Thinky Discussion Post: The Moral Judgement Against Those Who Have Taken Illegal Drugs, Where Does it Come From?

The ridiculous drug investigation into Hindi film society continues to roll on, and what I find vaguely interesting about it (if anything), is the glimpse it gives into the morality of drug use as it is currently seen in Indian society, something that had not previously come into my awareness. And that started me thinking about the morality of drug use as it is perceived in general and how much it has changed just in my lifetime.

I’m gonna start by just throwing out some random historical examples for how drug use was perceived. In America, 100 years ago, “drugs” and “drinking” were synonymous. Not just in common usage of terminology, but the actual items referred to, if that makes sense. What was sold at bars as “alcohol” was highly adulterated with all kinds of substances. If you read literature from that time, it sounds like ridiculous hyperbole, talking about men driven mad by drink and killing their wives and children and so on. But that’s because we are thinking of what “drink” is in America today, highly regulated liquor. Back then, it was alcohol mixed with opium and morphine and cocaine and whatever else people thought of using.

The Women’s Christian Temperance League was started in America not against drinking exactly, but against a whole group of social ills that effected women because of drinking. Women had no right to their own money after marriage, which meant if they were married to an addict, he could take all the money they earned through their own labor and spend it feeding their addiction. They had no right to their own children, meaning if they tried to leave a marriage to an addict, he could call the police to keep his children with him as hostages. And of course, they had no right to a divorce, even if their addict husband took all their money, beat them, beat their children, and threatened to kill them. The fight against drugs in those days was really a fight for women’s rights, a fight to show that a non-addicted woman was stronger and wiser and worth more than an addict man. They didn’t care about the drugs themselves, or even the addicts themselves, just what the drugs and addicts were doing to the women they held hostage by the laws around them. The Women’s Christian Temperance League worked for rights for women, for divorces, for voting rights, for child custody reform, along with working for laws that regulated the drink sold in bars so that it actually was alcohol, not true drugs. Back then, being a “drinker” was seen as synonymous with being a wife-beater, a non-worker, a bad husband and father. Of course there were loads of people who drank a beer after work of the evening and never hit their wives or children or did anything wrong, but they would not consider themselves “drinkers”. Because they didn’t fit the narrative.

The road to Prohibition 100 years ago
There was also a lot of (accurate) discussion of how the big liquor industry was driving the fight against temperance purely for financial reasons.

Now let’s look at The Opium Wars! This was a terrible thing the British did, a terrible terrible thing, using drugs as a poison for a whole society. China at the time was a strong independent nation, with a lot of very valuable trade goods to offer to the West. The British were desperate to have a more balanced trade exchange with China, to find something they could offer the Chinese in return for tea and silk and all kinds of wonderful things China could offer them. And therefore, the British started pushing Opium into China. They had control of Afghanistan which (then and now) is the center of Opium production worldwide. Opium was well-known in China as a medicine to be taken in moderation. But once the British started pushing it hard, the Chinese began taking it increasingly for pleasure, and then from addiction. The Chinese government realized the toll this was taking on their populous and attempted to limit the Opium trade into their country, which meant the British were once again at a trade disadvantage. So they went to war with China, truly and explicitly just because they wanted the right to get the Chinese population addicted to drugs and therefore make more money from them. The biggest drug dealers in the world, the British state. And the end result of this war, was a British stereotype of the Chinese as drug addicts. Somehow, in their clever double talk way, they managed to turn reality on it’s head. The idea of the evil Chinese district of London where good clean young British men went and became drug addicts is in all the British novels of the day. The true story, of the good clean young British men who forced the Chinese population to become drug addicts purely for profit, that is hidden.

Opium in Victorian Britain
Oooo, the evil Opium den of London! Run by the Evil Chinese!

What I am trying to show by those two examples is that the social meaning of “drugs” is always changing. In America 100 years ago, it was about women’s liberation, the way that drugs poisoned men and women could not escape the secondary effects of that poison. In Britain in the late 1800s, drugs became synonymous with the weakness of the East in a handy reversing of reality in which the drugs only came to the East because of the British.

As with all major social issues, there is also the backlash effect. For instance, after alcohol became fully illegal in America, it was legalized again (with a lot of the restrictions that the WCTU had been pushing for already in place), and suddenly folks were laughing at the whole “temperance” movement. I can see that in my own particular generational/class group. In the 90s in white middle-class America, there was this enormous fear of drugs killing children. As a child of that era, I got it from all sides, this vague sense that all my parents’ friends were worried about it, all the little lectures and things in school, the terrifying videos were were shown of the kid who tried marijuana once AND THEN DIED. It was a social construct of course, a way of expressing racial/class fears. Those children who died of drugs were always nice white middle-class kids. The hidden narrative was drugs from “the inner cities” coming and ruining children of “the suburbs”. The parental wisdom of the time was to make your kid do home urine tests if you suspected drugs, to search their rooms, to be a good parent even if it meant breaking their trust. And, if necessary, to send them away to a treatment camp for their own good.

