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The Indian Budget 1996-97 The Indian Economy Overview

Legalized Opium Cultivation: The Opium Trail

[Opium cultivation in India] [Related Pages: 1 2 3 4]

Photo Essay on Cultivation of Opium in India

Now a profitable export for the Indian government, opium has a long history in Asia, inextricable from the colonial subjugation of the region, by the British East India Company and later the British empire.

All photographs are Copyright Pablo Bartholomew, and may NOT be used in any context or form whatsoever without express written permission.

Traditional welcome in western parts of Rajasthan, the desert state: Opium dissolved in water, offered by the host in a cupped palm.
For hundreds of years the opium fields of North India have provided medicinal and narcotic solace to millions of people. In villages of Rajasthan, the traditonal offering of opium water to guests survives to this day. Opium has long been given to babies suffering from diarrhea and other infant maladies and to the elederly to relieve suffering in their final hours.

In the early days of British rule, under the East India Company, opium production was discouraged. In 1773, India's first Govenor General, Warren Hastings, recognized that opium was harmful and opposed increasing its production. However, he encouraged the control of opium by the company hoping that by monopolizing and limiting the supply its consumption could be controlled.


Monkeys in the Ghazipur factory compound are addicted to the opium in the factory effluents coming out of the distilling plant.
By the end of the century, however, huge quantities of Indian opium, grown in Bengal, were being shipped to China, where addiction had reached epidemic proportions despite imperial edicts banning its import and consumption.

The crop export to China had long been a useful balancing item on the East India Company's trading account, one the British were not ready to give up.

The Chinese imposed a total ban on opium import and the export of silver, the currency accepted in exchange for the illicit substance. Trade moved from Canton to Macao where it grew unchecked.


Manaklal Singh, founder of the opium detoxification center near Jodhpur, with his hoardings warning against the danger of opium addiction, in the background.
British traders would declare their legitimate cargo and leave the opium on board to be picked up by Chinese merchants.

The English traders' flagrant abuse of their trading privileges with China, enraged the imperial rulers. In the eighteenth century a commissioner seized and destroyed 20,000 chests of opium, and detained the entire foreign community, sparking the Opium Wars.

The British reacted violently, quashing China's Imperial army. England forced imperial rulers to sign what the Chinese refer to as the "unequal treaties". England was given "most favored nation" status and the territory of Hong Kong. Opium trade was still illegal but now there was no way of stopping it.



[Opium cultivation in India] [Related Pages: 1 2 3 4]

Pablo Bartholomew is an Indian photojournalist of world renown, with many awards to his credit, including the World Press Photo Award. His work is regularly seen in Time, NewsWeek, Business Week, Forbes and the National Geographic Magazine.
He is a member of the Indian Economy Overview editorial panel, and Director of Photography for the site.


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