Discussion on the Ethics of the Colonial Drug Trade

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Talking about the colonial drug trade Arabs and local doctors utilized opium in the British East India Company. British started its drug trade journey in Bengal. Farmers of poppy economic condition became worse by opium monopoly. Social issues represented eventual incident of 1857 as Sepoy Mutiny. The government took rules to decline opium poppies cultivation which was done by European counterparts and local people. Allowing company to gain profit from opium monopoly, a double standard rule was applied by colonial drug trade.

Outside traders could not enter into the market. China provided most contributions for opium from India. Taking dangerous drugs was extended by rulers of colonial. This was given license from the Arabs and Mughals. To represent the South Asian drug trade, Arab introduced opium and Mughals produced profit from this. So this assignment focuses the ethical or unethical in case of colonial drug trade in the introduction of opium trade by the Arabs and Mughals and rise of maritime trading by European for money in case of non opium. British East India Company took over all their counterparts in this business competition in Bengal and rest of South Asia. So colonial drug trades were ethical or unethical issue is given and discussed as follows:

Representing Arabs & Mughals:

Ayurvedic opium

In the pre Islamic days, arab traders and doctors started usage of opium India. Ethical thoughts can be seen such as using opium for pain removal and eye disease cure. Opium also used as a medicine for diarrhorea, dysentery and fever. However doing trade in opium was illegal for arab, BEIC gave them the freedom to trade in non medicinal opium. Later BEIC did trade with opium business in South Asia. So this can be seen as ethical act.

Mughal drag policy

Colonial writers said about the existence of trafficking in India and provision of it from mughal rulers. In 16th century poppy cultivators gave rs 4 per bigha and rs 1 and 4 in Malwa to mughal rulers. In mughal monopoly system colonialist said about complete power among mughal predecssors and they used the medicine knowledge of arabs and poppies cultivation for doing powerful activities and wars in South Asia and China which can be unethical.

Western ‘souvenir’

Representing drug trade of cross regional, the Iranian leader named souvenir of the west as drug issues in the world. Large amount of western travelers and business oriented people were attracted by opium business in India. BEIC was attracted by the monopoly system of Dutch colonial rulers. Dutch rulers declined local trades to participate trade activities of opium.

Colonial wars on drugs:

Battle of Palashi

BEIC instituted colonial trade within Bengal in 1757 by fraud, deceptive and conspiracy way of power within court of Nawab and by making group of conspirators. Opening factory in hoogly, making rule of paying tax for opium, making opium as investment for company etc expanded drug trade by British rulers which eventually leads to the battle of Palashi in Bengal. It can be taken as unethical act by British rulers.

Bengal ‘cash cow’

The colonial part depicted that Bengal and rest of South Asia faced hard and painful situations. In Dewani region, one and half core of rupees was out from Bengal which went into revenue account in the cash form to Delhi. British rulers gained strong political power over drug trade after winning the Battle of Palashi. British rulers established education, culture, industry, agriculture etc by colonial power. During Industrial Revolution, there was no competitor and Bengal was used as the ‘cash cow’ as exploitive mission by Great Britain. They finished all Bengal’s local cotton and textile industries such as Muslin for creating and increasing external market. They established new textile products by oppressing poor people by fines, forcing imprisonments and engagement of farmers. All this indicate unethical issue.

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Anglo-Afghan Wars

British rulers expanded drug trade towards different locations Afghan in Southeast Asia by battles for drug trade. Between 1820s and1830s, British gained poppy drug trade areas in India to increase opium trade industry in Bengal which eventually lead to Anglo-Afghan wars. To establish the trade in China, the British government had wars first opium war against China. This war was necessary for military morale and control sea route of China.

Government Opium Monopoly:

Launching opium monopoly

Bengal government opium monopoly was established by East India Company in 1773. It negatively affected the life of poor poppy farmers as devastated during the opium trade region. This brought conflict between Indian agents. Corrupted policy of Government opium monopoly brought poppy cultivation which contributed to the famine of Bengal in 1770 which is called ‘Chhiattorer Monnontor’. 10 million people died by this famine which once had enough food and natural resources. This dangerous monopoly system caused frequent famines. So by establishing opium monopoly in Bengal caused unethical act mostly.