So, okay, that was my generation. Well, my generation of white middle-class American kids. And then my generation of white middle-class American kids grew up and found their voices and said “That was a terrible terrible thing you did to us”. This isn’t a celebrity or pop culture issue I am talking about now, I knew at least one maybe two kids who were sent to those camps. They didn’t come from famous families, they weren’t sent there because of PR reasons, they were sent there because their parents believed they were doing the right thing. And it wasn’t. At the time, even I accepted it, so-and-so had a “drug problem” (this terrifying bogeyman monster) so it was good for him to be sent off to the wilderness for 6 months. There’s a growing number of memoirs and stories from people who had one minor rebellion as a teen, tried a few drugs, and in return were exiled from their family and sent off to torturous horrible prison camp like places (link here to a government report on the abuses, including at least 10 deaths of teenagers due to dehydration, bleeding, etc.)

The new wisdom (again, among white middle-class Americans, very specific group), is not “tough love”, but simply “love”. When a celebrity is learned to be a drug addict, or goes to rehab, no longer is it “they are evil people who are teaching Our Children to do bad things”, instead it is “I hope they get help”. And I haven’t heard for ages about “if you love your teenager, search their room and give them drug tests and send them to the wilderness if you find anything”.

Amazon.com: Being Charlie | Rob Reiner's | NON-USA Format | PAL | Region 4  Import - Australia: Morgan Saylor, Nick Robinson, Devon Bostick, Cary  Elwes, Rob Reiner: Movies & TV
I’m not necessarily recommending this film., but I find the making of it fascinating. Its based on Nick Reiner’s own story. He is Rob Reiner’s son and, as a teenager, his parents followed the common wisdom of the day and gave him “tough love” in response to finding him with drugs. He grew up and wrote this script and his father produced and directed it and gave interviews about how he was just so SO wrong. He thought he was doing the right thing, but years later talking to his son he realizes he was acting out of fear and not love and he forever damaged his child. I think this is a journey a lot of families are going through as the kids of the 90s grow up and say to their relatives “do you have any idea what was done to me by the people you trusted to ‘save’ me from drugs?”

What I can’t get a handle on is what the drug thinking is in India these days. It seems to be “drugs are a sign of moral failing”, but I’m not clear on why. Is it “because they are an escape from the world instead of struggling with it”? Is it “because drugs are general Bad and you should Just Say No?” Is it “because drugs are Western not Eastern?” Is it “because you are setting a bad example for The Children”? I am really at a loss.

I wish I could find this with subtitles, it is a great expression of reasons against drugs and Western influence in the 1970s. While the female chorus is saying “take another toke and sing ‘Hare Krishna'”, the male verse is saying “Krishna was about struggling with the world and doing good, not escaping it, don’t take his name to support your escapism and excuses”

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. If you can give any insight into why drugs are considered Bad in India today, I would appreciate it.

I also think the most productive discussion we can have is sharing personal stories about how drugs are/were perceived for us in our lives. So, if you feel like sharing that, please do.

I can tell you mine. I’ve never used recreational drugs, and I’ve also never drunk alcohol. Not as a moral stand at all, just because I tend to get horrible debilitating migraines when I try new things, so I don’t particularly want to risk it. As a kid, like under age 10, I got a lot of terrifying drug lectures from school and I found them confusing and scary and weird. As I said, I knew kids who got sent to drug rehab camps as teenagers. I didn’t know them well, but they were vaguely around me and I heard their parents talking to my parents. I went off to college absolutely terrified of drugs and ready for some horrible person to try to seduce me to taking them or something. Which never happened. In 4 years of college, I was never offered alcohol, let alone drugs. It was in my early twenties, when marijuana was already on the way to being legal in my state, that I was at a party and someone casually offered it. I turned it down, as did half the other people there, and about 4 people went out on the back porch to smoke, and then came back and were basically normal. Didn’t turn into demons or anything. And that didn’t surprise me, somehow between the ages of 14 and 24 I had grown up and realized that drugs weren’t some terrifying monster thing, but were just a thing in the world.

33 thoughts on “Thinky Discussion Post: The Moral Judgement Against Those Who Have Taken Illegal Drugs, Where Does it Come From?

  1. Well, I don’t think. I can answer this question without getting slightly political. I think the answer of why drugs are considered bad in Indian is a mixture of “drugs are bad,” “Western products,” and “example for children.” I would emphasize the first one as the main one. However, this this particular case I just think drugs are being used as a way to target certain actors.

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    • Taking as a given that drugs are being used to target people unfairly, why do they work as a target? That is, why is there a general feeling of “drugs are bad”? Is there some larger message of Indian culture I am blind to, are there anti-drug PSAs on TV or something?

      On Sun, Oct 4, 2020 at 11:42 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I think I have actually grown more scared of drugs as I grew up. My parents were very lenient with the legal stuff and made sure we had our first sip of wine and our first drag from a cigarette under their supervision and while we were still young enough to hate the taste. I drink rarely enough to get relaxed from half a bottle of beer, and I like it that way. And while I actually appreciate the smell and even taste of a good cigar, I hate the effect of nicotine on my body. I had slipped into smoking a cigarillo every now and then, until I caught myself thinking about them ever more often. Luckily I seem to have managed to stop before it became a real addiction. And I did join in a joint once, but had no effect. (That’s what I’ve heard about marijuana in general, that it doesn’t work every time.)

    But studying neuroscience has made me really wary about drugs of any kind. I have forgotten about all of the detailed mechanisms, but they all work by affecting the brain chemistry. And they all (can) have long-term effects. Especially with adolescents, if you mess up the brain chemistry before it’s fully formed, you can get all kinds of unpleasant psychological effects.

    So yes, if I caught my kid with drugs some day, I would be scared. And if the internet wasn’t around and it was really hard to research a way out of that habit for my kid – well, I get where those parents in the 90s came from.

    I think my immediate, unexamined moral judgement on drug users (they don’t even need to be the unlucky ones who are already addicted) is one of weakness. Because I just assume that everyone knows how unhealthy that stuff is. If you still can’t resist, then at least I’m not going to consider you an all around unreserved good example for my kid anymore.

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    • But where do you draw the line? There are lots of harmful behaviors that don’t bring the same kind of moral judgement. Like, if someone takes up extreme sports, why is that different from taking a low addiction rate party drug? I’m not saying it is the same, I’m trying to figure out what the difference is. There’s the risk of addiction, and also the risk of one time sudden brain damage, any time you take a recreational drug. There’s that same risk with some prescribed drugs, but I suppose that’s different because we trust doctors to balance the risks for us better than we can ourselves. But why does the risk with drug taking feel morally wrong while the risk with other behaviors doesn’t?

      On Sun, Oct 4, 2020 at 12:08 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Interesting question. Part of it probably is that strong sense of “drugs are bad” that was drilled into us as kids. But just staying with your example: With extreme sports, there is also some sense of admiration to balance out the discomfort with that level of risk-taking. There is no achievement in taking drugs. And if I felt the risk of those extreme sports was becoming excessive, or it was basically an addiction, I would also remove that person from the list of people I want my kid to emulate.

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        • I like your line, “there is no achievement in taking drugs”. So if the risk is high, then there has to be some kind of challenge to it to make it worth doing. Even better (I assume) would be if there was a greater benefit to it. A firefighter would be the total opposite, right? Risky things that are very challenging to do and ALSO have a great social benefit in doing them.

          But then you have the converse, if there are drugs with minimal risks (like modern alcohol, or marijuana, or even some cigarettes), does that mean there would be less of a judgement on those who use them than the drugs with maximum risks?

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          • I think (hope) that is part of the reason why some drugs are legal. Still, in my opinion there can’t be such a thing as a non-addictive drug. Their value is in stimulating the pleasure centers in the brain. And that is addictive in itself – hence gaming addiction, internet addiction, porn addiction, …

            Even “modern” alcohol: It’s not extremely addictive to the average person, but it’s very unfair. Some people are just genetically predisposed to become addicted to it. If you don’t know in advance, it’s much safer not to touch the stuff. Marijuana might have similar effects. Some people are just fine with it, but we did have a neighbor who developed a severe psychosis after smoking the stuff for years.

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          • I did have a co-worker once who was a recovering marijuana addict. Very nice, very young (probably about 25-26), very open about his recovery journey. It was interesting, he didn’t talk about marijuana as some evil drug that should be illegal, just it got out of control for him and he couldn’t have it. Kind of like alcohol really, I don’t know alcoholics who say “no one should ever drink again” just “myself, and some other people like me, should not”. I don’t know the chemistry of it or any research or anything, but clearly there are some substances that are addictive for some people but not all people, and other substances that are almost universally addictive.

            So then there’s another problem. When you see a headline saying “famous person and DRUGS”, your mind immediately goes to what you personally identify as drugs (heroine, cocaine, meth, terrible damaging addictive things). But “drugs” is this whole category of things that we each have our own definition for. For some people, you might say “I drink alcohol, but I never take drugs”. Or, “I have edible marijuana, but never do drugs”. Or “I have tried ecstasy a few times at a party, but I don’t do drugs”. Or even, “I can’t seem to get going in the morning without taking a pill, or go to sleep without taking another pill, but I don’t take drugs”. “Drugs” is an idea that just exists in our heads, the word itself has lost any universal meaning. Does that make sense?

            On Sun, Oct 4, 2020 at 3:15 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I don’t think words ever have universal meaning. There’s always blurring around the edges. And with a headline like that, I would probably add the unwritten “illegal” in my head. For no better reason than that is how the respective German word was used around me while growing up. And that means that there is also an element of breaking the law for no better reason than to get high. Still, I expect my reaction to be along the lines of “get well” instead of “evil”. Unless, of course, they were selling the drugs.

            Come to think of it, I seem to draw the line pretty similar to the way the law does. Alcohol and tobacco are still mind altering substances and need to be monitored. Whenever there’s a debate about fully legalizing marijuana, those arguments always make me think we could probably control alcohol and tobacco more closely instead.

