Drug Abuse

Kashmir’s war on drugs has a new front: Women Vigilantes 

A Kashmiri woman patrolling a poppy field in Budgam region of Kashmir. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

As the shadow of addiction looms large, a vigilant group of homemakers strive against the relentless drug abuse. These women police the poppy plantations for a drug-free society. 

It was a preemptive strike that saw flames rising from her courtyard. The smoke then cleared over the field of this deadly crop that is contiuing to destroy youth despite growing penal action.

The move was sparked by a homemaker’s conviction to nip the evil in the bud and promote the spirit of good farming for a culinary delight.

Shakeela’s action bore a stark resemblance with the “war on drugs” drive. Cops raid and ransack poppy fields in a bid to prevent drug abuse. The drive intensified following the valley’s steep fall into an abyss of addiction consuming youth and straining the social order.

“There is misuse of the poppy plant,” Shakeela said in a commanding voice. “So after we produce the crop for kitchen use, we set the husk on fire.”

Poppy field in Budgam. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

Poppy seeds called khash khaash are used for culinary practices in Kashmir, but husks are utilized as narcotics. 

The dried pod of the plant called dodachura is sometimes illegally sold in the black market at high prices. But the pods when crushed provide poppy seeds. They’re used as a spice in kitchens that currently fetch a high price in the market.

Kashmiri housewives growing poppies in their kitchen gardens separate grains from chaff when peddlers are facing an unsparing law. Their action is inspired by an idea of keeping the society drug-free.

“We know the cost of the crop misuse,” said Masrat, another poppy grower of Budgam. “That’s why we’re nipping the evil in the bud. We not only burn the husk but regularly patrol the fields to keep poachers away”

Poppy seeds enhance the flavor of nun chai and act as a crucial component in baking. They’re grown on small backyard patches, a common sight in countrified Kashmir. However, the supply is restricted to cities. The legal cultivation of poppy is permitted only for medicinal purposes in the mainland. 

The chemicals isolated from poppies have anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, anti-microbial, and anti-carcinogenic properties. Pharmaceutical companies alter the alkaloids taken from poppies to create hydrocodone and other painkilling medications. 

Poppy seeds called Khash Khaash. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

Like others, Ruksana has been growing poppy for the last eight years now. She would initially collect a part of it from neighbours for cooking purposes—before tending her own garden. 

“Despite playing vigilante, people still perceive anyone working in poppy fields negativey,” the homemaker rues. 

“We need to change our opinions to create a positive change in the community. Demonizing won’t help. We need to own these trades so its in our own hands, and does not get misused. I grow poppy to keep the supply chain of khash khaash alive in the local market. I destroy the husk and prevent the misuse of the crop.”

A Kashmiri woman sundrying poppy crop. [FPK Photo/Kaisar Ali.]

This community policing has been having a positive impact and has prevented the abuse of the crop in Budgam.

Shakeela says that on more than one occasion she had to physically intervene when local groups seeking to cultivate poppy had been present in the area. Addicts who are tresspasing the fields are regularly driven out by the homemaker’s vigilance. 

“We’re always on our toes to prevent misuse,” Shakeel said. “You never know about peddlers, they can cause trouble anytime. The only way to prevent poppy poaching is to stay vigilant.”


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