Saturday, March 16, 2002
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Drugs blacken the face of "holy" city     Photo by Kuldip Dhiman
Reeta Sharma

AMRITSAR is called a "holy" city, but the alarming developments in and around the city are rather unholy. Amritsar has emerged as the worst-affected city in Punjab due to the drug menace. Situation is so grim that within just one year, hundreds of men have lost their lives to this addiction.

Besides Chhehrata and Maqboolpura, there are many other areas in Amritsar where the scene is equally worrisome. Places like Putlighar, Rattanpur Chowk, Islamabad, Haripura, and Cheelmandi also facing a similar crisis. While in Chhehrata and Maqboolpura the involvement of women as drug peddlers has not been noticed, their role has been well established in Putlighar, Rattanpur Chowk and Islamabad.

Apart from these urban localities, the villages which have been adversely affected are Verka, Khasa, Wadali, Ghanupur, Gumtala, Dhall, Wadali Guru, etc.

A number of women from Cheelmandi, Putlighar and Haripura confided that they were using two types of toothpaste, named IPCO and Dento-Back, to remain in a state of intoxication. A tube of 50 gm of this paste is available for Rs 22 and many women are addicted to it. "Initially, we started it for sheer fun and, perhaps, out of curiosity because we did not believe that a toothpaste could be intoxicating. But once we got a kick out of it, we gradually got sucked into the habit. Now the urge for it is so strong that we are unable to wriggle out of it. Of course, our children and husbands know about it and they have tried to wean us away by hiding our toothpastes or by throwing the tubes out. But, frankly, we are badly hooked on it."


The youth gets lured into the world of drugs by tasting bhuki, which grows like a wild grass and is available for free in the fields. Once hooked on it, these young men graduate to cough syrups like Phansydril and Corex, gutka, chutki and consumption of alcohol. From this stage they proceed to more lethal stuff like synthetic drugs, Indian smack and injectable drugs.

According to many a social worker, the scene in Amritsar has rapidly deteriorated because politicians, the police and other government agencies are themselves involved in making a quick buck through drug-trafficking. Whenever the shops of chemists are raided, the evidence gets destroyed mysteriously at various stages.

The Customs Department at Amritsar in a raid at Jackson Laboratories came across major evidence against it. The Commissioner, Customs, said: "During the raid, we discovered shortage of over 1,000 morphine injections. Besides, diversion of Proxyvon material was detected to the tune of 1.5 kg. We arrested the owner, Vijay Kumar, under the NDPS Act. However, his two brothers are still absconding. The bail of Vijay Kumar has been rejected." Interestingly, this laboratory was raided twice earlier and reportedly similar irregularities were detected but the owners had succeeded in wriggling out of both the cases.

Sources at Amritsar Neuro Sciences Charitable Hospital said that for many long years Amritsar was only a transit point for Afghanistani smack, which was being routed to other parts of the world or metropolitan cities of our country. But unfortunately, in the past four to five years, Amritsar is no more just a transit point. The Afghanistani smack (crude opium added with various chemicals) is getting sold in Amritsar itself and the youth in large numbers has taken to this drug.

Individual case studies

Jagroop Singh:
Beyond the fear of facing rejection from society, Jagroop Singh boldly agreed to get himself photographed and share the tragedy of his life. Brought up by a widowed mother and chacha-chachi, Jagroop was not only showered with love but also inherited a lot of wealth.

Jagroop rejects the common belief that denJial of love, absence of a value system and poverty and unemployment push the youth into drug addiction. He did not lack anything in life and yet he slipped into the dark world.

It was a seven-day jail term on account of a road accident which changed his life. He began with sleeping pills and graduated to charas and injectables. But it is his reverence for his mother and chachaji that gave him the enormous will power and determination to get himself de-addicted. Jagroop, now fully recovered with the help of Dr Jagdeep Bhatia, has returned to a life of love and affection.

Kabul Singh:
English-speaking Kabul Singh, who is a graduate, got into alcoholism because he used to make liquor in his own village. He too has lived a normal, healthy life without any deprivations. But it was the very availability that turned him into an alcoholic. He too came to a de-addiction centre in Amritsar out of his own choice. He was spending sleepless nights at the centre yet was determined to get rid of the habit.