            I don’t think It’s ever possible to fully ban all drugs. Humans are too canny at creating things with no bigger purpose than to stimulate our pleasure centers. It’s part of what makes us human. But at least with the legal drugs we as a society have something of an experience with them, so the individual is better able to judge the risks himself. (Actually, in a society that has been chewing coca leaves for centuries, that wouldn’t worry me nearly as much as someone doing cocaine at a party.)

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          • As I am sure you know, because you are a person interested in things, America suddenly can no longer use “illegal drugs”. The opioid epidemic is drugs that ARE legal. Horrible problem of course, but it also messes with terminology as a small side effect. I guess we have switched to “controlled substance” instead of “illegal”? But it’s certainly very messy. Especially because it changes the narrative from “drugs as part of a massive criminal conspiracy involving smuggling and organized crime” to “drugs as part of a whole different conspiracy involving fraud and pharmaceutical sales”.

            I was curious, so I looked up the information available on ecstacy. It’s a new drug, it’s never been legal, so there isn’t decades of information. But from what is available, there are no long term effects that people have found (although this is a risk of bad short term effects, and always a risk when playing with brain chemistry, plus the usual altered state kind of risks of walking into traffic). And it sounds like it has almost no addictive properties, most people take it less than once a week, a lot of people only took it less than 50 times in their life. Still a terrible idea to take a non-regulated substance, and I wouldn’t do it. But this matches what I have seen in pop culture, it’s a fairly common drug to try once or twice, it makes you feel weird but it isn’t addictive and probably has no long term effects.

            So when I see headlines about “drugs” in the context of celebrities, that is where my mind is going, non-addictive minimally harmful party drugs. I could be completely wrong of course, but now that I am questioning myself, I guess that is my translation of “drugs” with celebrities, while “drugs” with “small town America” would be opioids.

            On Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 1:05 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • See, I am deeply uncomfortable with that terminology of “non-addictive minimally harmful party drugs”. Just because it’s not as bad as some of the other stuff out there, I don’t want my baby trying it.

            Would you actually try ecstasy if your migraines didn’t prevent you? Where do you draw the line then?

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          • I wouldn’t try any of this stuff, and it’s because of my migraines, but in a very deep level personality changing kind of way. I’ve been getting migraines since I was 6 years old, so I really can’t imagine not feeling scared of putting things in my body? Like, it’s not a logical thought process, it’s instinctive. As I said, I don’t even try alcohol. Heck, I don’t even eat soy sauce!

            But I would say that if I learned a friend of mine used a party drug or marijuana, versus an opioid, I would feel very differently about it. I still wouldn’t encourage it or condone it, but for one I would make a face and they would know I don’t approve. And for the other, I would immediately give them a long heartfelt conversation about why this disturbs me and how much I love them and so on.

            On Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 12:57 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Indians in India generally don’t drink alcohol either. In 3 yrs living in India, it was very rare to see alcohol, even parties would be dry. It was understood that a middle class male might enjoy a whiskey now again but wine was never served with dinner. And a “nice” woman would not drink at all. In Hyderabad, which is a big city, liquor stores were rare as hens’ teeth. I once sought one out to buy a bottle of whiskey as a gift and the prices were incredibly high. Even if you wanted to drink regularly, you couldn’t afford to unless you were very well off. Probably people without the cash drink some kind of home brew.

    I’ve always been surprised by scenes like in Don where drinks laced with cannibis or hash are featured. I was curious to try it, but never came across it, and as a “nice woman” could not ask about it without people considering me immoral.

    I assume this attitude is connected to the Hindu religion. Alcohol and drugs are even more strictly prohibited in Islam. I lived in Bangladesh for 2 yrs and the country is completely dry. The only exception is at what we called the expat store in Dhaka. If you could prove you were a non Muslim and a foreigner, you could buy some prohibited goods at a huge markup. I never went there.

    I don’t drink as it triggers migraine for me. As a Canadian living in Canada again, I have tried cannibis, which is legal here. You can get edible oil with CBD (cannabinoids) and no THC. THC is what makes you feel stoned. CBD oils have medical benefits which includes helping migraine sufferers and insomniacs. I take it at night and sleep like a baby. My headaches have also improved.

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    • I will leave someone else to provide more information on this, but I have heard first hand from multiple people about the availability of Bhang during certain festivals. Not the rest of the year, but during the festivals I heard about it being provided at neighborhood street fairs, even in college canteens, very routine. But because it was part of the festival and limited to that time, it was different. I suppose if someone used marijuana frequently, outside of the particular festival, there would be a different judgement.

      I have also heard (again, not experienced myself, but first hand from others) about common alcohol use. But this would be at private parties in certain social groups, or among the lower classes. I guess what I am saying is it would be segregated? Not something you would talk about openly in every group or have available/visible in every home. Maybe strictly limited to particular times/places.

