alcohol with limited results. There were different mass movements against alcohol. For example, the "Devi" (goddess) movement spread in Gujarat tribal and other areas, where through individual tribals possessed by Devi, messages were passed on from village to village against alcohol consumption. It was a part of a wider social reform movement against British influence and the trading class. The owners of liquor excise licences became landlords over a period of time; liquor consumption would gradually make the tribals indebted to the traders. The debt would then have to be paid off through the sale of tribal lands.

See United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 520, No. 7517

Alcohol in a tribal district

The tribes of Dang, numbering around 140,000, live in the Dang district of Gujarat in western India. Unlike the Brahmins who propagate renunciation, these tribals focus on celebration of existence. This is reflected in the exuberance manifested in their dances, rituals, music and the use of alcohol during the varied events of life. A child is given a few drops of alcohol at birth and at death; the deceased is also given a few drops. The significance of alcohol has therefore to be seen from the tribal perspective, as an integral part of cultural conventions. The Dangi's traditional source of alcohol is mahua, a yellow flower. Mahua is also used as food during the lean months (March through July), and oil is prepared from mahua seeds. The apparatus used for the distillation of liquor is called a "Bhatti". Mahua flowers are first immersed in water and left to ferment for about a week. The water is then taken in an earthen pot and boiled. The emerging vapours are transferred through a bamboo tube, the end of which is covered with a wet cloth, into an earthen pot. Condensation takes place in the pot, and the liquid collected is a mild intoxicant with nutritional value. During the British period, traders did not make much headway into the interiors of Dang on account of dense forests. The collective resistance of the community was very strong. However, the British policy of encouraging monoculture in forests and exclusive growth of Teak trees for commercial exploitation led to a drastic reduction of mahua trees. A very crucial and subtle fact that emerged from the study is that the tribals experience feelings of guilt after taking alcohol. There is a change in the mode and motive of consumption, the mode of manufacture and the substance used. As mahua is not easily obtained, liquor is now made with crude sugar along with other cheap intoxicants. The only bright side of the picture is that tribals by and large in Dang villages distil their own liquor, and use is not very extensive. The tribal elite who dominate the district town produce illicit liquor to meet the growing appetite for alcohol in surrounding villages, and a size- able section of tribals is engaged in this industry. Synthetic drugs still have not penetrated the Dang tribal area. Some cases of seizure of ganja have been brought to light by the Narcotics Department of India. Illegal cultivation of ganja is on the increase, but so far the persons involved appear to be from outside Dang, particularly north Indians [1] .

In conclusion, there is an urgent need for focused documentation of the dynamics and status of alcoholism and drug abuse among the indigenous people, along with an understanding of their world-view and cultural frame of reference, in order to develop appropriate, effective and positive intervention programmes. In the given case, for instance, the basic philosophy of life is its celebration and alcohol was one of its symbols; application of the disease model is inappropriate. Tribes live in small settlements spread widely in inaccessible places where few health and human services operate. When collective decision -making is the pride of these people, programmes targeted at mobilizing individual families may yield little. Community organization and promoting awareness seem more appropriate than family therapy.

The case of ganja (marijuana)

"Ganja smoking is necessary to increase one's appetite"; 'When the bride and bridegroom assemble for the ceremony of marriage, the bride's family is expected to distribute ganja to all the invitees - it is a well- known customary practice"; "In the festival of Saint Shishunal every devotee considers ganja smoking as a religious obligation"; "Chewing ganja helps us to get over anxiety and tiresomeness during work hours"; "Ganja smoking is a part of our day-to-day life". The foregoing are some of the quotations of the respondents of a study [2] conducted in Gulbarga and Belgaum, two districts of Karnataka in south India. The majority of the respondents of the study stated that the problem of drug abuse is not acute. It is merely confined to ganja, the use of which is seldom considered to be against the law. Many others are of the opinion that the cultivation and consumption of ganja has its roots in customary practices. Hawkers have indicated that many people chew tobacco mixed with ganja. Distribution of ganja during marriage among the Lambanis - a nomadic .tribe - has also been reported. It is related to the prestige of the family. If it is not done, the families would be looked down upon by society. Chewing ganja as an appetizer and as a medicine is also mentioned. These researchers also report meeting some sadhus (mendicant ascetics) who spend their time near temples chanting bhajans, and who opined that ganja smoking enhances their concentration. To give one concrete example, in Kundogol Taluka of the neighbouring district of Dharwad, Saint Shishunal is considered to be an incarnation of God. During the festival of Shivarathri, devotees of the saint celebrate by smoking ganja. The study found that in a village sample 161 out of 200 respondents were only ganja users. Chewing ganja was reported by 32 respondents, and smoking by 129. Seasonal heavy use was reported by 89 respondents. For example in Gulbarga town, during the Holi festival, bhang (made of leaves of cannabis sativa, not covered under the Single Convention), and ganja is in great demand. Thirty-one respondents stated that ganja is used during marriages, and 20 reported medical use. All the respondents observed that ganja does not impede their work. It may be remembered that none of the village respondents were drivers or industrial workers. They were predominantly involved in agriculture (140 respondents). Group consumption was seen as a matter of community practice by 144 of the respondents. Generally, in the ganja sessions people discuss matters relating to family, marriage, religious and social functions and also sex. Why do they take ganja? For 23 of them, it is a family tradition; 24 take it for medicinal purpose; 29 out of religious belief; and 18 of the respondents consider ganja to be good for health. As many as 117 respondents stated that consumption was a part of their life. Nearly 123 respondents stated that they have been consuming for a very long time, for more than 10 years. With regard to prevention, 155 are of the opinion that it is not necessary. When queried about a stigma attached to ganja use, 56 responded negatively; 25 were not concerned about it; and only 17 indicated that ganja users are looked down upon. The majority of respondents (98) did not consider consumption as anti-social, and 88 did not consider cultivation as an anti-social activity. From where do they obtain their supplies? A vast majority, 151 respondents, claimed that they obtain them directly from cultivators or by growing ganja plants. With regard to law enforcement, a majority of the respondents (111) are of the opinion that for ganja it is not necessary.

