Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ghulam Rasool Galwan of Leh - A remarkable man

After whom a contentious river is named.....

After the recent Chinese incursion into Depsang Plains of North East Ladakh there were a spate of reports about how difficult life was in those isolated parts of North East Ladakh.  A couple of reports also mentioned Galwan River and how the Chinese had occupied it since October 1962. They still sit there around four kms away from Galwan River's confluence with the Upper Shyok.

Galwan River! How was such a name given to a river? For in Kashmiri it means 'robber'.

In October 1974 when I first visited the Upper Reaches of the Shyok I saw Galwan river spreading out across a large fan of moraine and debris. The river had broken into several clear channels gushing down  to mix with the Shyok. An Argun companion (mixture of a Ladakhi Buddshist and Central Asian Muslim parentage) told me that the river's name meant a robber. It was named after a Ghulam Rasool Galwan who found a way out for some British explorers stranded in Aksai Chin east of Samzungling (with China now) in 1907.

Intrigued, I researched when I returned to Delhi. This was the only sub continental river that was named after a man who at the time was living. His name was Ghulam Rassul Galwan. His great grand father was a daring robber- Kara Galwan, which in Kashmiri means Black Robber. Once he had even raided the Kashmir Maharaja's bed room! Eventually he was hung. The name stuck to his children.

Our Galwan started his life as a porter with Sir Francis Younghusband when he was only twelve or so. In time he became Caravan bashi or incharge of caravans, put together by Western Explorers, that knocked around Central Asia, Tibet and Ladakh of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He was born around 1878, and died early on 13th March, 1925. One year after a lovable book that he had written of his life was published. It is in his own charming pidgin English. English that he had learnt during his expeditions with western explorers.

This is what Sir Francis Younghusband had to say of Galwan in the Introduction to Galwan's book: "He came of the very poorest. He started as a simple village lad. But in every situation he behaved like a gentleman."

He moved in a region where all who had been there - Dunmore, Younghusband,  Phelps, Church, Wellby, Roche, Sven Hedin, Bower, Littledale, Fillipo Filipi etc et al - would go crazy descibing the indescribable cold, solitude, misery, majesty and magnificence. Galwan strode that bleak, high, freezing world of mountains and deserts like a colossus, without whom those expeditions would not have gone so far or achieved that much.

Yet for him beauty was a camp where there was no work! From Leh to Kashgar was a forty four day's difficult trek, which for many Western explorer was an adventure in itself. Galwan used to do it just to join an expedition (like the Littledale's) at Kashgar or rush to Leh to collect his pay without a thought to his discomforts and danger or the majesty around him. To him the bitterly cold and endless wasteland from Pamirs to Takla Makan to Tengri Nor was a second home.

Of him the famous British explorer Dr. Tom Longstaff had written:
"Rasool Gulwan, our caravan leader was a great character. He had travelled through Tibet with Littledale, and with Robert Barrett, Phelps and Church and was rated very high by all of them. He was of the breed called Arghan, of a Yarkandi father by a Ladakhi mother. Inheriting the best characteristics of both the races, he was absolutely honest; he never took bribes nor offered them. "

Yet on pg 66 of his sometimes gossipy book Galwan naughtily admits to whacking commissions while buying supplies!

This book of his was written at the insistence of Mrs. KRE Barret and her husband Robert who had relied on Galwan for the success of their considerable explorations in Central Asia and Ladakh from 1902-5. Galwan's manuscripts were sent by snail mail till 1913. After editing by Mrs. Barrett, who lived in the US, the book was published by W. Heffers and Sons of Cambridge, UK, in 1924. The original manuscript of this book is at the Smithsoninan Museum, Washington D.C.. The quite unnecessary sub title of this book "To be read aloud" is an intervention by the editor, who seems to be making fun of his peculiar but attractive English.

 It has obviously been edited by a colonial mind, for he was not always complimentary of his Western bosses. His descendants mention incidents (obviously changed down the years) where Galwan described his bosses rather candidly. It was hard and thankless work being a Caravan bashi, and Galwan used to be berated and sometimes hit if things went awry. At the end of it all this brilliant adventurer was a labourer in colonial times and he was thought, by the Colonial administration, to have been suitably rewarded when the Deputy Commissioner of Leh in 1917 appointed him as a Head Governement Contractor. 

Above is a picture of his house near the middle of Chute Rungte street in Leh.

