has assumed alarming proportions in Punjab over the past few
years. Thousands of young and old are in its grip, reports Krishna
lifelessly amidst lush green fields in Narli village in
Tarn Taran district, a stone’s throw from the
India-Pakistan border, Sukhwinder Singh, 29, curses the
day he first touched heroin. His pale eyes well up as he
bites his thin lips constantly to stifle snivel. "I
have killed myself," he grieves.
availability of drugs owing to proximity of the area with
the Pakistan border and relentless habit of using a
cocktail of drugs, has made Sukhwinder pay a heavy price.
An AIDS patient now, he buries his face in his hands:
"I’ve nothing to look forward to in life.
What will I do?"
took its toll on Sukhwinder’s world as he has lost his
wife and a daughter to complicated illnesses. His son also
died two years ago. He has lost six of his close friends,
who were constant companions in his dreadful revelries.
"I am awaiting my turn," he says as his eyes
reflect the doom that he has brought on himself and his
is a despairingly familiar story in drug-plagued Punjab. The
vibrant Punjab that had ushered in the Green Revolution is today
living in a dazed stupor, as 67 per cent of the rural households
in the state have at least one drug addict, a survey conducted
by the Department of Social Security Development of Women and
Once an affluent
village in Amritsar district, Maqboolpura has come to be known
as a "widow village", where almost every home has lost
some of its male members to the menace of drugs. Drug addiction
has become a stigma that belies claims of prosperity in the
The vibrancy of
Punjab is virtually a myth, as no cereals are being sold here by
the youth, especially drug addicts (Amali is the local
term used for addicts), to earn their livelihood. Instead, many
sell their blood to procure the daily dose of deadly drugs, and
even beg on the streets to satisfy their addiction.
once caught by the in charge of a blood bank in his district
when he went there to sell his blood. His skinny frame,
death-like pallor, deep sunken eyes, and particularly the
multiple injection marks on his arms, gave him in, telling the
tale of his notorious past. "It is no longer a question of
a village getting ruined. The whole state is in the stranglehold
of this death trap," informs Virsa Singh Valtoha, ruling
party MLA from the Valtoha constituency that spreads across 96
km along the India-Pakistan border. "It is complete
disaster all the way as the number of addicts keeps on
increasing", he rues.
Not only are more
and more people getting hooked to drugs, unfortunately, they are
falling prey to this lethal habit at a much younger age. Youths
gets lured into the world of drugs by tasting bhuki,
which grows like a wild grass and is freely available in the
fields. Or they take to gutka or tobacco pouches.
Mushrooming of illegal chemist shops in villages of Punjab has resulted in unrestricted supply of drugs
has assumed epidemic proportions in the rural areas where
unemployment is rampant," says a patron of Punarjyot, an
NGO working for the welfare of youth in Punjab. "A whole
generation is as good as destroyed. Not a single village is
without scores of drug addicts."
Once hooked, these
young men graduate to cough syrups like Phansydril and Corex,
Proxyvon, Dormant 10, Diszepham tablets. From this stage they,
then, move on to a more lethal menu of opium, charas, ganja,
mandrax, smack, heroin, lizards’ tails and many more items
like application of shoe polish in hair while sitting in the
sun, smelling petrol and spreading Iodex on bread, to get that
heady feeling. "Peer influence, thrill-seeking and
curiosity about drugs were found to be the main factors that
make youth take to drugs," observes an official of Spring
Dale Senior School, Amritsar. With the consumption of
intoxicants having become so widespread, most boys treat an
introduction to them as some kind of a coming-of-age ceremony.
The sordid story
of drug addiction begins out of a curious adventure and
soon turns into a nightmare. "I have seen my colleague’s
son selling off his land and wife’s jewellery to procure his
daily dose," says Surinderpal Singh, an English teacher at
a Government School in Narli. "It is really frightening as
he sometimes asks his mother to shoot him in order to save him
from this vicious circle."
The spread of
AIDS, too, is linked to the malady due to the use of injectible
intoxicants. The death rate and the number of HIV positive cases
have increased by 60 per cent due to the rampant use of
intoxicants. As per reports, within just one year, hundreds of
youths have lost their lives to drugs.
The scenario is
becoming grim rapidly, say medical experts and social workers,
due to the mushrooming of illegal chemists’ shops, which are
adding fuel to the fire that is destroying Punjab. Even a small
village with a population of about 2,000 has at least 10 to 12
chemist shops, without any physician or general practitioner
chemists are surviving on these addicts as they provide drugs to
them without a prescription. Injectible intoxicants, tablets and
syrups are easily available," says Dr Deepak Sahdev, of EMC
Super Specialty Hospital, Amritsar. "Even many of the
so-called de-addiction centres are actually proving to be
addiction centres. These are, in fact, supplying drugs to the
The number of such
shops, mostly selling drugs, and de-addiction centres, being run
to fleece the patients, have increased at an incredible rate in
the state. "A misconception about de-addiction is being
spread in Punjab with some centres promising de-addiction
treatment with laser therapy," says Dr Debasish Basu,
Professor, Drug De-addiction Centre at PGIMER (Postgraduate
Institute of Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education &
Research), Chandigarh. "Most of the privately run
de-addiction centres lack basic facilities and are there just to
Media reports have
often revealed inhuman treatment being meted out to drug addicts
at private de-addiction centres where they are even chained and
beaten up mercilessly on the pretext of being disciplined. In
Mohali, workers of a local de-addiction centre recently dumped a
youth at the gate of his house after he developed medical
complications. The youth died later.