Although the research report does not provide reliability and validity indicators nor standardization of tools of data collection, based on the overwhelming evidence of culturally embedded use of ganja in the region, the following points should be noted. A thousand -year history of use of cannabis cannot be wished away by national or international administrative fiats. Criminalization of cannabis can have massive implications for such cultures as those described in the present article. The Single Convention has provided for a period of 25 years to eliminate non-medical use of cannabis, which India adopted without even a debate, let alone any study or action. A review of narcotics laws is in order. The family as a unit can hardly counter the entire cultural ethos supportive of cannabis use. In this instance, it may even be wondered why the practice should be opposed. Since ganja is not addictive, nor does the user develop tolerance, slogans such as "once an addict, always an addict' are out of place. Use of ganja for such people is a joyous choice for companionship, conviviality and more.

The case of opium use

Opium consumption has several centuries of history in India. In Kashmir, it is smoked in groups; it is eaten in Punjab (where smoking is a religious taboo) and in Haryana. It is drunk in the desert regions of India in Gujarat and in Rajasthan. Administering opium to children to put them to sleep while the mothers work, during the teething period and on other occasions as medicines is well documented [3-5] . Masihi [6] compiled data from secondary sources and through a review of relevant local literature on opium consumption in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat in western India. Culturally Saurashtra presents a distinct lifestyle of its own. As against the Sanskritic Hinduism, in this region, there has been a rise and spread of local Hinduism or the "little tradition". As a result, numerous gods and goddesses as well as saints and religious leaders are found in this region. The Charans (also known as Deviputras - sons of the goddess) occupy a place analogous to the Brahmins elsewhere in the country. They performed many of the functions of the Brahmins. Like Brahmins, it was considered a great sin to hurt or kill a Charan. Because of the institutionalized and religiously sanctioned protection which the Charans enjoyed, they could fearlessly admonish the rulers, however bitter it might appear to the latter.

Opium as a drug found a very fertile soil in the region. Opium forms part of the lifestyle of various segments of Saurashtra society. In the local language opium was called "Amal", which in other words means rule or control. There were two ways in which opium was consumed. One is the popular upper-caste method of consuming it in a liquid form. In that method, opium is cut into small pieces and then ground to a paste with the help of a small wooden pestle in a slightly shallow stone (mortar). The wooden pestle is made from a particular tree called Kerada, which is supposed to be a good cure for various types of ailments. Water is added to the paste. Besides opium, other items like saffron, cardamom etc. are also added. The liquid is then filtered through a thin cloth. The filtering is done several times. Ultimately, when the required saffron (Kasumba), colour is reached, the liquid is either served in small metal vessels or in the cup of the palm. The type of vessels used to serve opium liquid reflected the economic and social status of the host. Opium-drinking gatherings were called dayaro, which usually consisted of men of the same or similar status. Women did not form part of such gatherings. In such a situation, the host paid for the opium consumed. Those present were usually his courtiers. There were others such as a barber, a Charan or a servant of the landlord. The barber or the servant used to prepare the liquid and serve it to the assembly. The Charan regaled the gathering with his songs. The Charan was rewarded by the ruler or landlord for his songs of praise. The opium liquid could not be refused by the members of the gathering. Such a thing was considered an insult to the host. When opium liquid was served in the cup of a palm, the person to whom it was given allowed some liquid to flow out with the help of his finger, so that he did not get an overdose of it because such servings were offered more than once at one sitting. Moreover, at the first serving, all those who consumed the liquid first sprinkled some with their fingers. The Kasumba Pani was often followed by tea and rich snacks. However, it was also necessary to take rich food to minimize its negative effects. As the dayaro continued for many hours, only those who had no work and enough leisure were in a position to take part in it. But such a manner of consuming opium was not consistent with the lifestyle of those who had to earn their bread each day. Such persons took some grains (or granules) of opium and used to chew it. This was called rogu.

