Photojournalist Harikrishna Katragadda’s ‘Malana’ photo-series documents the vanishing culture of an isolated village situated in the Parvati valley. Famous for its export quality hash called ‘Malana Cream’, the villagers residing here are mainly dependent on cannabis cultivation for their livelihood despite much legal pushback. Harikrishna’s documentary is an evocative glimpse into the lives of those residing in these little-explored terrains engaged in a much-debated profession.
Malana, an isolated hilltop village located north-east of the Kullu valley of the Himalayan ranges, is famous for its local hashish with high oil content. However, the village remained fairly inaccessible until very recently because of its forbidding terrain and a belief system that prohibited interaction with outsiders. Their form of self-governance traditionally resisted any interference from the Indian government, and guided by the ancient rules laid by their local deity, Malana follows one of the oldest forms of democracy in the world. The language spoken here is called ‘Kanashi’, sometimes referred to as the ‘language of the devils’ by outsiders. The language is a mixture of Sanskrit and several Tibetan dialects and neither bears any resemblance to any other Indian language or dialect nor is it spoken anywhere else in the country.
Cannabis grows freely in large swathes of the region around Malana, and September-October is the harvest season for cannabis during which women leave their home and children their schools to join men in the farms to make hashish. More than half of the 4,700 inhabitants of Malana are, in fact, children, who generally spend their days playing, herding sheep, and collecting firewood. Children as young as six to eight years old help out in the harvesting and extraction of hash as well.
“Smoking cannabis has always been a part of their culture and for the last three decades, cannabis cultivation has become their main source of income,” Harikrishna says. “A lenient view towards cannabis changed when the Indian government enacted the Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) in 1985 under the sustained pressure from the United States since the mid-sixties. This law criminalised the use and cultivation of cannabis. The local police now conduct annual drives to destroy cannabis fields. They have also been campaigning for the cultivation of traditional food crops and provide alternate sources of income.”
Scroll down to watch as Harikrishna unfolds snippets of Malana before us.
“Children get ready to go to school in Malana. Most of the children in Malana speak and understand only Kanashi, a language distinct from Hindi and other Himachali dialects. In Malana, primary school means just a single teacher who speaks Kanashi. This adversely affects the schooling system.”
“After a snow storm early in the morning, a man herds sheep into a warm place inside his house.”
“Making hashish is not just for sale and profit, but it is also a part of lifestyle of men in Malana. A lenient view towards cannabis changed when the Indian government enacted the Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) in 1985 under the sustained pressure from the United States since the mid sixties. This law criminalised the use and cultivation of cannabis.”
“A woman dries sheep skin during a brief moment of sunshine during the winter. Malana was traditionally a sheep rearing community until the lucrative business of cannabis farming overtook it three decades ago.”
“Marriages with outsiders were prohibited and were not recognised marriages, though people have lately started flouting the village’s strict nuptial laws. There is no officiating priest presiding over the marriage ceremony and on a fixed night, the bridegroom visits the bride’s house in a traditional attire where a feast is hosted.”
Harikrishna Katragadda is a photographer based in Mumbai. A B.Tech degree from IIT Madras convinced him that he wasn’t quite cut out to be an engineer. He discovered his passion for photography while documenting the Narmada Bachao Andolan. He later studied photojournalism at the University of Texas and then worked as a staff photographer at Mint in New Delhi between 2006-2009. Interested mainly in long-term photography projects, he has travelled widely to document isolated communities and development initiatives of NGOs. His work was awarded by the Media Foundation of India, South Asian Journalists Association, National Foundation for India and The Poynter Institute and has been exhibited at the Goethe Institute, India Habitat Centre, Delhi Photo Festival and the Angkor Wat Photo Festival. His photographs have appeared extensively in print and online publications including Fountain Ink, India Today, Caravan, Vanity Fair, Stern, Geo, Missio Aktuel, Internazionale, New York Times, Greenpeace and BBC.
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