Government has, of late, started conducting raids on illegal
de-addiction centres in the state.
The increase in
the number of patients at the drug de-addiction centre in the
PGI is alarming. The institute gets 1,000 patients at walk-in
clinics every year, while 500 patients are registered in the OPD.
Nearly 250 addicts are being treated as in-patients.
addiction is a chain reaction. One person ropes in others into
it," explains Dr Basu.
Vikas, a student
of BBA, narrates his dreadful experience of trying to make his
batchmates attend a seminar on the issue. "They sought
smack as compensation," says Vikas. "They also forced
me to take some pills bought from a nearby chemist.
Even Punjabi kudis
are in the grip of this menace. Kirat, a student of a dental
college in Dera Bassi, revealed that many of her friends sail
through the strain and pressure of examinations with the help of
the "stuff". "A cigarette break is quite normal.
Pills are provided in a purse if you need more stamina,"
she reveals. Girls also prefer cough syrups to other deadly
forms of intoxicants. They get their ‘quota’ from young
peddlers, mostly boyfriends, who operate in the vicinity of
narco-terrorism are a natural corollary of drug menace. Youth
are able to make a quick buck through drug-trafficking. "We
are able to confiscate only 10 per cent of the smuggled narcotic
substance. The rest is consumed in the market," reveals a
senior Narcotic Control Bureau officer in Chandigarh. There are
recoveries occasionally, but they are not even the tip of the
For several years,
Punjab was only a transit point for smack from Afghanistan,
which was being routed to other parts of the world or to metros
in the country. "Punjab is no more just a transit point
now. The Afghanistani smack is being sold here and a large
number of youths has taken to it," says an official of the
Narcotics Control Bureau.
The drug trade has
increased by at least 30 to 40 per cent in the last year , ever
since the cross-border civilian movement has increased between
India and Pakistan.
Christmas eve, the Punjab Police recovered 50 kg heroin worth Rs
250 crore in the international market from a young
brother-sister duo in Phagwara. The Narcotics Control Bureau,
Chandigarh, reports that the number of registered cases of
heroin smuggling has increased manifold since 1998, and more
than 1,200 kg of the drug had been seized during the same
period. The data suggests that since 2004 more than four kg
heroin has been seized.
The report also
suggests that cocaine, charas, methaqualone, ephedrine, acetic
anhydride and amphetamine are some of the other drugs flowing in
the state. Since the cultivation of poppy is licensed in certain
parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, drug trafficking from
western borders as well oils the drug
cauldron in the state.
drug cartel and terrorists operating from neighbouring countries
are actively involved in drug smuggling," says a police
official. Social activists, however, believe that a police-level
drive is not sufficient to deal with the situation.
against drug menace cannot be fought in a piecemeal
fashion," believes Dr Manjith Singh, Professor, Department
of Sociology, Panjab University. "People have to wake up to
the gravity of the situation. Punjab takes pride in its Green
Revolution. Now to rid the state of the malady of drugs, we need
another revolution. But no one knows how long it will
take." However, for many like Sukhwinder Singh it is too
healthy thrills: Many teenagers like Sumanjot Singh are showing a keen interest in traditional martial arts like gatka Photos by the writer
martial art — gatka — is now being practised to fight
a different social enemy. This martial art has come in
handy to keep youths in rural areas away from the drug
menace. The idea is to inculcate a sense of discipline and
love for a healthy lifestyle. "We are catching them
young," says Davinder Singh, a gatka instructor at
the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Academy in Narli village.
are made to practice various techniques of the art for
three to four hours daily. The practice involves the use
of body, weapons and mind in unison, which helps in
building an active body and an alert mind.
training eventually helps in building a strong character
and will power among youths." This unique attempt of
Punarjyot — an NGO which has come forward to impart
training in Sikh martial art to boys in border villages
— has found many takers.
Parminder Singh, along with his 13-year-old friend Mandan
Singh, cycles more than 12 kilometres from his village,
Marhi Megha, to attend gatka classes daily. "This is
a an exciting activity which helps us stay healthy and
away from drugs," says Parminder. "I am happy
playing with sticks, and enjoy the kick that gatka gives.
I’m not interested in the kicks the drugs give and kill
you eventually. Gatka is thrilling and healthy too,"
says Suman Jyoth Singh, who cycles 4 km everyday from
Chhina Bidhi Chand village near Indian-Pakistan border to
practice this unique sport. As many as 50 youngsters from
Narli and its surrounding villages like Khalra, Chhina
Bidhi Chand and Mari Kamboke, get coaching in this
emerged as a useful refuge for those who want to stay away
from drugs. More and more teenagers in the rural areas of
Punjab are showing a keen interest in it. This traditional
art is proving to be a useful hobby and activity for the
youth, especially those who are unemployed and are prone
to fall prey to anti-social activities.
a satisfying experience to see the rural youth reverting
to their roots," says Surinderpal Singh, an English
teacher at a Government School in Narli. "Though,
gatka is no more used to fight the enemy, it has benefited
the rural youth tremendously in its own unique way."