Punjab was once known for its life, unparalleled fertile land, joy, and vibrancyIt used to set the example in this regard. But the Punjabi youth are tragically now turning their backs on their states legacy. The recent mathematical conclusion by Rahul Gandhi that seven out of ten youths in Punjab have a drug problem may be hyperbolic exaggeration, but the good part is that it has highlighted the problem of drugs in the state. Anecdotal evidence suggest that the drug menace has intensified in Punjab over the last few years. I have seen some of my closest friends at IIT getting consumed by this addiction. Some of them have relocated to Punjab not so much because they could not have got similar jobs elsewhere in India, but because of the easy availability of maal (substance). Much of the information in this article is based on first-hand reports of habitual substance abusers who have now become experts in dodging the police and NGOs to get access to maal as it is called in IIT lingo. The code-words differ in urban and rural Punjab or in select ghettos of elite engineering colleges but the menace remains the same.
Jahaj aa gayi ji! (the plane has landed). This coded message echoes at least once a week through a rural village in the Malwa belt, indicating to addicts that their allowance of bhukki has arrived. Hundreds of youth and sometimes even teenagers desperately make their way towards undisclosed locations to collect their drugs for as cheap as R25 per dose. Couriers cart around precious bags of bhukki in their trucks and trailers. Innocently disguised as fruit and vegetable transporters, couriers have become masters of bypassing the law. The venue in which the bhukki is delivered changes frequently. This is done to avoid police and NGOs activists.
Known as the poor mans addictionbhukki is derived from the poppy plant and constitutes a real threat to the youth in Punjab. In an affidavit submitted in 2009 to the state High Court, based on which Rahul Gandhi apparently came to his mathematical conclusion, the state government estimated that 67% of all rural households in Punjab were home to at least one drug addict.
Addicts in Punjab take either chura (ground husk) with water or boil bhukki in water and drink the kadah (tea). The reason why people consume drugs in tea form is due to the stigmatised status of smoking in Punjab. Sikhism expressly forbids smoking. In states like West Bengal and Kerala, a large population of males smoke tobacco and that is not looked down in popular culture. Though smoking tobacco per se isnt good, it is far less damaging than opium and heroin consumed in tea form.
The extent of the crisis was discussed and deliberated at the Annual Conference on Drug Abuse at Punjab University. The conference is organised annually by the Federation of Indian NGOs for Drug Abuse Prevention in partnership with the ministry of social justice and empowerment and the State Aids Control Society of Punjab. About 400 representatives from different NGOs participated in the conference. One of the most disturbing risks cited was that teenagers in the state are most susceptible to drug addiction.
The representatives from different NGOs were unanimous in that drug addiction has done more economic damage to Punjab than even terrorism. The menace of addiction among the youth in the Malwa region, especially in the rural areas, has reached alarming levels. Much of this can be attributed to the lack of understanding of this as a disease and thus denial of proper treatment for the addicted.
There are two levels at which the problem needs to be tackled. The first is by not allowing the banned substances to reach the state. The threat presented in Punjab originates from Afghanistan, which is widely recognised as the worlds hub for drug supply. Sadly, our Afghan brothers are suffering from the plague of drugs themselves. Then, these substances reach Pakistan easily because they share a 2,700 km border with Afghanistan. Without complete cooperation from these two countries where the substance originates and gets distributedAfghanistan and Pakistanand a comprehensive long-term strategy to fight this problem, this will a very difficult task.
The second and more effective measure is to increase awareness among the youth of Punjab about the life-threatening damages of substance abuse. The youth need to be made aware that drugs not only waste money but more tragically waste life. The youth from the land of the Jhelum, the Chin, the Ravi, the Bias and the Sutlej need to be told that there is no excuse for drug abuse. Todays youth, like a typical Punjabi munda of yore, needs to get high on life rather than on drugs.
The author, formerly with JP Morgan Chase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance