Cringed in the shadows in deserted lanes of Punjab are its young men, injecting themselves with cocktails of synthetic drugs, chewing onto opium or poisoning their bodies with other illegal substances, losing themselves into a world of mental distortion.
Drug addiction has gripped the once affluent border state of India to such a great extent that no village or city is spared of its heinous claws. Much more dangerous and catastrophic than nuclear bombs, drugs have ruined families, destroyed moral values, led to the destruction of hopes and aspirations and consumed generations of youth into a dark abyss, bearing great losses for the whole society and the country at large.
Not just male issue
Having consumed boys as young as 13 years, drug addiction is no longer a male issue. More and more women (in the age group 18-40 yrs) are getting drawn to the lure of the ‘high’, experimenting with all kinds of substances. The issue is escalating daily. Either coaxed into trying drugs by their boyfriends or husbands, women get trapped and often have to pay the price through harassment and sexual exploitation.
Many times, drugs just consume member after member of a family, leaving a trail of a tattered social fabric. According to Dr. JPS Bhatia, who opened the first drug rehabilitation centre for women in Amritsar, Punjab in May 2016, out of the 65-70% drug addicts in Punjab, around 12% are women. The overall numbers are equally shocking. As per a 2015 study report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, close to 29% of heroin injectors in South Asia are from Punjab. Reaching epidemic proportions, the drug problem is undeniably gargantuan and worrisome.
The drug problem is giving birth to another dreadful disease on its side-lines. Due to lower prices and ease of availability, synthetic drugs are being used more and more instead of the traditional ones, like heroin and opium, which are either ingested or smoked. Synthetic drugs are injected and reuse and sharing of soiled syringes is leading to a surge in HIV/AIDS infections.
And it’s not just drugs, the entire state is also in the grip of alcohol over-consumption. Granted that liquor has been the part and parcel of the exuberant Punjabi lifestyle, it still does not explain why the state’s liquor consumption has gone almost double in the last ten years. According to statistics, in six years from 2005 to 2011, the per capita consumption of liquor in Punjab increased by 59.2 per cent. From alcohol to heroin, opium and prescription medicines, these are freely available and there has been an alarming rise in the number of teens (some start as young as 11) addicted to drugs.
Badal sarkar and Akali leaders under scanner
The leaders of Punjab are very well aware of the situation and ruling the state in full knowledge of the crisis, but deny the severity of the situation. The government ‘approved’ liquor industry is flourishing. During the last 10 years of Badal sarkar, the earnings from liquor sale have jumped from around Rs 1,363 crore in 2006-07 to a whopping 3,057 crore in 2015-16.
The Rs 60,000 crore illegal narcotic industry is flourishing under the nose of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, whose party Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), has been marked by corruption, lawlessness and poor economic activity.
There is a critical nexus between the power corridors of Punjab and the money launderers, drug peddlers, contraband sellers and many more, each one of them leeching out life of the state that is known for the vigour and valour of its men and women.
In 2014, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) was staging dharnas on the Indo-Pakistan border against the drug menace, Bikram Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of Punjab’s Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, was named in the multi-crore drug racket led by Jagdish Singh Bhola.
It is known that in his statement to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Bhola named many top Akali leaders and their family members in the drug racket. Sarwan Singh Phillaur’s son Damanjit Singh Phillaur was named as being hand in glove with the drug cartel.
Another SAD leader Maninder Singh Aulakh was caught using the state government vehicles for smuggling drugs. Rattan Singh Ajnala and his legislator son Amarpal Singh Boni, Paramraj Singh Umranangal (Inspector General – Bathinda Range), Balwinder Singh (Superintendent of Police), boxer Vijender Singh add to the ever growing list of influential people with tainted backgrounds.
Drug money and funding of assembly elections
The law makers and law enforcers are both privy to the situation. Politics is a major contributor to the drug problem. Police investigations have uncovered channels between political leaders, fake businesses and drug smugglers.
Hushed voices tell of local politicians and police taking a cut off the narcotics trade. Elections times see a frenzy of activity. Drugs are distributed to swing votes. Patiala Senior Superintendent of Police Hardial Singh Mann, who unearthed two important supply chains of synthetic drugs in Punjab during the same time, said that investigations established that the drug money was used to fund assembly elections in Punjab.
It comes as no surprise that SAD’s 2012 election manifesto promised free laptops and jobs to the youth, bicycles to young school going girls but did not care to mention about the biggest problem of addiction facing Punjab.
