Whenever I visit Punjab, one thing baffles me – whether the state can get rid of the drug menace. The eleventh Chapter of Shrimad Bhagavatam explains how the Yadu Vansh (the dynasty of Lord Krishna) was extinct due to extreme consumption of liquor and subsequent fight among themselves, of course several other factors were responsible for the event.
I fear if the problem of substance abuse in Punjab is not addressed quickly and effectively in a long term manner, it may ruin the economy, culture and social fabric of one of the wealthiest parts of India. The process has already begun. The magnitude of the problem can be understood from the fact Maqboolpura village, near Amritsar, has been declared as a “place of the widows”.
The problem of drug abuse among the youth in Punjab is fast becoming an epidemic. The local government had estimated way back in 2009 that two-thirds of all rural households in Punjab had at least one drug addict. A study by a state university claims that almost 70 per cent of young men are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Things have become much worse. All sectors of society have been affected, including ones least expected. There was a time when there was prosperity here; people were so energetic doing things, trying new things. But it is now in such a sad state. It’s as if the state is sitting on a time bomb ready to explode at any time.
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An analysis of the factors responsible for this death trap and debt trap for the people of Punjab reveals that it has been rooted in several factors – economic, political, geographical and social – each contributing in their own way – to destroy the fabric of the state. But one thing that surprises me is that the rules who are responsible for welfare of the state and its people, are patronising the poisonous business and running the life of the millions.
Political patronage given to drugs during elections is shameful. At a time when drug abuse should have been a raging social issue, the leaders from the ruling parties, use it to swing votes. Official corruption has worsened the problem – anecdotal evidence indicates Indian police and lawmakers are complicit in drug smuggling and distribution, netting millions of dollars in ill-gotten proceeds. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 1985 is not being implemented in Punjab to control drug abuse.
In the last General Elections, candidates across the state had faced uncomfortable questions over the perceived involvement of the political machinery in the distribution of drugs. The fact is drug use is rising, especially in the case of heroin and narcotic injectables. This is due to the easy availability of these drugs. What is required is vigorous anti-drug strategies must be deployed by government and other stake holders. Politics is a part of the drugs problem in Punjab. Police investigations have uncovered links between political leaders, businessmen and drug smugglers. From the manner in which politicians were scurrying for cover from the anger of the people in the general elections over the drug problem, it’s clear that the tough and aggressive Punjabi has had enough.
What is worrying sane elements though is whether this anger will be manifested only at the hustings or whether it could be worse. During the terrorism period, a study found 80 per cent of the boys who had become terrorists were unemployable and found a sense of self-worth in the gun. The same hopelessness is among Punjab’s youth today.
In the interest of Punjab’s people, the government must recognise the need to intervene in this area and back it with political will. There is a need for lobbying, pressure groups and advocacy forums, which can place drug abuse higher on the agenda. Sensitisation of key individuals in the policy-making process is of great importance. As yet, there is little evidence of any organised effort in this direction. Government must have to focus on the socio-economic variables and their impacts on increase number of drug crime, opium cultivation, etc.
Drug awareness programme, job opportunities, educating the people regarding the effects of narcotic drugs may create the prosperous future of the nations. Steps should be taken by the government to provide best health care services to the citizens at affordable cost. Awareness of every sphere should be within the reach of each and every person.
Children should be made aware about their rights and strategies to escape themselves from being victimised. Education system should be such that it can meet the challenges of fast developing world. People should be made aware about their responsibilities towards their family so that congenial environment within the family should be created. The Akali Dal-BJP government should wake up to the fact that Punjab is on the verge of losing an entire generation to drugs like it lost to terrorism, before it is too late.
* The writer is a Punjab Congress spokesperson and young supreme court lawyer of the Indian National Congress – Jaiveer Shergill.