Functions of opium

In the past, several conditions provided an environment conducive to opium consumption, one of them being frequent battles. Warriors consumed opium when wounded as a painkiller, and to restrict their natural processes during battles. Opium gave them strength to fight with increased vigour. It was also believed that opium had the capacity to increase the sexual potency of the consumer. People developed the opium habit if they were suffering from some painful or incurable disease. As a pain - killer, opium provided good relief in the absence of any other cure. Opium was part of the socialization process, and mothers gave it to their sons deliberately. Opium was used to cement friendship bonds. It was used as a mark of close friendship. At a time when restrictions on food and drinks were very severe and caste rules did not allow a man to accept food or water from members of other castes, sharing of opium liquid was a mark of friendship and trust. That gesture converted enemies into friends, and opium was used to celebrate the event. On the other hand opium was also used to ruin an enemy. It was considered the safest method of defeating an opponent. In extreme cases when people wanted to get away from any painful situation, they took an overdose of opium to end their lives. Women often resorted to it in case of domestic discord.

Status of opium in literature

The term opium has many names in the Charni dialect. It is called afu, amal, galva, kanki, kasumbo and tijori. Since opium was associated with warriors and ruling castes of Rajputs - Kathis, it was glorified in the oral literature. At the same time, there was another trend in the literature, wherein the negative side of opium was highlighted. However, the trend glorifying opium has remained more powerful than the negative one. Charans have used all their literary skills to glorify the drug. A few illustrations are given below.

A poet has said-. "If the liquid is drunk by the father, his son gets the effect, if a horseman drinks it, the horse gets the effect. If an elephant drinks it, he becomes wild, if a cat tastes it, she can kill a tiger and likewise a donkey can kill an elephant, a dog can kill a lion and a sparrow can kill an eagle." Elsewhere opium is described as a companion of the traveller, a friend of the brave and fire for the enemy. It makes an impotent potent. It is solace to the gloomy and a cure for the diseased. But there were local saints belonging to the Bhakti cult, as well as religious leaders of the Swaminarayan sect, who have preached against the use of opium. After pointing out various negative consequences of opium addiction, they say that the intoxication of opium is only temporary, whereas the intoxication derived from the devotion to God is permanent.

The status of opium users

Since opium consumption was an accepted behaviour, it was accorded high status. Unlike an alcoholic who behaves in an unbecoming fashion, an opium addict becomes passive and does not manifest any gestures which might invite censure. On the contrary, his passivity gives an out- ward appearance of a wise and thinking person. The term was an honorific title, giving prestige and status to the man. People were full of praise for him. His advice was sought on important matters and people came to him to discuss their problems. On the other hand, opium addicts are also described as people who have no self -respect, because if they do not get their quota of opium, they do not mind getting it from their inferiors or dependents. When they are under the influence of opium, they act in a silly manner. They are also described as timid and suspicious. Thus, the culture seems to have developed mechanisms to provide functional use and also to control abuse.

Is the practice now dead? Apparently not. A de -addiction centre at Veernagar, Rajkot district in the State of Gujarat, for instance, recorded 1,218 cases at the hospital from the year 1989/90 to 1993/94. Although the patients were users of either crude heroin, alcohol, charas-ganja or tobacco, about 50 per cent of them were opium addicts. Of 607 opium addicts who were registered at the de-addiction centre, background information was available for only 468. The description given below is based on the background data of these 468 opium addicts.

Except one solitary female, all the opium addicts were males. With regard to age, 78 per cent were from 36 to 56 years old. They came from 207 villages in six districts of Saurashtra, that is, from almost all parts of Saurashtra. Opium addiction cuts across all caste formations. The upper castes (Brahmins, Bania, Patidar etc.) constitute only 12 per cent. The dominant castes (Rajput, Darbar, Kathis) form about 21.8 per cent. All the other castes constitute about two thirds of the opium addicts. About 53.06 per cent have been addicted to opium for the last 10 years. Another 9.07 per cent have been addicted for the last 20 years, and the rest for more than 20 years. In order to obtain a more detailed understanding of the current scenario of opium consumption, Masihi [6] interviewed 158 opium consumers in 12 villages of six districts in Saurashtra region.