Kanwar Singh:
He was a student of BA second year when his classmates initiated him into the world of drugs. He says that drug addiction is spreading like a wild fire, not only in colleges but also in schools. Once hooked on it, the doses keep increasing. I used to take 2 gm of smack a day, which cost me Rs 600. Smack is easily available in Amritsar. I used to buy it from the Islamabad area, where women sell it. It was Kanwar's own determination that helped him de-addict himself.


80 per cent of the youth caught in the trap

JPS Bhatia
JPS Bhatia

As per a survey conducted by the Bhatia Neuropsychiatric Hospital and De-addiction Centre, about 80 per cent of the youth is taking drugs in Amritsar. About 58 per cent start consuming drugs before they reach 20 years and 80 per cent of the addicts are in the age group of 20-30 years. The study showed that it was easy to fall into the drug trap since these harmful substances have become popular among the youth and their prices have reduced. Now smack is available at Rs 250 per gm compared to Rs 450 per gm in the past.

The survey also disclosed that there was an increase in suicide cases, accidental deaths, crime and various psychiatric disorders among the addicts. It was also observed that agriculturists and unemployed youth were more prone to addiction.

This de-addiction centre is being run under the guidance of Dr J. P. S. Bhatia, for the past 15 years. The wards of the drug addicts are guarded by a unique security system. Besides providing medical treatment to the drug addicts, the centre offers counselling, which is integral part of the recovery measures. Audio, video aids are also used while counselling addicts along with the family members.

Dr Bhatia says that drug addiction has never been taken seriously by society and the authorities. While maintaining that drug addiction is neither a voluntary behavior nor a character flaw, he disagrees with the popular myth that "the addict must want drug treatment for it to be effective." There is no magic bullet to treat various forms of drug addiction. There has to be a well-planned programme for each addict after early identification.

He states that in the past two years, both the death rate and the HIV positive cases have increased by 60 per cent. Besides, drug addiction has a chain reaction. One person, on an average, ropes in seven persons into drug addiction. That is why, as against the 8 per cent alcoholics, there are 65 per cent smack addicts in Amritsar today. From 2 per cent smack addicts in 1995, the percentage went up to 51 per cent in 2000 and 66 per cent by January 2002.


Maqboolpura: A colony of widows & children

Amar Kaur
Amar Kaur

"We sleep without eating anything at least three or four times a week. What can you do when you have no money to buy atta and nothing that can be sold to bring home food. Thank God, we have this small roof over our heads. But this only saves our honour and does not assuage the hunger of our children, who have no time or opportunity to think of school and education," say Kashmir Kaur and Dalbir Kaur with vacant eyes. Obviously, they have no more tears to she

The story of Kashmir Kaur and Dalbir Kaur is not rare. Both were married to two brothers, Lakha Singh and Natha Singh, respectively. Both brothers were initiated into the world of drugs with bhuki, a desi grass, and within no time they graduated to charas and then to smack. While the wives struggled with the daily beatings and starvation, the elder sons in both the families also began following in the footsteps of their fathers. Both Lakha and Natha died within six years of smack addiction. Two years later, their elder sons also died of smack addiction. Such stories are rapidly multiplying in this area called Maqboolpura.

Dalbir Kaur
Dalbir Kaur

Maqboolpura, opposite the Amritsar bus stand, is a locality where a large number of widows and their children are forced to live below the poverty line. Their husbands have died because of alcohol and smack addiction. Death now waits at their doorsteps to take away the two sons of these two widows as they have been declared terminal cases because of excessive use of smack.

In the past one year alone, 52 men have died of addictions to substances like alcohol, synthetic drugs, morphine injections, charas, ganja, opium and smack. Poverty-stricken men of this area mostly work in factories, while the women as housemaids. The dropout rate of schoolchildren is nearly 70 per cent.

Balwinder Singh, husband of Amar Kaur, also died of addiction to various drugs. He had a very painful death. Frail Amar Kaur has not seen a day of happiness ever since she got married. "As long as my husband was alive and eating smack, he battered me everyday. He sold each and every utensil of the house. I did not have any utensil to even make dough. There were innumerable days when my children and I slept hungry. Now both my sons are also consuming various drugs," bemoans Amar Kaur.

Kashmir Kaur
Kashmir Kaur

There are no dreams, no aims, and no objectives in the minds of the majority of the people in Maqboolpura. Women go around with the daily chores in a lifeless manner, with pain and anguish written on their faces. They seemed to have lost the will to overcome their tribulations. Little children too wander around in a confused and traumatic state of mind.

