In Punjabi folk literature, songs and movies, we always had a drug addict in the plot. But he was never the hero. He was always made fun of. Those who took even liquor avoided meeting the parents and even one’s spouse.
But today, I sadly agree to the fact that Drugs have become the biggest problem in Punjab, the state known as the Granary of India. It has alarmingly reached the grass-root level, where Society and Economy is ripped apart by this menace. A study by Department of Social Security Development of Women and Children suggested that as many as 67% of rural households in Punjab has at least one drug addict in the family. The state accounted for almost half of all cases registered in India under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) in 2013, up from just 15% in 2009.
The drugs used include synthetic drugs like heroin/smack/brown sugar, amphetamines/ice, raw opium-based narcotics such as ‘bhukki’ (poppy husk), ‘doda’ (powdered poppy husk) and ‘afeem’ (a black tar-like opium derivative) as well as a wide variety of prescription drugs such as alprazolam, diazepam (commonly known as xanax and valium, respectively), pethidine, buprenorphine, fortwin etc.
Bhuki is similar to a type of wild grass that can be found throughout Punjab. It is possible to get a mild intoxicating effect from Bhuki, and it is considered a gateway drug because it encourages young people to begin experimenting.
Addiction of Heroin (popularly known as chitta or white powder) is the cause of biggest concern. The authorities take a tough stance on borderline security, but despite this the drug continues to flood into the area. The profits to be made are high and corruption is believed to be rife. Most of the heroin going through Punjab ends up in the rest of the continent, but the fact that there is such a high appetite for the drug locally means that smugglers have an easy market to exploit.
Death from overdose is common with Heroin. Heroin abuse is damaging to almost every organ in the body. It can be hard to judge the purity of this opiate and if people get it wrong it can cost them their life. Also, it is possible to become addicted to heroin in a relatively short time period. Maintaining a heroin habit is expensive and in many instances the individual will need to resort to crime to feed their habit.
Reasons behind this problem:
- Cross border Narcotics:
The growing popularity of brown sugar/smack/heroin can be attributed to Punjab’s close proximity to the Golden Crescent region covering Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. These three countries are, collectively, the world’s largest producers of opium. Punjab shares a 533 km border with Pakistan, which is used as an entry point to smuggle narcotics into India. According to data tabled in the Rajya Sabha, in 2013, a total of 390kg of smack/heroin was seized in various states along the Indo-Pak border by the Border Security Force (BSF). Almost 84% of these seizures were made in the districts of Punjab bordering Pakistan.
- Easy availability inside the state:
Bhuki, which is similar to a type of wild grass, can be found throughout Punjab and it is difficult to prevent teenagers from using it. Local chemists also sell over-the-counter prescription drugs. Nearly 46% addicts purchased these drugs from chemist shops making them the primary suppliers. Growing demand and profitability in the drug trade has led to a cropping up of illegal chemist shops all over Punjab.
- Economic stagnation:
The prosperity ushered in by the Green Revolution has brought its own riptide. A new generation of educated — and semi-educated — youth in Punjab is no longer interested in tilling the land or going back to the old ways of their fathers. Also, there are no other jobs to absorb them.
The issue gets trickier with the children of more affluent farmers and landlords, whose holdings are tilled by labour from UP and Bihar. Their rich boys abuse drugs heavily because there are no new jobs for them and they always know they have the option of going back and supervising their farms if nothing else works out for them in life. This makes them reckless and bored.
A rise in real estate prices has put more money in the hands of young boys and girls from landed families who spend on drugs, fancy cars and a hedonistic lifestyle.
Punjab’s politicians seem hardly inclined to give direction to the State’s young Population, pushing many into a web of dangerous drugs.
In the 2012 Assembly elections, the Akali Dal-BJP alliance promised to eradicate the drug problem. Barely two years later, Wrestler-turned-drug peddler Jagdish Singh Bhola who was arrested named Cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, as the kingpin of the flourishing drug racket. That the Punjab police have not probed the sensational allegations has only strengthened public perception that ruling politicians are involved. It is not an unknown fact that there is widespread use of drug money in elections. Though the ruling alliance is facing more anger, the Congress also has its share of drug lords.
Apart from politicians, involvement of high-profile government officials, including those of Police, in the drug trade is another matter of concern. Punjab Police’s silence over those involved and files of pending investigation has led to people losing trust over them. Another drug lord, Raja Kandola, has put the Punjab Police themselves – in the dock by accusing them of conniving with drug lords.
Youth unemployment, too, is an important reason for the growth in drug trafficking and use in Punjab. According to data released by the Ministry of Labour and Employment in 2013, 13.5% of those in the age group 15-29 are unemployed, the third-highest rate in north-Indian states. Easy availability of narcotics in Punjab makes the unemployed more susceptible to drug use and addiction.
- Poor quality of Education:
The poor quality of education in Punjab makes its graduates incapable of making the cut for the few high-skill jobs that are available but leaves them too over-qualified for jobs considered “menial” for the children of economically self-sufficient farmers.
Says Professor Harish Puri, academic and Punjab watcher: “In village after village, you will find young boys doing nothing. Their education is so poor that it cannot get them jobs. The youth are assailed by a growing sense that they are good for nothing.”
Education does not get people jobs in the state and that hurts the self esteem of the youngster. The poor quality of Punjab’s education system is completely out of tune with the job market. Given the easy supply in the state, drugs become the first crutch of support for all the alienated youngsters floating around.
- Low level de-addiction centres:
Families of addicts care nothing for quality control; they just need the outlets. Their search for quick fix solutions, therefore, is creating a demand for de-addiction like never before. Responding to the opportunity, fly-by-night, illegal and notorious de-addiction centres and unprofessional labs are mushrooming everywhere. There have been instances of deaths inside these centres, with addicts being tied up or beaten under the pretext of anger management. Some private homes promise laser therapy as a treatment for addiction at a cost of Rs 2 lakh. Other de-addiction clinics promise to “implant chips” in the body that would permanently cure addiction.
The narco-terrorism network has made inroads into sections of the politico-bureaucratic set-up, which is used to lavish lifestyles — a by-product of insurgency. The strategy used for the sale of drugs is very similar to multi-level marketing. An addict who gets more people to join the network is rewarded with free daily fixes.
During terrorism period, a study found that 80 per cent of the boys who had become terrorists were unemployable and found a sense of self-worth in the gun. The research points out to the same hopelessness among Punjab’s youth today.
Narco-terrorism’s push came after 2000, and the impetus was in 2007 when China and Japan cracked down on heroin smuggling and India emerged as one of the biggest markets. The entry point: Punjab.
The greatest asset that any country has is its young people. The high numbers of young people in Punjab addicted to drugs is a national disgrace. Cities, Towns and Villages are in neck-deep in drug menace, with not even a single district claiming to have no addicts. If you wish to know more about this grave condition, google Maqboolpura Village, a predominantly Scheduled Caste locality on the outskirts of Amritsar which is pied by a drug addict’s widow or orphans – earning it the nickname, “Village of widows and orphans”. It is scaring to see how the Punjabi youth – who once led the nation in Sports and Army – wasting away their lives because of this. What once started as Misuse, has now turned into Addiction.
The monster that Drugs have become in Punjab, paints a depressing picture of the state.