The 158 opium addicts were overwhelmingly males (barring two females), and more than 53.2 per cent were above 56 years of age, the mean age being 56.35 years. It is generally observed that opium addicts are old, and one counsellor attached to one de -addiction centre noted that "an opium addict is accompanied by his son, whereas a brown sugar/heroin addict is accompanied by his father". The respondents by and large are Hindus (98.1 per cent). As mentioned earlier, opium consumption was traditionally and culturally associated with the dominant caste and their subcastes in the region. Though little more than one half of the respondents belong to the dominant Rajput caste and their allied people like the Charans, there is a sizeable number (26) belonging to higher castes (Brahmin, Bania, Patidars and Khatri) and other middle and low-level castes. Contemporary opium drinkers come from all economic classes. Mud houses or huts constitute the dwellings of little more than half (53.8 per cent) of the total. The medium category includes proper houses and those built in cooperative societies. Looking to the occupational categories of the respondents, it is found that a majority (65.8 per cent) are engaged in agriculture. Little less than one fourth (24.7 per cent) are manual workers, and only 8.9 per cent are engaged in business or other non-agricultural activities. The annual income of respondents covers all economic classes. Both joint and nuclear families consume opium. A joint family is defined here as one in which husband and wife and their married children or any other relative stay in the home. The nuclear family is one in which only husband, wife and their unmarried children stay. Respondents from joint families constitute only 10.8 per cent of the total. About 89.2 per cent are from nuclear families. About 11.4 per cent are retired and three were unemployed. The landed and the landless consume opium. Among the landed, small farmers, medium farmers and large farmers consume opium. About one fourth of the respondents do not possess any land.

About 21 per cent had started it before the age of 25. Little less than a half (48.1 per cent) had started it between 25 to 35 years of age. The rest had started it after 35 years of age, the mean age being 34.22 years. The following four main reasons are given for taking opium: friends were taking it (67.1 per cent); due to sickness or disease (41.8 per cent); to pass time (34.8 per cent); and to increase sexual potency (22.8 per cent). Consumption by individuals devoid of company was not very popular in the past. Currently, because of the narcotics laws, consumption of opium in public is not very common. It was found that about 69 per cent consume opium at home and alone. The rest consume with friends. The traditional practice of opium consumption was in the company of members of the same or a similar caste. That practice is no longer observed. The authors found that about 21.5 per cent take opium with members of their own or members of other castes. The total number of friends consuming opium was quite large in the past. The size of the group has obviously decreased, with most consisting of two to three friends.

Frequency of taking opium

From the data it was found that little more than 50 per cent of the respondents take opium at least once daily. Those taking opium either three to two times a day constituted about 36.1 per cent. The rest were taking it only occasionally during the week. It is not easy to obtain the required quantity. Those who cannot obtain opium have switched over to opium pods. There were 32 such respondents. Those who consume opium take a maximum of 15 tolas (1 tola = 11.66 grams) per week. Those who consume opium pods take a maximum of 200 grams per week (it may be noted here that the research did not verify these figures by any established method). The practice of consuming opium on various other occasions, such as marriage and death, is also prevalent. Today opium is also consumed during election meetings, festivals and events where a reconciliation takes place.

Manner of taking opium

A majority of respondents (58.9 per cent) still favour opium consumption in liquid form. About one third consume it in the form of granules. Because of the non-availability of opium, a large number of respondents (89.9 per cent) also take opium pods soaked in water. In that case, opium pods are allowed to be soaked in water for a long time (about 12 hours); the water which contains the essence of the opium pods is then drunk. It was stated that permission to consume opium pods is given on medical grounds. It is also alleged that during election time, contesting candidates help opium addicts to acquire permits for opium pods. About 47.5 per cent of the respondents claimed to have such permits. However, many complained that they do not get enough pods even though they possess permits. Only a fourth of the respondents said that they obtain sufficient quantities of opium pods. About 55.7 per cent obtain the required quantity from the black market.

While opium drinkers historically took rich and nutritious food to help contain possible negative effects, only 26 of the respondents said that they take milk, ghee, eggs and almonds after taking opium, although

34 per cent said that they do need to take special food. Little more than one half (52.5 per cent) of the respondents said that they could bear the expense of the habit. Of those who could not afford it, 36 per cent had borrowed money, 11 per cent had mortgaged their land, and 31 per cent had sold their land or ornaments (the authors did not check those views with the family members of the respondents). About one third of the respondents had at one time or another taken opium excessively, in their own view. At such times, they said that they take lemon juice (16 per cent) or buttermilk (13 per cent), apply cold water on the head and rest (4 per cent) and sleep without taking food (1 per cent).

