may be new status symbol in India
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG,
Associated Press Writer, July 4, 2006
NEW DELHI - What may have begun with a
couple of snorts has fast become a media-driven
blizzard over whether, along with German cars
and French handbags, another Western import is
sweeping India — cocaine.
Call it the full-on yuppification of
India's latte-swilling set.
"It's all linked with purchasing power,"
said Kiran Bedi, a police official who runs a
drug treatment center. "Cocaine is expensive.
You've got to have money for it, and now more
people have money. It becomes a matter of
keeping up with the Joneses."
It's natural to see many Indian trends
through the prism of the country's economic
boom, and this story is no different. Exposed
in increasing numbers to clothes, music and
mores of the West, some well-off Indians have,
perhaps inevitably, picked up its less savory
That's clear on any given weekend at New
Delhi's trendy clubs and bars — places with
velvet ropes and steep cover charges — where
drugs are readily on offer, and, occasionally,
openly in use.
A twenty-something banker at an elite New
Delhi country club says that when he lived in
New York it was common to snort a line or two
of cocaine. "Now I'm back here ... and so are
a lot of other people," he said. "But we're
still living like we did in New York."
He asked not to be named for fear of
India's stiff anti-drug laws and "my mother-in-law."
Only a tiny percentage of Indians are
believed to have tried the drug. It costs
upward of $100 a gram and more than 40 percent
of the country's billion people live on less
than a dollar a day. A bigger problem is
heroin, on sale dirt-cheap in much of India,
and thought responsible for an
AIDS crisis in the country's
northeast among those who inject the drug.
Still, there's ample anecdotal evidence
that cocaine is growing more popular among the
There has been a string of busts over the
past months, including one at Olive, an
upscale New Delhi eatery, and the arrest of a
Nigerian alleged dealer in the capital last
But those arrests were small-time — mere
grams — compared with the seizure three weeks
ago of 440 pounds of cocaine, India's largest
bust, aboard a ship at a container depot
Then there's the hospitalization of the
scion of a prominent political family for
overdosing on what appears to have been a
mixture of cocaine and heroin.
In the hands of the Indian media, the
plight of Rahul Mahajan has become a
cautionary tale for a potentially wayward
generation — and an excuse to introduce
readers to the mechanics and effects of
"The usual method for cocaine intake is
sniffing, smoking or injecting," one daily,
The Hindu, revealed to its readers. The Times
of India reported that cocaine "makes one
euphoric and enhances sexual prowess."
The Hindustan Times went even further,
linking the drug to bisexuality. "India's
power-packed beautiful people are 'doing it'"
— bisexuality, that is — "just to add value to
the cocaine snorts and tequila shots" at
parties, the paper said.
With police rounding up alleged pushers,
some of the more visible partygoers in town
are scrambling to make sure their dealers
aren't yet on the authorities' radar, the
Police say foreigners make up the core of
the trafficking and distribution network in
India, but acknowledge that Indians are
involved too. The cocaine, all from South
America, arrives by courier on airplanes or
ships such as the one caught near Bombay,
which police say came from Ecuador.
India's economy has grown 8.1 percent on
average over each of the past three years. The
boom has given tens of millions of people
disposable incomes for the first time and is
estimated to have more than doubled to 50,000
the number of households with incomes above
The new money has helped foster a Western-style
urban consumer culture that in turn has
loosened many conservative traditions. One hit
Bollywood movie last year was about an
unmarried couple living together, a phenomenon
almost unheard of here.
Cocaine too was also relatively unheard of
A woman who does public relations for
fashion designers, and who asked not to be
named for fear of upsetting clients, said
there used to be one dealer in New Delhi. "Now
there are dozens."