Swami Vivekananda once lauded Punjab as a “heroic land first to bare its bosom to every onslaught of the outer barbarians.” Rightly so, the land of five rivers always stood as an inspiration for the country, which was blessed, by ten Sikh Gurus and valiant warriors in Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh. Punjab, which is known for gurudwaras, ashrams, temples, lush green farms and stunning backdrops has now become unpopular for its drug menace. The word unpopular is too subtle, as it does not reveal the complete picture of what is haunting the soul of Punjab. I remember a Facebook status from my ex-boss, who in his conversation with an elderly man in his native town near Patiala, found the man literally in tears uttering, “Punjab was pushed back by a decade during the partition and a decade more to the militant problems and sadly another decade now to drugs”.
Those are the words, which would push even the heavy hearts to shed a tear or more. And ofcourse I was, one need not necessarily be a Punjabi to feel bad for the atrocious state of affairs. Inspite of Punjab’s renaissance from partition, militants’ issues and operation blue star, the drug scourge has now paved the road to ruin. A state, which acquired the status of “the food basket” of India during the first agricultural revolution, is now lagging behind its counterpart’s not just in terms of industrial development but also agricultural growth. Growth has stagnated; there are no employment opportunities as the industries have moved out of state in-lieu with deep-rooted corruption, which has left the state in total chaos and dismay. Punjabis who were known for their patriotic courage, honesty and audacity are now vulnerable in losing their lives to the drugs.
Agriculturists and farm workers in Punjab and some parts of India traditionally consumed opium, a bit like the urban concept of a customary drink or two after the day’s work. And opium was cultivated in a small amount in Punjab, which got major supply from the neighboring state, Rajasthan. By 2000, there was a clampdown on production of opium in Punjab and the Rajasthan route was closed. That’s when a vacuum in the drug market was created which was filled by heroin and other drugs. A typical drug addict’s profile was a male, punjabi speaking, lower middle class and an employed. Their income range was between Rs.6000-Rs.20000 a month, whereas an average of Rs.1400 was required on a day-to-day basis for consuming drugs. Hence the addicts became small time peddlers to take care of their daily needs and in-turn supplied the drugs for a small-cut of profit.
- 75% of Punjab’s youths are hooked to drug abuse
- In border areas, 75% of the addicts fall in the age group of 15-25
- 40% of the abusers are in 35-60 age group
- 18%+ population addicted to hard core drugs
- Only one ten-bed de-addiction centre per district
Has prosperity been a bitch to Punjab? The green revolution which ushered increased per capita income, boundless affluence and an accreditation of being the most prosperous state in India, has come back to haunt the land. The new generation of skilled & semi skilled workers are no longer interested in tilling their lands for agricultural production. And the lack of job opportunities across other industries has left the young populace with no options rather than giving up to the invasion of drugs.
Political cowardice and politicians betrayal has only deepened the crisis so far. The ruling party and the politicians in the state are least inclined to direct the young population to come out of this addiction. Disturbingly several big names in the ruling Akalis and BJP have come to light, who have a huge contribution in the ongoing drug mafia. During the last election campaign, the EC uncovered the political parties to be distributing free and dangerous drugs to youths to woo their vote.
A report from Tehelka, hints that a week before the polling, EC officials had confiscated close to 3 lakh capsules and 2000 injection vials of Avil and 3000 cases of Recodex cough syrup. This is not just disturbing but literally shameful from the politicians to stoop this low to garner votes. What pains me more is the fact, that even the current prime minister who had promised to wipe off the drug mafia during his 2014 electoral campaign, has gone blind after sitting on the throne. His soft approach towards the ruling Akali Dal and the Badal family has only led to deep mis-governance of the state.
The Golden Crescent
One of the primary reasons for Punjab’s slide into the world of drugs is its close proximity to the golden crescent, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Over 80% of world’s heroin is produced in Afghanistan, which is traded to Pakistan’s Punjab, where it is further funneled into its Indian counterpart. There is also a conspiracy theory, which floats that, it was Pakistan’s plot after 1971 war to use drugs, to convert Punjab’s youths into drug addicts who could then be crushed like weed. It is imperative to look at the economics of the drug trade before passing the blame baton to Pakistan. I feel, partly we need to accept the guilt of drug menace as our own making. Government’s policy to curb opium created a vacuum in the market, which was substituted with a more potent and deadlier heroin. Government needs to understand that hurting the supply will not kill the demand and should instead look at effective measures to curb the problem.
The Uncertain Future
More than 100+ private de-addiction centers have mushroomed across the state, out of which only a dozen or more are duly registered. The De-addiction sweatshop is fast becoming a monster, as many illegal ones have come to existence to fatten their balance sheets in the apathy of people’s personal imbalance. Some private centers offers treatment to the addicts at a cost of over Rs.2 lakh, while others offer laser treatments to cure the addiction. Pitifully, the government takes pride, not in curbing the drug addiction but in opening as many de-addiction centers as possible. It clearly showcases the political class’ incompetence in dealing with the issue.
Punjab’s poor quality of education is completely out of tune with the expectations in the job market. Hence making it very difficult for the semi-skilled graduates to be absorbed by the MNC’s. But education is the only hope for the future generation, to avoid inheriting the lives of their elders. The gravity of the drug menace in Punjab has long gone beyond the tipping point. The fight against drugs has now emerged as a bigger threat than the fight against militants. The war against narco terrorism needs a collective conscience and a political and social will to destroy it entirely. If the governments are going to continuously ignore the issue to wash the stain in their hands, then the future of Punjab is bleak and ready for a free fall.
Come on Punjab, “You were always a hero in our eyes, you don’t need heroin to be a hero & it’s time to pull the plug on drugs”