Effects of opium consumption

What is the opinion of the respondents on the effect of opium on their health? It was found that a large majority did not find any negative impact. Those who said that opium consumption has negative consequences on their health mentioned that they develop swelling of the liver and breathlessness, and that their eyesight has become weak. About 73 per cent of the respondents did not find any effect of opium consumption on their work. Five respondents found that they can do much better work with the help of opium. It was surprising to find that a large majority of the respondents (83 per cent) reported that their habit led to no negative impact on their finances. That, however, may be considered as a defence mechanism, since the researchers had not interviewed the spouses or other sources. Only 16.5 per cent reported negative effects whereas one respondent found that his economic condition had improved. In the past, opium addicts were considered respectable people and there was no loss of prestige on their part. At present also, a large number of the respondents (94 per cent) said that their family prestige has not been affected due to consumption of opium. Because of the respectability and legitimacy traditionally accorded to opium consumption, a person who could consume opium in large quantity was also respected. He was called a Bandhani. The concept is still prevalent, as may be seen from the fact that 65 per cent of the respondents considered themselves Bandhanis. A large number of respondents reported that other members of their families were also accustomed to taking opium.

Does the habit affect family relations? It was found that about 62 per cent of respondents said that their family members did not like their habit, but tolerated it. Only six respondents said that their family members objected to or opposed their taking opium. The reaction of family members has to be seen in the context of the family of the respondents. In a patriarchal type of society, the male members of the family dominate in decision-making and the female members and the children usually are subject to male decision-making.

Attempt to get rid of addiction

Since addiction is supposed to adversely affect the health, occupation, economic condition, family prestige and the addicts' relation with family members, it is but natural to inquire whether the addicts them- selves wish to get rid of the habit. A little more than one half said that they considered it harmful, whereas the rest did not find it so. only 23 respondents said that they attempted to give up opium, only 32 of the total respondents expressed a desire to give up opium, whereas only 7 showed their willingness to be admitted to the de-addiction centre.


This case-study of a community raises several issues pertaining to drug abuse, as summarized below.

What are the implications of patriarchy for women in the context of drug use and abuse? In the absence of economic and social autonomy, what role can the family play in this regard?

Women's movements against alcohol have emerged in different parts of the country, but on account of the social legitimacy enjoyed by opium .in the region, little mass protest has emerged. In this regard, the role of religion among the masses may be far more effective than targeting families as agents of change.

Empirical studies on the cost and other implications of opium use need to be carried out to support any credible campaign against opium in the region. That most of the users who seek treatment are already 50 to 60 years of age renders the task more difficult, since the average life expectancy in the country is in any case only 58 years. The theory that the addict must come to his knees before he can be helped to become sober, or that unless one touches rock bottom, there is no use offering any help, and such other slogans are pathetically out of reality in the case of opium drinkers.

The case of Goa - tourism

Goa provides an interesting case -study on culture and drug abuse [7] . Goa has been described as a tropical paradise, "the Rome of the east", between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea in the west. The population of Goa is a little above 1,100,000, with a literacy rate of 77 per cent and a per capita income of 36,784 Indian rupees (Rs). The Portuguese remained in control up to the year 1961. One significant cultural change on account of Portuguese rule was the enculturation of the Christians and their westernization according to the lifestyle of the Portuguese. The interaction between the indigenous and alien Portuguese cultures is reflected in art and architecture, language and literature, dance and music, etc. What has fascinated the ethnographers is the survival of the caste system and varna hierarchy among the Christian converts [8] . The Goans in general and the Christians in particular have imbibed the susegaad lifestyle of the Portuguese.

The traditional drink of the Goans consists of distilled cashew and coconut feni, which is enjoyed in small quantities after work or at some community celebrations. In the name of tourism and development, there has been an unprecedented growth in the number of bars, pubs and liquor shops all over Goa. The official figure for liquor bars is put at 7,000, and the rough estimate of the number of alcoholics in such a small area as Goa is about 53,000 [9] . The large incidence of alcoholism among the families of respondents may be traced to the tradition of social drinking, which was a part of Portuguese culture. Such drinking is a necessary part of celebrations at home, and the more well-to- do families would always have a good stock of various kinds of alcoholic drinks. In such homes, a daily drink or two before meals is a regular feature. It is not uncommon to offer children a little sip of wine or stronger drink if the child asked for it. It is estimated by government officials that approximately 300,000 Goans are abroad, mostly in countries of the Persian Gulf. Some of those who had migrated to East African countries had to leave in traumatic conditions in the 1970s; some of them came back to Goa; some sent their children to Goa while they attempted to settle down in third countries in the West. More money flows in, but problems of family life and the care of children have also grown.