Below is a picture of the end of Chute Rungte Street. Once, Galwan's above house stood in lonely splendour such as this less crowded part of the street shows..>

His descendants now have a spacious guest house in Changspa, Leh..>

It is in a better, pleasanter and quieter suburb above Leh> 

Entrance to one of the rooms in Galwan Guest House>

His descendants also live there. Like his grand daughter in law, who was about 90 years old in 2008>

 This old lady has quite a few anecdeotes to tell of him, even though she may never have met him...>

The family will also proudly show off some of his things. Like this samovar, held by Galwan's great great grand daughter. He would not travel without this>

There are only four occasions that Galwan describes a scenery as "beautiful." I end with one of them. It is on page 215 and he describes a Valley after they have been turned back, north of Lhasa, from the Lake Tengri Nor (now called Nam Tso): "Now we camp there for a long time. Now the Goring valley was very beautiful, both sides tall mountains, and many of the mountain-tops covered with beautiful glacier and snow, and in the lovely valley very good pasture, good grass and little jungle of bushwood. That all sides look green, and in that valley run very clean water stream down."


Monday, May 6, 2013

Narcotics: Kicking the addict, ignoring the trafficker

A talk by me at the 30th Symposium on Economic Crime, Jesus College Cambridge, 7th of September, 2012

                                                    (Jesus College, Cambridge)

Legalised Regulation of Drugs- a strategy for reducing violent crime and protecting Financial Institutions

Indian Experience....

I shall start with an anecdote of some old boys from this College.

Yesterday, when Jack was showing me around this historic and lovely campus he pointed to a portrait of an ex student of this college- Samuel Taylor Coleridge- one of England’s famous Romantic poets. He is the one who wrote Ancient Mariner and the unfinished stirring epic Kublai Khan.

I remembered having read a book in my wife’s library about Coleridge’s drug use. I asked her for some details last night. This is what I got. In the book “Samuel Taylor Coleridge- a bondage from opium” the author Molly Lefebure describes the drugs of choice of Coleridge and his scientist friends like Sir Humphrey Davy, Sir Thomas Beddoes, Sir Joseph Banks, who started Kew Gardens, and Sir Thomas Wedgwood. Opium, laudanum, cannabis and even bhang.

Had Colerdige been alive today, most likely that genius would be in jail with his career nipped in the bud.

The reason? The Single UN Convention on Narcotics in 1961. This single document has diverted attck from the traffickers to the drug users. Not one of the 200 or so signing countries has been able to stem the supply in the streets. Above and beyond this they have not even been able to stop drugs being provided in prisons all over the world. This is the background of my short presentation.

Slide # 1: UN’s Single Convention of 1961 was supposed to rid the world of drugs in twenty five years.

The reality is that though drug use and trafficking have increased phenomenally, only the weakest have suffered from harsh laws. Petty crimes have increased, and so have big ones, as the people who should be in jail are not. Law Enforcement has failed to subdue this scourge. A more humane and practical solution is needed as the UN’s Conventions have encouraged only to batter sheep.

Jack Cole of LEAP, USA, the eaarlier speaker today, has dramatically shown what an exorbitantly expensive failure the War on Drugs has been in America. I shall try something similar for India and the region.

Slide # 2: India got its Narcotics Act in 1985. Arrests of drug users jumped to 30 times more than before ‘85.

Crime statistics have also risen proportionately, but only petty ones are spoken about, furred robes hide the big ones. There are now about 10 million drug users. Cannabis accounts for 7 million. The rest use opiates and synthetic drugs. In parts of India cannabis and opium usage is centuries old. Thus, it was rather inconsiderate to tar them all with the same brush.

Slide #3- Every village along Punjab’s border with Pakistan has most of its young between 15 to 30 yrs hooked to drugs, mostly Afghan heroin. Punjab had sports clubs for every 3 or 4 villages. These are being replaced by de addiction centres.

These figures of narcotics cases made from 2001 to 2011 in Punjab show that only the lowliest in the drug chain have been pummeled. Of the 48,293 cases made only 5 were against traffickers. Out of a population of 27.7 million 4.5 million youth are unemployed.

A recent study by the Department Of Sociology of the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar has shocked everyone with the revelation that 73.5% of all of Punjab’s youth are drug users.

Most demand more policing. Not that it is a health problem. The only concession is that 8 jails will soon have drug de addiction facilties and gyms!!

Slide #s 4: In most other parts of India drug use is not so high, but only drug users continue to bear the brunt of a relentless enforcement. These figures, from 2001 to 2011, from 3 of the 9 police divisions of Delhi, show that this is a national practice to treat drug dependants as criminals. Of the 4155 arrested merely 35 were traffickers

Slide # 5: Despite the severe laws drug use continues to rise.

Slide # 6: Illicit cultivation of cannabis and opium is increasing alarmingly. In India illicit opium cultivation was at least around 20,000 hectares three years ago according to Indian satellite surveys. Again only the poor cultivator is hit but not even the commissioning agents.

