The Politics of Drugs in Colonial India
Link to an abstract for "The Politics of Drugs in Colonial India and the Adoption of International Legislation on Drug Trafficking: Re-examination of British Political History," a paper by Emdad ul Haq (Department of Political Science, Chittagong University) delivered at the Strathclyde University, Glasgow "Drugs and Empires" conference of April 2003. Full abstract copied into the extended body.
The Politics of Drugs in Colonial India and the Adoption of International Legislation on Drug Trafficking: Re-examination of British Political History.
Emdad ul Haq, (Department of Political Science, Chittagong University).
The account of the British drug trafficking in Bengal remained largely untold even after fifty-five years of the region’s independence. Scholars and academics, both local and western origins, have interpreted the Indian history chiefly focusing either on the Hindu-Muslim hostilities or refuting the ‘artificial division’ of the sub-continent by colonial rulers on communal lines. The current paper argues that the British East India Company captured political power of the Kingdom of Bengal in 1757 chiefly to gain control over the region’s flourishing opium trade. The Imperial government set up Bengal Opium Monopoly in 1773 and emerged as an addict of the drug revenue during its 190-year rule in India. The government by and large collected about a quarter of its total revenue from numerous harmful drugs ranging from opium, cannabis, liquor to mahua flower.
As opium was causing immense miseries to the Chinese population, the ex-China missionaries and the anti-opium activists in the UK and elsewhere held that the trade was ‘morally indefensible’. Being confronted by public opinion in South Asia and the West the British government formed the Royal Commission on Opium in 1893. After two years of investigation the commission came out with a conclusion that ‘opium taken in moderation was good for health’. Convinced by the missionary approach the US government in 1903 set up the Philippines Opium Commission that reflected the gravity of the addiction problem in its newly founded colony in Asia. The testimony helped the US to launch an international campaign on drug trafficking from Indian. The US diplomatic move at the international opium summits in Shanghai in 1909, The Hague in 1912-14 and Geneva in 1925 help impose international banning on harmful drugs. After subsequent failures in the diplomatic battles the British government surrendered the Indian drug trade by 1935, however, the economic pressures that stemmed from the secession of the Indo-China opium trade compelled the colonial rulers to transfer political power to the indigenous leaders in 1947.