Drug abuse and tourism

The promotion of tourism as a service industry soon after liberation gave a tremendous fillip to the Goan economy, particularly on the coastal areas. The tourist boom can be seen from the speeding proliferation of hotels, motels, lodging, boardings, sea resorts, bars, shops, travel agencies and many other supportive industries. It also provided much-needed employment opportunities to local youth. Tourists came from the more developed countries of the West. Goan culture was already largely influenced by the West in terms of music, food and drinking habits. There was already therefore a tendency in Goan culture to be receptive to such influences. With the hippie movement, Western youth deserted their homelands and went to different places in search of peace and tranquillity. Their philosophy envisaged a simple return to nature. The first batch of tourists came around 1963. The hippies found Goa an ideal place, a paradise far away from the mundane, maddening crowds, to settle on its golden and virgin beaches. They came with a small budget, stayed not in hotels but with the locals on the beaches. Not all the tourists were hippies. The friendly and hospitable Goans encultured in the Portuguese way of life intermingled and built good rapport with the foreign tourists. Accommodating them in their beach bungalows or homes during the transit season brought in an income that was far greater than what they earned from traditional occupations. The large family houses on the coastal areas are readily rented out to tourists during the tourist season. The needs of the tourists are met by local people who find that they get handsome returns. Moonlight parties and open markets attract large numbers of tourists, and the local population finds much opportunity for buying and selling goods of a wide variety. Trade and commerce, handicrafts, food, drink, drugs, music and dance tend colour to the tourist industry, and here is where many young people seek excitement and adventure. It is obvious that not all foreigners are connected with drugs, but it is also clear that the tourist channels make drug use easier [10] .

In this changing scenario, cultural patterns are affected. A sarpanch of a coastal village said-. "You will never find a young person at home today at 7 p.m. Gone are the days when the family got together to say the family prayer in the evening. Hardly any of the traditional fishermen are left. They prefer other ways of earning." Most respondents reported that the vigilance maintained by the police leaves much to be desired. Evidently, if the tourist industry is to flourish, the law and order machinery has to make allowances.

Some of the hippies used soft drugs like charas and ganja. Along with them notorious peddlers and drug traffickers filtered in and found Goa a safe haven. The Afghan refugees came in 1978 and formed a part of the drug trade, with Anjuna and Calangute as the base of the trade. Initially it was the foreign hand, but soon the locals became involved in the lucrative business. The early 1960s saw business with hashish, charas, LSD and mandrax, which were popular with the foreigners. Youth in search of lost identity in the changing socioeconomic political scenario of post-liberation Goa became an easy target for the addictive, euphoric drugs that formed part of the hippie cult. Drug abuse was initially localized in the coastal talukas in the districts.

D'Lima [7] interviewed 26 persons who had been addicted to alcohol and drugs, but had stopped using drugs for at least six months or more. Of the respondents, 20 were Christians, 5 were Hindus and 1 was a Muslim. The study shows that out of 26 respondents, 18 spoke of a disturbed, unhappy childhood. For the majority of these, it was the violence and inconsistent behaviour of an alcoholic father. The mother was the special target of the father's brutality, which expressed itself in words, in physical violence, and even in throwing the family out of the home.


The case-studies of culture and drug abuse in Goa [7, 11, 12] raise two crucial issues in the context of the liberalizing economy of India. If other countries which have gone through structural adjustment programmes in that part of the world are any pointers, then it is highly probable that in India the traditional taxpayers will be progressively spared of high taxes, and public finances will be raised through indirect taxation and by promotion of tourism, with the entire entertainment and other service industry being promoted vigorously. If for every 200 households one bar will emerge as in Goa, and if alcoholic males batter their spouses and children, and some of the children take to drugs, does the solution lie in the family or at the level of macroeconomic policies, or should both be targeted simultaneously?

The case of Delhi - performative blueprint

A study on culture and drug abuse in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Orissa [13] provides an analysis of drug abuse in Delhi. From the findings it appears that most of the addicts have not been able to internalize most of the cultural values that are universally found in all religious and caste groups in India. This authenticates the observation that generally people in the rural, tribal and slum areas are unable to evolve a specific behavioural guideline or cosmological construct, because of a variety of factors. Further, as Kluckhohn [14] has pointed out, a person's behaviour is not exclusively determined by the whole of his or her culture, but rather by the selective version which is internalized as a result of the situational context. The poverty, lack of education, low social status and lack of any hope for the future generate their own set of values, which become more powerful in influencing behaviour. In one case-study, the user does not refer to any religious symbol or social custom to justify the drug use. His statements clearly indicate that in his cosmological construct, drug use is placed in the negative category. How- ever, his lack of use of religious symbols either for or against drug use and his lack of education and non-practising nature of religious observance clearly indicate that his reference source was generally the oral tradition rather than textual in character.