Slide # 7: Not only has production of illegal opium increased but also of heroin, which is improving in quality every year.

Slide # 8: Seizures of narcotics substances in India have more or less remained static for a decade, despite more funds and personnel. The drug user is their favoured quarry, as he is poor and helpless.

Slide # 9: India’s Narcotics Act 1985 was so dreadful that some penalties for drug users had to be eventually decreased in 2001. Even then, the drug user still faces a 6 months incarceration. India needs at least 50 times the nearly 500 good bad and ugly treatment centres that are there now.

Slide # 10: Zero tolerance policies have hammered Central And South Asia and failed.

In Central Asia there has been a steep increase of registered drug users since 1992- from about the time the Soviet Union broke up. The actual numbers will be at least 10 times that much.

At the southern end of Asia is Maldives- a group of 200 inhabited tropical islands. Here too drug use increased rapidly.

1995- one cannabis user.

2010- 33,000 registered users of all kinds of drugs.

Slide #11 : Afghanistan has suffered a volcanic eruption in not only illegal cultivation and trafficking of cannabis and opium but in the number of drug users, some of whom are women and children. The ruthless attempts to destroy opium cultivation and opium use have failed and so drug users are being jailed.

There are nearly 1 million (age 15- 64) regular problem drug users (2008) in Afghanistan, which had a very high prevalence rate of 2.64% in 2008. Up from 1.4% in 2005.

From 2005 to 2008 regular opium users grew from 150,000 to approximately 230,000 ‐ a jump of 53%.

The numbers are even more alarming for heroin.

2005-> 50,000 heroin users.

2008-> 120,000 users. A giant leap of 140 per cent.

(Source- Second National Drug Survey of Afghanistan, 2009)

Afghanistan too jails drug users. 29% of prisoners are drug faithful. Only a few cultivators, minor couriers and one big trafficker have been jailed! Official connivance ensures that their choice of drugs is supplied in prison too. The rich traffickers own the most palatial buildings in Kabul. Even banks are scared of them.

About $1.2 billion is the farm gate price of opium of which 10% is swiped by insurgents, 20% goes to the poor cultivator, and 70% goes to the drug gangs, who make another $3 billion by smuggling heroin out.

Slide # 12: US led NATO’s response to increasing trafficking, illicit cultivation and drug use is to use more force. In the first half of this year 125,049 kgs of opium, hashish, heroin and morphine were seized. Considering the immense possibilities it is less than average. Billions of dollars continue to be wasted.
However, if drug users were out of their reach the performance of under staffed Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan would improve. Pakistani and Turkish criminal groups continue to get heroin into the EU with astonishing ease.

Slide #13: How did this appalling War begin? War on drug users is an old American practice. Soon after the First International Opium Convention was signed at The Hague on January 23, 1912 attack on drug users started in the US. Only producers and traffickers were mentioned but drug users became the targets.

This cutting from a newspaper of Feb, 1912 says it all.

This idea of showing no mercy to the weakest in the drug chain influenced the Single Convention of 1961 and the subsequent two. Such a move shows a high number of trouble free arrests, and if the rich criminals are free no headache from politicians and courts either.

President Nixon was merely continuing an American practice when he declared War on Drugs 41 years ago.

Slide # 14 : The 1961 Convention did mention drug use sympathetically in Article 30 (2) and sub clause b (i). Yet it ensured that for 51 years fire and brimstone were heaped on mainly the drug users.

Some Articles of the Conventions need changing. The so called experts were not expert enough for this task. Look at the impossibly optimistic Article 49. Yet the UN and its Friends are resisting change of even such false hopes, which are being kept alive beyond their expiry date.

Slide # 15: There is hope, though. Countries like Bolivia, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland, broke away from slavishly following the Conventions, and humanized practices. They treated drug addiction as a health problem and not as a cardinal sin. They have contained addiction and HIV, and successfully targeted bigger criminals. Predictably, UNODC, and most of the world are scornful and skeptical of such innovations. Yet the future is here.

In this slide a patient is being given methadone at the de addiction facility of TAIPAS, in a Lisbon hospital.

Slide # 16: My last slide urges reform of some Articles of the Conventions. Policing, of which this picture is symbolic, has not worked. Drug users are “*patients needing help, not criminals needing to be locked away”. Enforcement alone is not the answer. A word about Financial Institutions- many are too big to touch and waist deep in the slush of high profits from narcotics criminality. It’s a topsy turvy world we live in.

*Page 23 of Drug Policy in Portugal by Arthur Domostawski and published by Open Society Foundations