Having witnessed the pull of drugs first hand, it is demoralising when any sincere effort to wipe out the pain of mothers in Punjab is termed as a politically motivated act. Sukhbir Singh Badal’s recent jibe at the Congress saying that Gandhis raised the issue of drugs in Punjab because “they are against Sikhs”, is grossly off the tangent.
The Punjab Deputy Chief Minister even rubbishes the study conducted by the country’s topmost medical institute, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences For him and many others, like Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Vijay Sampla, the AIIMS findings on drug abuse in Punjab are ‘not authentic’.
The scale of drug abuse in the state became public in 2009 through a submission to the Punjab and Haryana High Court by Harjit Singh, Secretary Department of Social Security and Women and Child Development in Chandigarh. According to the report submitted, more than two-thirds of the state’s rural household have at least one drug addict. The number is even higher in urban areas. Today, whether it is data provided by various NGOs or medical rehab officers or the AIIMS report, all sources put the estimate of youth taking medical or synthetic drugs between 65-70%.
To say that only a particular party is corrupt would be unfair to those who, if not equally but no less, are a part of the evil game plan. Every political party has been raising the issue of drug addiction but does nothing. The topic of drug abuse only finds reference in political speeches and is limited to the war of words between the opposition and the ruling party. Congress has been demanding strict action against those involved in the drug business.
Rahul Gandhi vs Congress party vs PM Modi’s politics of convenience
Rahul Gandhi was probably the first leader to put the issue in national spotlight in 2012 when he took the bull by the horns by saying that 7 out of 10 youths in Punjab have a drug problem. Contrary to Rahul Gandhi’s stand on drugs, Congress has been getting SAD members with tarnished images under its wings. Sarwan Singh Phillaur, whose name cropped up in the Bhola drug racket and Inderbir Singh Bolaria, who was once a close confidant of Bikram Singh Majithia, are now proud Congressmen. Congress’s chief ministerial candidate, Capt. Amarinder Singh, too has family links with the Majithia family and that explains his silence on both the Drugs issue and Bikram Singh Majithia. The party is clearly losing its credibility.
Before the 2014 LS Elections, PM Modi had promised that if the BJP-led NDA will come into power, it will put an end to the act of pushing drugs into the Indian Territory from across the border. But PM Modi conveniently forgot his promise to the Punjab inspite of his rhetoric’s and much publicized ‘Mann Ki Baat” on Drugs, the deadly menace remains as it is.
BJP too has its share of links in the drug nexus. A block level BJP leader, along with one from SAD, was caught travelling in a car with kilos of poppy husk. Jimmy Sandhu, former assistant to BJP state president, was arrested for accepting a bribe to help out a man booked under the NDPS Act and Arms Act.
BJP gone soft on drugs?
Though maintaining that its (BJP) stand on the fight against drugs has not diluted, the party has gone soft on the issue. BJP leader and Assistant Media Advisor to Punjab Government, Vineet Joshi, has been deployed to defend the government on the issue in various television debates on the drug problem.
In a recent rally in Amritsar, Amit Shah spoke out against Congress and AAP, the only two parties taking up the drug issue. He dismissed both the parties by saying that any one calling the youth of Punjab as drug addicts, has no right to seek votes in the state. So much for BJP’s anti-drug stand before the election!!
Contrary to its miniscule presence in Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party is claiming big to rid the state off drugs in a months’ time, if voted in power. A herculean task, next to impossible in a month’s time, does show the party’s seriousness in handling the problem.
Whatever its political agenda in the state might be, BJP’s Demonetization has hit where it hurts the most- Drug Mafia.
The drug business runs on black money. The recent demonetization drive has hit the narcotics trade like a thunder bolt, and rightly so. The movement of drugs across the India-Pakistan border has come to a standstill.
According to an Intelligence Bureau official, there has been no business on the borders since the last 10 days. The drugs are there, but there is no money to pay. In the absence of higher-value currency, the drug peddlers are finding it difficult to sell their stock. But as with any other nefarious business, if one head of the monster is cut, many more will grow. Demonetization alone will not be able to control the situation.
Mere slogans and election manifestos will not suffice. A social change, followed by economic and agricultural reforms, and stricter law enforcement can save the state of Punjab. Otherwise, the corrupt and perfidious will get busy again filling their coffers and the people, coffins; burying hopes for a drug free tomorrow.
(The views expressed here are solely the author’s own. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Janta Ka Reporter and Janta Ka Reporter does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)