Divide et Impera

Divide et Impera which is known as ‘Divide And Policy’ was adopted by colonial rulers for creating political and trade empire in foreign region. By this policy they took advantage of the differences between Hindus and Muslims. They broke power and separated them. The colonial rulers destroyed local power to maintain their trade business in Bengal. Permanent settlement caused stability for British rulers by ryots of zaminders. This policy was continued as dirty work for economic exploitation and they also used zamindars against farmers which brought revolts in Indian colony different locations. Due to failure of muslim conditions, this divide and rule policy destroyed the life of Bengal farmers who did forceful cultivation of opium poppies in their own fertile paddy lands. So it is clearly indicated that Divide el Impera (Divide and Rule) policy was unethical.

Ruining poppy ryots

Colonial rulers took greater control and increased poppy cultivation. Forceful poppy cultivation caused greater sufferings between poor farmers. Each farmer has to sell all poppy which he produced to dept of opium at fixed price. They also took policy to keep the zamindars away from interrupting in opium monopoly. Due to opium monopoly, the condition of poppy farmers became worse economically. So technically it was unethical but at the other side the colonial rulers thought it as ethical act for generating revenue.

Revolt of 1857

The poppy farmers joined with the soldiers of revolutionary to remove their sufferings and worse conditions and to revenge from colonial rulers when opportunity came after one hundred years. Revolt of 1857 was the most revolutionary ryots after one hundred years. The first rebellion started from Fakir-Sannasis and carried up to three decades and then biggest rebellion started by soldier Mangal Pandey at Barrakpur on 1857. All these sufferings, struggles of poor farmers gave the birth of revolt of 1857 due to colonial rulers. In the rebellion of 1860, many Bengali soldiers were hanged to death in Bahadur Shah Park in Old Dhaka city. This colonial drug trade brought so many unethical act like this. However Many muslim leaders such as Sir Syed Ahmed khan, Nawab Abdul Latif and Sayyid Ameer Ali attempted to maintain the relationship with colonial rulers to establish the welfare for common people.

Pro-revenue drug policies:

Chinese ‘blood money’

In 19th century, the colonial rulers started to supply opium to china to get money from the poor drug addicts of China. This supply of opium made devastating effect to the Chinese people in every aspects of their life. That time, British colonial annual reports showed that the net profit expanded from rs414869 to rs983514 due to opium exports. In order to stop the opium export, Chinese authorities fought so many wars losing 20000 soldiers. They treated British as ‘Barbarians’. All the policies were taken by colonial rulers to expand the poppy cultivation in British and non- British regions and because of these their annual profit increased from export of opium so much. Their enemies criticized this policy and named as ‘a revenge of blood’. British colonial ruler carried their business in different parts of world which Hong Kong became their biggest trade.

Malwa transit duty

For earning more profit and ensuring their export market of Bengal opium monopoly, the British rulers forcefully established the policy of Malwa transit duty over Indian rulers and traders. In 18th century, opium grown in Malwa recognized as rebellion for Bengal opium monopoly. Despite from all these British colonial rulers gained huge profit from the system of Malwa transit duty. They saw this transit duty policy ethically correct for earning revenue.

Gaining abgari revenue

In order to develop the export of opium trade, colonial rulers established to gain abgari revenue in the sale of such as cannabis, opium and liquor in 1790s. They imposed tax on licensed vendors and also cannabis transit to Dhaka and other city areas. Colonial rulers also established an auction for the sale of as a‘right to distil’ liquor’ in 1789. Local customers had to pay excise on these drugs. To get currency from foreign countries, they took some policies to increase opium exports and to decrease local consumption of drugs. Basically they did all these to gain huge revenue from drug business which is ethical for them.


The colonial drug trade started its journey in South Asia from the Battle of Palashi which carried up to revolt of 1857. BEIC started to expand their trade business in different parts of the world and they also began to conflict with local zamindars who tried to prevent the poppy cultivation into fertile land. Forceful engagement of poor farmers into poppy cultivation provided a major impact as a form of rebellion in northern India including Bangladesh as well. Colonial drug trade introduced a major impact in political history which some of them are ethical and unethical. Colonial rulers did all the activities which they believed was ethically right but in case of others, it was considered an unethical act. So this is all from the colonial drug trade in perspective of ethical and unethical way.

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