The user's performative blueprint, the necessity for him to acquire a position of power in the group and the need for its support, his situational context, his poverty and consequent low status in society, his exploitation and condemnation by others around him and the physical pain involved in pulling a rickshaw and sleeping on the footpath, as well as lack of proper food and rest, become more powerful factors in the immediate present. The negative evaluation by cosmological construct and the weak control mechanism - protestations of his wife, fear of disapproval of his father and others, and the likelihood of his children following the same trend - are unable to counter the pressures of the situational context. The cited user had not taken drugs for the hallucinogenic experience, but for the glamour that he perceived was attached to drug use. His attitude towards drug consumption can be attributed to his urge to be recognized as an insider, and to become an active member of the group, which seems to be necessary for him, and was so especially in the beginning. When he was new in the group, nobody paid attention to him, and at times he was ridiculed by statements like: "You do not know any- thing about the world"; or "No one can live in this world being a fool like you". Action under such circumstances has its own rationale; it is necessary to know and to talk knowledgeably about the whole range of drugs and sometimes to even supply them in order to become an important member of the group. As a matter of fact, none of his friends had physically forced him to taste drugs, but their comments had forced him. He said that he could not afford to isolate himself from them for a number of practical reasons. First, he had been earning Rs 40 to Rs 60 per day, and after paying for the rickshaw, his food and other indulgences, he was able to save Rs 25 to Rs 30 per day. Second, he wanted to hire a rickshaw on his own full time, and to have it duly registered in the Municipal Corporation. Third, even if he had hired a registered one, there was a possibility of harassment and extortion by policemen, hence he needed some extra income. Such an income was impossible without group support. It is obvious that such a group, however small, exercises considerable influence on its members' behaviour, and produces a strong sense of belonging and feeling of dependence. It helps in legitimizing drug use.

According to his own assessment, his first "society" in Delhi made it necessary for him to take to drugs, but the other society which he wants to move into with his wife, daughter and the unborn baby looks down upon him and his family. Some people in the market and policemen called him the derogatory terms "charsi" and "ganjeri". He says that he tried smack and hashish on three or four occasions, but did not become addicted to them. He feels habituated to charas and ganja only. Because of his addiction, he is afraid of visiting his old father frequently. His father would feel sad to know about his drug use. He has managed to persuade his wife not to make any fuss about his habit. He is, however, worried about his younger brothers and his children learning about his addiction, and is also worried that they may take to drugs too.

The case of Bombay - marginalization

The current focus of the addiction professionals and opinion makers is on the drug "brown sugar", a crude form of heroin. Charles and her team [15] studied two "addas" (places where addicts gather for purchase and use). They found that while brown sugar does not have any cultural niche for itself, its continued presence is linked to urbanization, persistence of tradition in modernity, criminalization of the drug, economics of trade in the commodity, inclusion of traditional drugs under the ambit of the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act (1985), physical feature of the drug, pharmacological properties, desire for altered states of consciousness, and psychological and social factors that sustain use of brown sugar.

Brown sugar entered the streets of Bombay in the early 1980s and created a clientele of users by accident. They were users of earlier forms of traditional drugs, often ganja, which they consumed in group settings. After a day's work, ganja users in the city come together in the group setting, where they share their views on daily routine, movies and life in general. Though originally associated through religious sanctions with Lord Shiva and soma rasa, contemporary group use is not an image of tradition. After shifting to brown sugar from traditional drugs, drug use became secular among individual users who developed a number of motives to sustain use, which may or may not have included their original motives for consuming mind-altering substances. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, non -users could recognize the process of marginalization that the brown sugar user went through, yet some of them chose to consume brown sugar. These users also developed a number of motives to sustain their use of brown sugar.

Marginalization of brown sugar users is a reflection of society's non- acceptance of the new drug and the association that individuals developed with it. The negativism of the family and society revolves around the apparent inability of the user to have any control over brown sugar use, the user's neglect of social responsibilities (which was not the case with ganja users) and scant respect for personal hygiene and health when these functions have to compete against desire to achieve altered states through brown sugar. While the stigma is considered to reduce drug use, it can be counter-productive. The users who are marginalized may change their lifestyles to an extreme extent where their occupation and personal life- style are dictated by their need for the drug. This is turn creates further marginalization and the vicious cycle continues.

