Kashumba in hand, who wants liquor?

March 24th, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by admin  

By V.N. Balakrishna
Suigam (Gujarat), March 24 (IANS) In Gujarat’s Banaskantha district, every occasion, even mourning the dead, calls for a toast with Kashumba, a drink made from opium pods. In the western stretches of Banaskantha, located near the India-Pakistan border, on traditional New Year’s dawn (the day after Diwali) landlords hold a `dayara’ (a kind of social gathering) where the traditional menu is Kashumba.

Every palm holds the opium spiced water proudly and it is treated as a sort of `prasad’ signifying the blessing of god.

The drink is made by crushing opium pods and soaking the powder in water and then storing it in a pot. It is served at all social gatherings.

The prohibition policy in Mahatma Gandhi’s Gujarat is good only on paper. There are a number of opium addicts in the region.

Piru Mana, in his 80s, a resident of Suigam village, claims to have the capacity to digest a ‘tola’ (10 gm) of opium at any point of time. Kashumba has been a popular drink for Mana.

Ambalal Dave, an employee of the Tharad nagar palika, said: “Kashumba is similar to what delicious sweets are for you.”

From Suigam to Mavasari village in Vav-Tharad taluka, Kashumba is common in an area spread over 84 sq km. “During social gatherings - be it marriage or death - opium- spiked drinks are a common feature here,” said Ramchandrabhai Rajput, a panchayat member from Suigam and Vav taluka.

“During festivity, especially Diwali, most villagers take Kashumba,” said Ramachandrabhai.

“Earlier, Kashumba was made from Afghan opium which was brought from the unfenced border. Indeed it was of superior quality,” said Ranabhai Desai, a retired gram sevak (village society worker).

Gujarat’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare Parbhatbhai Patel, who represents the Vav assembly constituency, said Kashumba is a custom and not a drink as such.

“Yes, it is an addiction,” Patel admitted to IANS. “You can still find two to three people in each village addicted to Kashumba. But many have left the habit.”

The government purchases raw herbs and supplies it to licensed shopkeepers in parts of north Gujarat and Saurashtra, presumably to help addicts come off the habit.

There is rampant use of opium in the border villages of Gujarat.

Banaskantha Superintendent of Police Vipul Agarwal said he was not aware of the presence of Kashumba. “I will certainly look into it,” he said.

Though some 1,000 licensed users exist in Banaskantha, unofficial users could go up to several thousands. While permit holders get anything between 1 and 2 kg depending on their needs, illegally it is available in larger quantities.

The state too is forced to make a token budgetary allocation for licensed opium handlers. During the last fiscal, Rs.15,000 was allocated and this time around it is Rs.20,000. Officials say that there is nothing irregular in this, contending that “it’s purely for aiding de-addiction activity”.

Radhanpur lawmaker Shankar Chaudhary said that consumption of Kashumba was a cause for worry as it is a common feature during marriages and even death ceremonies. It affects health, both physical and mental, and many Kashumba addicts had to be admitted to hospital, Chaudhary said.

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