Ironically, Maqboolpura is part of the constituency of the former Punjab Health Minister, Dr Baldev Raj Chawla. "Unfortunately, the Minister did nothing to check the menace of drugs in our area. We had requested him to open a de-addiction centre here but to no avail. Drug menace is engulfing the people of this area. Hundreds of people are in jails and many murders have also taken place, all under the influence of drugs," says Master Ajit Singh, a schoolteacher-cum-social activist.

Satya Pal Dang
Satya Pal Dang

This schoolteacher and his wife, Satpal Kaur, a school lecturer, have opened a citizens' forum under the guidance of Brij Bedi, yet another social activist. "The widows of the drug addicts are really in a pathetic condition. Neither do their children go to schools nor do they have any work to do. Therefore, they are bound to get into the world of drugs. No politician has done any thing to check the growing menace. Our politicians are so obsessed with winning the elections that they do not even feel guilty while distributing free liquor and drugs to the already vulnerable addicts. All the successive governments have failed to do anything. We have now approached the five Jathedars of Takhts and the SGPC to step forward in this direction. Fortunately, they have responded very positively," says Ajit Singh. The spirited family of Ajit Singh conducts classes in their small house in Maqboolpura for the children of drug addicts.


Chhehrata: 32 young boys and 19 men die in one year

Satya Pal Dang
Satya Pal Dang

THE locality of Chhehrata is as badly afflicted with the menace of drugs consumption as that of Maqboolpura. In one year alone, it has lost 32 young boys and 19 men. In the last four months, young boys like Ramesh Kumar, Amar, Surender Kumar, Lali, Sandeep, Raju and Pawan Kumar (both real brothers) and three state-level players Sonu, Ramandeep and Pawan Kumar have lost their lives to drug addiction. In a cluster of 18 houses, three families have lost their sons.

Both Vimla Dang and her husband, Satya PalDang, as always, took the lead in highlighting and countering the plight of Chhehrata. Dangs have not only made people aware of drugs but have also pinpointed the culprits responsible for the rapid spread of the menace. "Politicians are hand in glove with the police in the drug business. We even sent a proposal to the state government that they should assign the powers of drug inspectors (DI) to Senior Medical Officers (SMOs) of the district as one DI was not enough to deal with the menace. But obviously, it does not suit the political bosses."

Vimla Dang
Vimla Dang

Driven by the plight of the youth and utter failure of the government system, a few residents of Chhehrata formed the Nasha Virodhi Committee under the convenership of Ramesh Yadav. They gheraoed two police thanas to protest against police inaction. Ramesh Yadav asserts, "If the new government is really serious about tackling the menace of drug addiction in Amritsar, it should look into the rapid accumulation of wealth of certain politicians and policemen in this district. Similarly, there are two chemists' shops in Chhehrata which were like small shanties just five-six years back. But today they are well-established shops. What has made these chemists so rich in such a short span? This should be investigated by the state. They were caught twice but were let off after they exerted political pressure."

People of Chhehrata feel aghast over the way Dilbagh Singh, alias Pappu, was granted bail by the court. "He was arrested with 12 kg smack. But the court granted him bail on the grounds that his kidneys had failed to function. If that was true then how come he was moving around in the area? He has destroyed the lives of our children but court has taken a lenient view in his case despite the fact that he was found with 12 kg smack an undeniable evidence. Even if the story of his kidneys was true, at best, he should have been put in custody of some hospital," say affected parents.

Ramesh Yadev
Ramesh Yadev

Ramesh Yadav and Amarijit Singh Asal (Secretary, CPI), Jaikishan and Raman Baxi (both local leaders) said, "There are about 35-40 young addicts in Chhehrata, who are at present in chronic state. They have reached a state of drug addiction from where there is no return. We are worried that they will soon face death yet there is no sense of alarm."

According to Asal and Yadav, a number of sarpanches, medical stores, doctors, police personnel and politicians are involved in drug-peddling. "We prepared a list of people who have been selling drugs to young boys and gave it to the police. But to our horror, the police leaked out our names to the culprits, who in turn threatened us. Can you believe that 18 young boys have lost their lives to drugs in the past 10 months in Kot Khasa village alone?"