Not all brown sugar users are identifiable with the stereotyped public image of them. There are users in the upper and middle strata of society who continue to be a part of society through the support of immediate family members. This is important, as use is otherwise stigmatized. Besides, a user from the upper class may be able to hide his consumption by mixing the drug in cigarettes, as the fumes of brown sugar are odourless and not easy to detect. Experienced users have also learned to use eye-drops to effect dilation of the eyes. For economic reasons this is not possible among those from the poor strata. To avoid being chastised in public and worse, these users require privacy, which their families provide. This in turn can create health hazards for the wife and small children when they are residing in a small room with the ventilation, if at all present, being limited to a small opening in the wall.

Regardless of the reasons for drug use, it does not happen instantaneously. It calls for separation from an earlier set of norms and creation of or adherence to another set. And once a marginalized group comes into existence, it will also create new forms of interaction with society. Being marginal involves the presence of certain characteristics; "Such a position is ambiguous, not fully institutionalized and removed from what Most people would see as society's central institutions and values..."[16] . This position yields considerable power, and could explain the decision of users to consume drugs.

On identification of one of its members as a brown sugar user, the family has no historical reference to deal with it, unlike cases of traditional drugs such as cannabis or opium. Just as the user develops his own rationale for using and continuing use, the family has to develop its own conclusions about use and control or non-use, for which the family has only the preventive message publicized by the addiction professionals. These messages are based on exaggerating the negative aspects of drugs. Here the traditional and synthetic drug are lumped together. This in turn creates confusion in the mind of the family members whose generation had accepted the use of cannabis. The other source of reference is the impact of the drug on the marginalized population. The family may protect its member from marginalization, which can lead to control of, or an increase in, consumption.

The use or abuse is not a product of individual or family dynamics in isolation from the society in which they live. Since the initial use can be a product of chance or temporary dissatisfaction with life, and still not all users will lose control over drug use, there is a need to help the family to understand the difference and set realistic goals. In the case of non-users as well, it can be seen that stigmatization and criminalization is not the best approach to primary prevention. There is a need to demystify the role assigned to brown sugar.

Overall conclusion

Whatever approach may be adopted to study the link between drug use and culture, whether in rural, tribal or urban settings, several practical guidelines are generated for intervention. The universal technologies appear to have little impact on the ground. Decisions of families and individuals are circumscribed by distinct cultures that provide broad cosmological constructs and performative blueprints. The potential of the family to contribute to drug abuse control is circumscribed by the cultural milieu. For subcontinents of the size of India, schemes for drug abuse control which are uniform and centrally planned and operated are bound to be severely limited on account of cultural diversity. Decentralized and participatory planning of programmes are called for. A multi-disciplinary effort to understand the barriers to and facilitators of drug use and abuse in a given culture would make possible culture-specific programmes.



U. Mehta, "Culture and drug abuse in Dang", paper presented at the International Symposium on Culture, Drug Use and Abuse in Asian Settings, held at Bangkok from 24 to 29 January 1994 (unpublished).


S. V. Joga Rao, "Culture and cannabis in rural Karnataka", National School of Law, India University and National Addiction Research Centre, Bombay, 1994 (unpublished).


G. Britto and others , Policy Perspectives in the Management of Drug Abuse in India (Bombay, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres - National Addiction Research Network, 1986).


I. P. Modi, Assessment of drug abuse, drug users and drug prevention services in Ajmer (New Delhi, Ministry of Welfare, Government of India, 1989).


R. S. Shrivastava, An Assessment of Drug Abuse, Drug Users and Drug Prevention Services in the City of Jodhpur, (New Delhi, Ministry of Welfare, Government of India, 1989).


E. J. Masihi, "Culture, drug use and abuse: a case-study of opium consumption in Saurashtra", paper presented at the International Symposium on Culture,...(unpublished).


H. D'Lima, "Cultural influences on alcohol and drug dependents in Goa", paper presented at the International Symposium on Culture,...(unpublished).


K. J. Singh, ed., People of India - Goa (New Delhi, Anthropological Survey of India, 1993), vol. XXI.


O. de Noronha, The Rise and Fall of the City of Goa (Goa, Goan Holiday, 1992).


T. Albuquerque, Anjuna: Profile of a Village in Goa (New Delhi, Promilla & Co., 1988).


M. Martins, Drug Abuse in Goa (Bombay, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres - National Addiction Research Network, 1987).


D. R. Singh, An Assessment of Drug Use, Drug Users and Drug Prevention Services in Goa (Bombay, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 1990).


H. Y. Siddiqui, "Culture and Drug Use", paper presented at the International Symposium on Culture,...(unpublished).


C. Kluckhohn, "Culture and Behaviour", in Handbook of Social Psychology, L. Gardner, ed. (Cambridge, Addison-Wesley, 1954).


M. Charles and G. Britto, "Culture and Drug Use in Bombay City", paper presented at the International Symposium on Culture,...(unpublished).


F. Musgrove and others, Margins of the Mind (London, Methuen and Co., 1977).