Last year, the Chase team travelled to Manipur and Nagaland to investigate northeast India's booming drug trade. We were told that thousands of kilos of narcotics were cultivated, shipped and consumed in the region and we wanted to film it all. What you are about to read next happened somewhere in Manipur.
A sharp whistle cut through the silence of the air and our driver jammed the brakes. We parked the black Tata pick up on the side of a dirt track and followed our Naga guides up a barren rock slope that cut through the lush jungles of Manipur's interiors. As we sluggishly ascended the steep rock face, now breathing heavily, our brows lined with beads of sweat, the gradient made it impossible to see what lay ahead, but our guides waved us on. Soon, the slope gave way to a flat landing which lay in the shadow of the trees. Standing breathless, our eyes adjusting to the dim light, it became apparent we weren't alone.
A pile of guns lay resting against a tree. A black hunting dog, its ear and tail cut, sat next to a resting man, just his feet were visible. Four other men stood behind a make-shift table, four to five thin branches propped up on either side by y-shaped branches. They were busy cooking what seemed to be last night's hunt and rice. As we approached, more men walked out from behind the bushes until we were surrounded by fifteen armed men and a dog. It was unnerving.
As we stood there with fake smiles plastered on our faces, growing more uncomfortable, our guide shook hands with a short man dressed in a red and grey sweatshirt, camouflage cargos and gumboots. After a brief chat, he slung one of the shotguns over his shoulder, whistled for the dog and set off. He walked slowly, allowing us to follow as we made our way through the dense jungle, his armed colleagues behind us. Soon, the dense jungle vegetation gave way to a clearing and a pungent and citrusy smell hit us and we realised where we were. The armed man walked through the Marijuana crop to the edge of the cliff, stopping next to the opium plants, he turned, and with a smile, he said, “Look, ganja and opium as far as the eye can see”.
We had reached.
In the late eighties, international authorities cracked down on the Golden Triangle, the portion of land that sits at the tri-junction of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, in an attempt to dent the global opium trade. The move forced the Wa tribe, the world's largest producers of opium at the time, to look for another trade route, and Nagaland, with the only railhead in the region, popped up on their radar. Ever since then, over 2000 tonnes of narcotics leave Nagaland's Dimapur railway station every day and the region has been grappling with a huge drug problem. Today, Manipur and Nagaland are not only transit points for narcotics but a source and destination. As a result, Nagaland and Manipur have some of the highest HIV-AIDS population percentages in the country and hundreds of thousands suffer from addiction.
Via national highways, drugs like opium, brown sugar, heroin and cannabis are brought into Nagaland from Myanmar and further transported to Assam, Bihar, Delhi and Nepal. At the same time, pharmaceutical drugs are brought in from the rest of India into Nagaland and transported to Myanmar and the global market. Millions are made. As a result, there are well-established cartels, drug cultivators, dirty cops and drug addicts. All this is compounded by the ongoing insurgency, where underground groups use drug money to fund their armies as well as their war against the Indian government.
Chase travelled to these states last year to meet the stakeholders – the cartel, the police, the cultivators and the addicts and at the end of it what we got was perspective and a four-part series. The series is a look into the region's booming drug trade and the ongoing war against the drug cartels and addiction.
Our four part film The Gateway : Unravelling India's Northeast Drug Route is releasing on Friday, 23rd February 2018. Catch it on ScoopWhoop Unscripted.