      On Sun, Oct 4, 2020 at 1:34 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I don’t drink alcohol nor do I intend to due to obesity issues in the past,but I have seen other people drinking at parties,generally private in nature.Even in the more public parties,but you would be expected to finish your drink in a corner (more like a grand space with the most comfortable chairs)and not move around in other parts.It is something that became normalised by widespread use,especially in North India.Alcohol use is common here.No shame about it.In places where it is frowned upon(like arranged marriages, where the people organizing the ceremonies happen not to drink),there is a craze for separate cocktail parties so that everybody can be satisfied,people who drink alcohol as well as those who don’t.Bhang is not exactly viewed as normal,but somewhat “Lower class” behaviour and is sold openly in villages,not so much in cities.Like,in a murky looking tent in the corner of a fair.Selling Bhang leaves is allowed during Shivratri,but in some places the government made a rule that Bhang must be sold directly outside the temple with permission,no one allowed to procure it themselves,and bhang leaves separated after the rituals are done and submitted back.Besides it is most often women who put bhang leaves on a shiv ling(working class people,men and women, seldom get the time to visit a temple)and women in general are trusted more,than say a suspicious looking man sneaking a few leaves in his pocket.Obviously it doesn’t work as intended,and it would be better to either legalise it fully or make it illegal even for religious purposes,nobody but political parties would object to the latter(belpatra has more religious significance than bhang,unlike what some people say.I have seen women literally going to farms to hand pick belpatra,nobody bothers about bhang as far as religion is considered for women who believe in it).
        Bhang in college canteens is a recipe for disaster-expect a suspension notice if you get caught and don’t have “connections”.However such activities are sponsored by college politicians(students involved in politics,to be precise)-my sister once heard a gunshot in the college campus and no action was taken.God knows how law works here.

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    • I think even during Holi people frown upon bhang consumption because people can feel uncomfortable in a crowd of people in a mild state of intoxication.Besides people visit each other during Holi which is why many of them oppose using bhang as it can affect driving(not to mention the general misogyny of the festival where it is somehow acceptable for strangers to drench you in colour).I believe it is less of a religion thing and more of a class thing because I see more upper class Hindus drinking and eating meat,even if the religious texts suggest otherwise.”Winging” and “improvisation”happens everywhere.I didn’t know that drinking is prohibited in Islam.I mean,eating meat is prohibited in Hinduism but nobody follows it anyways.By the way Bangalore has everything a bit more expensive than the rest of India,and atleast Uttar Pradesh has more wine shops than grocery stores.Alcohol here is cheaper than Bisleri water in some districts.But in villages poorly made ale is sold to masses,leading to severe cases of methanol poisoning.Different states have different policies on alcohol as that is determined by state revenue and stuff like that.Some states get more profit by horticulture alone and do not depend on alcohol revenue which leads to high prices.
      Some sections are not judged for drinking,even encouraged-individuals in the army,engineers and doctors(obviously offduty,not during a surgery).While the decorum for some jobs such as judges and policemen require that they must not appear in public violating the guidelines regarding drinking.Even if they drink,they are supposed to head straight to their homes and not appear in public.There was a huge controversy about a Supreme Court judge driving a bike in a tshirt,so the “decorum” in other spheres can be a bit intense.Even wearing a shiny polyester satin shirt can land you in trouble if you are employed in some services,so drinking becomes a huge deal there.

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  4. So with drugs in India it is mutiple things. Cannabis has been historically used in India from many centuries. At present, many states have government approved tores that sell Bhang, which is a edible form of marijuana. So people drink bhang mixed with cold milk etc during festivals and otherwise. Then there is opium, which was also cultivated historically. The British imposed various regulations and actually led to the shift to commercial cultivation. This briefing paper has more info – https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://idhdp.com/media/400258/idpc-briefing-paper_drug-policy-in-india.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwizgq7g_5vsAhXkpnIEHfsKAoIQFjABegQIBhAF&usg=AOvVaw2XghmP9cX-xIJbD63tjTh8. Unlike the US in India students do not get any anti-drug education. Smoked cannabis was always common and now synthetic drugs are taking hold. The moral aspect, in my understanding comes from a combination of the law and the lack of rehab facilities, which means that some one who is severly addicted usually ends up in a bad state. In Telugu film industry there was a similar drug bust that was all over the news in 2017. Then in six months it died quietly and no is bothered about it. I am guessing that is what will happen in Bollywood too. With lockdown gradually ending news channels will find something elsw to boost their TRPs and that will be end of it.

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  5. I don’t really have very specific information since I don’t live in India but just a my observations from what I’ve seen.
    In Tamil Nadu, alcohol is basically controlled by the state. The TASMAC stores where you can buy alcohol are auctioned off by the state and have restrictions (can’t be too close to a school, etc). This is fascinating to me because every time I visit, I always see some news story about groups pushing for prohibition and their talking points are almost exactly the same as the Temperance Leauges – poor laborers spend all their money drinking, increased domestic violence, etc. Of course, prohibition is probably never going to happen because alcohol sales are a major source of revenue for the state. I will also say I’ve seen a major change in the way alcohol is treated. Take in the movies for example. In earlier movies, a character who drank was either evil or on a slippery slope of falling to the gutter or someone that needed to be reformed or a Devdas type character. In other words, a character drinking was always a portend of bad things. More recently, I’d say probably starting in the 2000s, that started to change. You’d see ‘good’ characters that occasionally drank and nothing bad happened. There’s a definite classist angle there. Middle class, responsible people who have an occasional beer to relax are still good people but the poor people that drink just don’t know when to stop.

    As for drugs, the assumption seems to be its either a poor people or rich people problem. The attitude I’ve heard is: Rich (westernized) people do drugs because they have too much money and not enough “morals”. Poor people do drugs because (classism/casteism) they have no self-control/they don’t know any better/its just the way they are. Going after movie stars seems to fit into the former assumption. Ultimately, I think it all serves some odd sense of middle-class morality/superiority.

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    • I don’t know about Tamil films, but I will throw in that in Hindi films Amitabh’s 1970s characters usually drank. But it fits with your analysis, he was the “hero” but he was also damaged and lowerclass and so on. By the end of the film either he had fallen in love and reformed and no longer drank, or he was dead. It certainly wasn’t a “good” thing for him to do.

      Is it possible that drugs are kind of in the same category as casual sex? Sure, it’s fun, but we are morally superior because we are unhappy and hardworking instead of happy and doing things for pure enjoyment?

      On Sun, Oct 4, 2020 at 10:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I’m not sure drugs are quite in the casual sex range yet. Most people understand the lure of sex even if they disapprove of casual sex. I think drugs are something else entirely. My mom once mentioned that she wouldn’t have known where to even get drugs even if she wanted them. Obviously, they existed and were available but I don’t think it was a necessarily easy thing to get. Its hard for me to think of movies that deal with drugs and not alcohol. The ones I can think of off the top of my head involved rich, troubled kids that fell into drug use. They either were cured by the love of their families or died. I think drug use is seen as an inherently very bad thing that most people don’t have any direct connection to. Even people who might be okay with casual sex would probably raise an eyebrow to drug use. I suspect if there’s more stories about drugs, there’ll probably be a more nuanced conversation. Not more stories of movies stars taking drugs because that would still fit into the preconceptions but stories of college students OD-ing or something. It’s not that different from the US in that regard. As long as drugs were seen as an “urban” problem, the reason was a moral failing and the solution was punishment. Once it became a mid-America problem (opioid crisis), then there’s talk of rehab and how to help.

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        • I wonder if the legality/illegality of marijuana also makes a difference? In America, there was that weird situation where marijuana was illegal and treated as a dangerous horrible substance, but the reality was that a large number of the population actually used it and knew that it wasn’t actually a dangerous horrible substance. It was literally a joke. But in India, marijuana is more or less legal and always has been, so “drugs” automatically means “stuff that isn’t marijuana”.

          On Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 9:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. I grew up in the Reagan Era and heard a lot of hyperbole about drugs and then grew up and never did the illegal ones. Why, I’m not sure. Weed was certainly readily available when I was in college. In fact, I was dating a blues musician at the time so it was frequently in my apartment, which didn’t really bother me. I think my feeling was that it would make me either paranoid or lazy–not saying smokers are paranoid and lazy–and I should, as the saying goes, just say no.

    We have an interesting case going on right now of a popular actor who was caught with a lot of marijuana–identified by the cops as “enough for 40 sessions,” whatever that means. All the news shows have been delving into his life and have found that he is a complete mensch. Mentoring, charity, he was heavily involved in helping young people in many ways, and it doesn’t seem like it’s just for publicity. Unfortunately if this goes the way it usually does, his career is over and he may go to jail. People who use the sorts of drugs you have to smuggle in are evil. Possibly because of the Opium Wars, and because Japan is an island, drugs are still pretty rare here and people don’t know anything about them. I was asked by Japanese friends in the wake of the news about the actor if marijuana is the same as stimulants, and they were astonished when I told them it is considered safer than alcohol. What this means is that young people who want to get into drugs start huffing paint thinner, which of course is one million times more dangerous.

    A really interesting correlary post would be one on drugs in film maybe you’ve done it). It seems to me to be seen really casually, at least when we’re talking about marijuana. Maybe the censors make it hard to talk about other drugs? The only references I can think of are, of course, Udta Punjab and Shivani’s druggie brother on Made in Heaven. But for weed we’ve got Madhuri dancing with children (!) in Koyla, and the cute bhang scene in Sanam Teri Kasam, and all of Luv Shuv Te Chicken Khurrana, and probably others I haven’t thought of. Maybe bhang is different?

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    • Drugs in films are interesting, because I am thinking about Devdas. And the way he was presented in the novel and the real versions (Devdas 1930s, Devdas 1950s, Dev.D), he wasn’t drinking, he was a drug addict. This would have been back in the aldaterated alcohol era, so it could be that “alcohol” meant stuff laced with opium, at least once you really got hardcore about it. Or just that he was such an extreme alcoholic it was in the “no eating, no showering, no care where I am so long as I am drunk” range. And that’s (arguably, because people have argued it) the prototypical North Indian film hero, the guy who loses in love and sinks into addiction.

