Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The economic crisis, politics and Hindu traditions are boosting the illegal drug trade with India, China, Arab countries, Europe and the US. A Nepali police report said that in 2011 thousands of poor and unemployed Nepalis have become drug couriers to feed their families. Women and children are especially chosen by traffickers to carry shipments abroad. Hindu traditions have contributed to the drug trade. On International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (26 June), activists accused the government of being beholden to religious authorities and failing in enforcing the country's anti-drug laws.
Shiva devotees traditionally consume hashish, marijuana and datura (a hallucinogenic perennial deemed God's preferred drug). The practice reaches its apex in February during Maha Shivaratri, one of the most important Hindu festivities, when thousands of pilgrims visit shrines devoted to Shiva. For the occasion, shrines become open markets for drugs. Despite bans, traffickers and Hindu gurus sell their merchandise to adults and teenagers alike.
Hindu leaders continue to exert great influence on the government, despite the proclamation of a secular state in 2007, activists say. The authorities do not enforce the law against Hindu gurus to avoid unrest and tensions. They even support drug sales as long as they are for personal use in religious contexts. However, activists believe that some gurus are involved in the international drug trade.
"No one is allowed to consume drugs in public, but Hindu sages do it away from the eyes of the police," Kathmandu Police spokesperson Dhiraj Pratap Singh said. "This is their lifestyle, imitating Lord Shiva. Sometimes, it is hard to distinguish cigarette smoking from hashish."
Although Nepal is not a big producer of hashish, opium and marijuana, its geographic position has made it a favourite destination for international drug traffickers. During the civil war, Maoist rebels used the drug shipments from border to border to finance their activities. Production is mostly centred in the Terai region (south) with thousands of people involved.
A government report found that 46,000 Nepalis are drug addicts, 17,000 in Kathmandu alone. However, the figure does not take into account habitual users of cannabis and opium.
Narconon, an international anti-drug organisations, estimates that the country has about 150,000 drug addicts, 64 per cent under the age of 30.