The UDF government’s liquor policy really did them in. In 2015 the Home Minister announced in the Assembly that the closure of 700-plus bars had resulted in a threefold increase in drug consumption. What he left unsaid was that it also triggered the consumption of spurious liquor, psychotropic substances, cough syrups and even ayurvedic substitutes such as arishtams.
In 2008, Kerala registered only 508 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. In 2013 the number of cases was below 1,000. In 2014 there were 2,233 cases and in 2015 the figure rose to 4,105. Party drugs like cocaine, LSD, and crystal meth have become a rage in cities like Kochi. The influx of migrant workers from the northeast facilitates free movement of narcotic supplies.
Heroin hauls and ganja seizures are daily events. Couriers are often apprehended but the kingpins go scot-free. We hear of foreigners being arrested at various airports with huge caches of narcotics. Are international drug cartels gravitating towards God’s Own Country? Are Maoists promoting ganja cultivation in forest areas? The Punjab example reminds us that the transition from alcohol to drugs can take place rapidly and unobtrusively. The danger is real and imminent.
What precautions should Kerala take to prevent a Punjab-model debacle? The war against drugs calls for a massive, coordinated effort involving local bodies, government agencies, political cadres, student unions, NGOs and social workers. We must devise methods for early detection of drug users. De-addiction facilities must be enhanced and offered free of cost. The supply chains must be disrupted. And the penalty for drug-peddling should be severe enough to serve as a deterrent.
The ‘Death for Drug Trafficking’ sign that I first saw decades ago at Singapore’s Changi airport still flashes before my eyes. Is the law too harsh? Does it violate human rights? Obviously, there are no easy answers. We too have laws, but they don’t seem to work. The LDF government says it will not reopen the bars. This comes as no surprise, for the closure has resulted in increased revenue for the state-owned Beverages Corporation. Industry and Sports Minister E P Jayarajan can’t be faulted when he says that raising the level of awareness is most important.
If Sachin Tendulkar spearheads the campaign against drug and alcohol abuse, there’s bound to be a positive impact on vulnerable young minds. Drug-free panchayats would be a realizable goal to start with. While weaning away alcoholics from their daily drink may prove to be more challenging, it would be easier to awaken our youth to the dangers of experimenting with drugs.
Punjab flying high indeed
We in Kerala had always viewed Punjabis with undisguised admiration – after all, they were the only people who could outdrink us. But in the last few decades Punjab rapidly transitioned from hard liquor to hard drugs, leaving Kerala far behind. The proximity of the Golden Crescent – an area compromising opium fields of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran – poses a sinister threat to Punjab in particular and India in general. It all started with the British. In the mid 19th century they cultivated opium in the Punjab for sale to China. Soon zamindars started giving opium to labourers to make them work harder. And today the shit has hit the fan.
“In Punjab it’s easier to obtain drugs than water.” Drugs are sold openly through pharmacies. The supply includes locally manufactured synthetic drugs. Drugs are distributed during electioneering in Punjab, just as alcohol is distributed in other states. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections a candidate promised to establish legal outlets for the sale of opium. And hold your breath (!) this was a woman candidate, the Shiromani Akali Dal MP, Paramjit Kaur Gulshan. Thankfully, she lost.
The censorship controversies surrounding the film Udta Punjab have brought Punjab’s drug problem into sharp focus. Recent studies have revealed some startling facts:
1. 67 percent of households have at least one drug addict. In many of the border areas the rate of drug abuse among 15-25 year olds is as high as 75 percent.
2. Drugs are smuggled in along the 550-km border with Pakistan. Most of the contraband is meant for onward transmission to other states, while drugs for local consumption are supplied by the opium fields of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
3. The Samjhauta Express is functioning as a carrier for the cross-border drug trade.
The drug mafia is hand in glove with politicians and the police. There is reason to believe that the proceeds of the drug trade are used to fund terror strikes. The term narco-terrorism is now part of the layman’s vocabulary. It is said that when terrorists infiltrated the Pathankot airbase, the police mistook the intruders for drug-peddlers and ignored them.
Drug–induced crimes are commonplace, but the police tend to release addicts from prison fearing that the violent withdrawal symptoms may end in custodial deaths. Deaths due to drug overdose are frequent occurrences. Maqboolpura village near Amritsar is populated entirely by widows as all the ‘able-bodied’ males have fallen victim to drug abuse. As the 2017 elections to the Punjab Assembly draw nearer, the state awaits a new messiah. Sikhs are a valiant martial race. Will they be able to rise and shine again?
(Pushpa Kurup is an IT professional and a writer)...