      Anyway, censors! When Udta Punjab released, the censors gave it a REALLY hard time, because they thought it was defamatory to the state of Punjab. But that was years ago and a different censor board. Dev.D came out, Kabir Singh/Arjun Reddy came out. But those had kind of a limited audience and caused a minor uproar. And there are plenty of movies about drug criminals. Maybe it’s more just self-censorship knowing what the audience can appreciate? People actually involved in drug addiction (addicts and their relatives) won’t want to watch those movies, and people not involved won’t be sympathetic. Although there is also the general “Goa party scene” kind of movie that has folks taking ecstacy and whatever as part of the whole fantasy of living their lives of fun and casual sex.

      On Sun, Oct 4, 2020 at 10:53 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. I don’t think of is fair for anyone to judge someone with drug addiction,because frankly,many of us have not taken drugs to understand its effects.Yes it is problematic if kids waste their parent’s money on drugs without telling them,but drugs are a consequence, not a cause of the underlying problem.Weakness,depression or desire for cheap thrills,those are the real issues.However this is no different from splurging money on an arcade game.
    Grown up,self reliant youth must not be judged for drug use.It is their own business,they aren’t harming anyone else.
    The fact that people use bhang during Holi is true,but it is frowned upon as “loose” behaviour. It happens but that does not make it right.Besides people travel to their friends’ homes during Holi,and I do not think intoxication and driving go together.Also it is unfair that women are judged for drinking and smoking while men do the same.It is hard to change the mindset of men,but why not be a bit fair and enforce the same restrictions on men?Ideal for hypocrites.Yes,I do feel uncomfortable in the company of drunk people,but I am not going to judge someone’s character until they try to break a distance that makes me uncomfortable.Same is true for drugs.The legal ones.Or illegal ones,that are illegal only on paper.Obviously drugs and alcohol cannot be legalised to a point where it is okay to stroll in a marketplace like that,as it can make other people feel somewhat uncomfortable,but judging them is going a step too far.
    However the reason drugs are so problematic in India are middle aged men.Unfortunately the society is still patriarchal. Consequently men wasting their money on alcohol,drugs or tobacco while they can barely afford fees for their children is wrong.Also men tend to physically assault their family members in such a state.This is not to justify their abusive behaviour,but not many people can afford to leave such a relationship.These men were horrible to begin with,but intoxication made them forget all legal boundaries.Due to legal issues assaults conducted in intoxicated state cannot be tried like other assault cases,which I believe is unfair.This is a problem not only with middle class men as I literally know people living in posh colonies having assaulted their family members on an occasion in a drunk state.Legalizing drugs is therefore a problem as far as India is concerned.(But criminalizing the act of consuming drugs is not a solution either).Besides in a population of over 1.3 billion people most people will NOT be paid by their regular jobs during rehabilitation and this obviously is a reason why financial and logical reasons combine to make drugs so problematic in India.Doomed by the pathetic middle aged men if legalised, doomed because we cannot afford rehabilitation centres.Doomed because no one will pay during six months of rehab.Rehab period is not the same as maternity leave,as it has its own consequences.
    Not to mention,the state of the farmers growing drug crops.There is a reason they are not tried as drug peddlers-their financial condition is worse than slaves.Even child labour tends to be involved and the secretive nature tends to make it difficult to detect.Legalising it will not solve the problem,as alcohol is legal but the state of labourers at vineyards and child labourers is nothing but heartwrenching.
    In short drugs are not a problem in themselves, but there are a few repercussions that no one has a solution to.There are a few medical issues, but the fact that individuals with a tight fitness schedule can fall prey to drugs suggests that drug addiction is not the same as other addiction. We cannot compare drugs with sports as there are a dozen different types of trainings and athletes cannot overtrain even if they want so.Besides people don’t play just for recreation, there are competitions with a high degree of systematic training. Even if you are “addicted” to training, you have no choice but to listen to your coach and follow limbering down exercises.It is not about what you like but what will help you get a better result.It is preposterous to compare drugs with sports-people who take drugs as well as sportsmen will oppose it.This is like saying Dekisugi was addicted to excellence in academics.Coming from someone who is neither into drugs nor sports,this is not a valid comparison. Also there is no achievement in taking drugs,but I will say peer pressure is an issue.No one will go out and try to eat a pineapple for cheap thrills(they are extremely expensive, most middle class people in cities have not tasted it once in their lives).There is an element of forbidden fruit,except we don’t tend to divide people as “people who eat pineapples”versus” people who don’t eat pineapples”.It happens for drugs though.Imagine if people whose families don’t eat onion try to eat a veg kabob roll.No thrills in that,because society considers it mundane.
    By the way,my father says that in his time boys would eat tobacco for thrills.But now it is seen as the ultimate “lower class dirty habits”and absolutely no one tries to find cheap thrills as it lost its label as a forbidden fruit and came to be regarded as silly behaviour.If people found any photos of actors eating tobacco it would not be considered as immoral but silly and laughable.Who knows in a hundred years drugs are associated with silly,” lower class”behaviour and avocado becomes a forbidden fruit if some restrictions are placed on its export due to economic reasons.The world and its ways are weird.

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  8. So India is weird like that with drugs. You will spot old saints openly smoking up on the streets when you visit Varanasi and you will find government approved cannabis stores there. There is this deep connection with spirituality and nirvana and such, especially for those (old men only) who want to live an ascetic life. Also Bhang is consumed during Holi and it’s a great premise for Bollywood songs, as you are aware. Everyone is a little tipsy and playing around with colors and certain moral codes are temporarily suspended even if they are by a tiny margin. But outside this context, drugs are associated with a lifestyle of high society debauchery. And in this current era of populism, it is a great cow to milk to invoke mass sentiment. There is a strong, longstanding belief among the middle class – who think they lead dignified, honest lives with “respectable” careers – that the film industry is this unsafe, godless, morally bankrupt lair where one (particularly women) has to sell their body and integrity to find success. I can’t think of American parallels that reflect this notion. Maybe the way Woodstock was/is perceived? Or the way Hollywood was described in The Godfather(the novel)? (Sorry these references are ancient :P) Much like the song in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, the Dev Anand character might have a point, but he is also being a scold and a Good Brother. The part where he sings in the movie about not taking Ram’s name in vain and ruin his image with your drug parties is the part where the parents and all the “responsible”, god-fearing adults are nodding aggressively. You might have noticed that if there’s anything that is consistent in Ram’s character in Ramayan, it is conforming and looking respectable. He is seen as the ideal man in our culture. The shining, sparkling Good Boy. It’s not really “let me help you get better or feel better”, it’s more “People from good families don’t do these things”. It’s not even “good for you that you’re getting help”, it’s more like “you strayed away from leading a regular, righteous life and you deserve to be shamed and punished for your poor will”. There is also the larger nationalist political situation that is feeding this narrative with the help of state-controlled media.
    https://scroll.in/article/974009/why-are-they-after-bollywood
    This analysis might be a little shallow, but it’s worth reading.

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    • Thank you! This is super helpful.

      Could we say that the way drugs are perceived is similar to casual sex? Sure, we all WANT to do it, but Good People resist. And the other half of it, “they may be rich and have casual sex and do drugs, but I will tell myself that I have a moral superiority as I live my small jealous life”?

      I can also tell you the answer with Hollywood, and you are completely correct, it is about how it was perceived in The Godfather. In the early years of Hollywood, the 1920s when movies really took off and movie stars became major public figures, there were a couple scandals that just rocked the industry (most notably, a young woman died at a party and the comic star Fatty Arbuckle was accused of causing her death through rough sex). After that, the studio owners got together and instituted really tough PR policies. From then on, the stars were carefully presented as “just like us”. They got married, they had kids, they had houses, they lived boring respectable lives. The reality was the same different morality from the rest of the country as before, at least for some folks in the industry (there were always plenty of people who were married with kids and had boring lives, but there were also the outliers), but that was only whispered about in scandal rags, the official line was tightly controlled. It came around again in American in the 1960s and 70s when the studios and their control died, at the same time that America was going through this massive counter-culture revolution that suddenly made Hollywood behavior weirdly “normal”. And now we are back to something closer to the studio era, we all know stars get divorced and things, but their PR teams always make it as acceptable and safe and respectable as possible.

      On Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 12:46 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Thanks for that! I thought “actors are just like us” was a recent PR phenomenon. As the last spate of Bollywood weddings have shown us, I think we are still living in Brangelina era “you wish you were us” territory.

        Yes, in the high society context, you could equate it to casual sex. Mention of sex/drugs = drug/sex addict(or does a lot of it) = lethargic, immoral, bad role model, bad upbringing. The social shame with the added illegality of drugs lends enough legitimacy for TV news anchors to conduct a media trial without coming across as too conservative. The people mentioned in the scandal just happen to be women of course. “What?! She got busted by the Narcotics Bureau! She ought to be in jail and made an example of how seedy her industry is, and how starry-eyed outsiders enter their profession, get into bad company and end up dead. I’m just a crusader of truth against the rich and the powerful. I’m doing the noble work of cleaning up this nation”. They’ll say this as photoshoot images of the actresses in their most glamorous or scantily clad poses are displayed in the background. They know that many viewers find it hard to perceive actors as people who work hard “just like us” and those images as just someone’s work. Food on the table.

        And Bollywood is at best a soft power and popularity doesn’t mean credibility especially when it comes to artistes here.

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        • This is reminding me of a conversation we had a while back about affair rumors.

          The Hindi film acting world tends to be far more “handsy” with each other. If that makes sense. While in the majority of Indian society, a male co-worker putting his arm around a female co-worker would be sexual harassment, when you have just filmed a love song, or a dance number, that’s not so strange any more. So the regular Indian sees photos from parties of men and women dancing together or squeezed together in chairs or whatever and goes “AAAA! Affairs, looseness, wrong!!!” Because it’s hard to translate your job where you see co-workers 9 to 5 with a life where work is 24 hours and you have to get physically close all the time until it loses any meaning. Co-stars holding hands doesn’t mean an affair, or lost chastity, or whater, is what I’m saying. Just as an actress in scantily clad clothing doesn’t mean she is “loose”, it means that’s how her work is.

          On Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 11:42 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Yeah. Even if they are having an affair, it shouldn’t matter as long as all parties personally involved or affected are ok with it. But that would be asking for wayyy too much today I guess.

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