OPINION | War against drugs In Punjab: Punjabis will have to fight it themselves
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday evening, we showed heart-rending visuals of a mother weeping near the body of her 18-year-old son in Taran Taran, Punjab, the father breaking into loud sobs while performing the ‘parikrama’ of the funeral pyre, and the Sikh ‘granthi’ weeping and loudly telling all those assembled, not to rely on government and police, and come forward to protect their children from the scourge of narcotics.
“Do not forget these visuals when you leave this cremation ground”, the granthi said, “if you do not protect your children, this fire from the funeral pyre will burn each of your children in every home”.
Emotional words, indeed. What has happened to the people of Punjab? The narcotic dragnet is closing in on most of the families. Why is the state government and police unable to stem this poison from spreading? When even children and teenagers in the streets know where to get drugs, why is the police unable to catch the drug peddlers? Why does the police reach the funeral spot only when someone dies? These are some of the questions that are worrying me.
Every day, we read news about somebody or the other dying of drugs. On Tuesday, there were three such stories. In Taran Taran district, two youths, one aged 18 and the other aged 26 years died due to drugs. In Amritsar, two brothers of a family died due to drugs. The scourge of narcotics has already destroyed thousands of families.
Eighteen-year-old Mehakdeep Singh died due to overdose of drugs. In Punjab, if an unmarried young man dies, his parents take his body to the cremation ground, dressing him up as a bridegroom. When the bridal turban was tied to Mehakdeep’s head, his mother fell unconscious while his father went into a stupor. The father had to put his shoulder to the bier of his dead son. At the cremation ground, while the last rites were going on, the father fell unconscious.
This, in a nutshell, spells out the tragedy of a family in Punjab. The weeping granthi’s clarion call to all families to protect their children from the scourge of drugs, struck a note of sadness in the minds of all those present. The granthi told people at the cremation ground: “I myself persuaded several children and asked them to stop taking drugs. The children said, ‘we are trapped, we cannot retrace our steps’. All of you, please persuade your children and save them from this scourge”.
There are several lakhs teenagers in Punjab, like Mehakdeep, who have fallen prey to drugs. Mehakdeep’s cousin described how he went in search of him, when the family found him missing. “Mehakdeep was lying unconscious. There were several empty ampoules of drug injections lying near him. There were other youths too, all of them had taken drugs”, said Ranjot Beer Singh, Mehakdeep’s cousin. “The government is lying when it says drugs are no more being sold”, he added.
India TV reporter Puneet Parinja met Mehakdeep’s family in Khadoor Sahib of Taran Taran district. He also spoke to senior police officials. Mehakdeep’s mom Malkeet Kaur alleged that her son never used to take drugs.
“He was deliberately given an overdose of drugs. My son was murdered. He had a quarrel with his friends, and they gave him an overdose of drugs. Mehak never took money from me to buy drugs. I am a graduate, and I have taught children till Class Ten. I never found my son in a drugged state”, Malkeet Kaur said.
Mehakdeep’s father said, “I rang up my son at 4.30 pm on October 14. He had taken my bike and had promised to return in 20-25 minutes, but he did not return for nearly four hours. The next time, I rang him up, the phone was ringing, and nobody picked it up. Then I got news of the death of my son.”
Mehakdeep’s mother alleged that she told police about the suspects who gave her son an overdose of drugs, but instead of taking action, police officers called the parents of those suspects to the police station and treated them as honoured guests. “Police officers were asking my husband, what action can they take. This is the justice that we have got”, she added.
India TV reporter spoke to Jatinder Singh, in-charge of Khadoor Sahib police post. He said, “a case of unintentional murder has been registered. Six out of the 14 persons named by Mehakdeep’s family have been arrested. Out of them, four are Mehakdeep’s friends.”
Everybody knows where this police probe will lead to. Drugs trade will continue as usual. This is not the first death in Punjab due to overdose of drugs.
On Tueday, in Marhana village of Taran Taran district, 26-year-old Sikandarjit Singh died due to drugs. He was the sole son of his parents. His father had died earlier, and his mother is alive. Sikandarjit was the lone bread earner in the family. He was a drug addict. Two days ago, he took an overdose of drugs and died. His weeping mother said: “My son got addicted because of his friends. My son is now gone. What can I ask from the government? I have lost everything.”
In Katra Baghian mohalla of Amritsar city, two brothers in a poor family died of drugs. The elder brother Hargun fell ill, while he was in jail. He was admitted to a de-addiction centre in Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, where he died on Tuesday. When his body reached his home, it was found that his younger brother, too, had died due to drugs. Both were aged 21 and 19 years. The elderly parents are in a state of shock.
Punjab police and government have been claiming that their campaign against drug consumption is gaining momentum. According to officials, more than 350 drug peddlers were arrested in last one week, and several crores of rupees worth heroin and opium were seized along with several lakhs of rupees in cash. The drug peddlers have been booked under NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act.
The ground reality is quite different. Drugs are not only being sold in streets and bylanes, it is being consumed inside jails too. On Tuesday, a video showing jail inmates consuming drugs became viral. It was claimed that drugs were being consumed inside Amritsar Central Jail. Punjab Jail Minister Harjot Bains promised to take action on the basis of the video.
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had promised to make the state drug-free. IG(Headquarters) of Punjab Police Sukhchain Singh trotted a list of actions taken by police. According to him, 272 FIRs have been filed till now against drug peddlers. More than 350 drug peddlers, including some top smugglers, have been arrested, he said. The highest number of cases (29) were filed in Ferozepur district, 21 in Amritsar, and 19 cases in Hoshiarpur district. Cases were also lodged in Khanna, Ludhiana and Mohali, he said.
These statistics have no connect with the ground realities. Common people in Taran Taran, Punjab, told our reporter, police officials know from where drugs come, who supplies and sells them, and who buys them. Most of the action taken is cosmetic in nature.
Police vehicles, with screeching siren calls, reach a locality. This is supposed to be a signal to drug peddlers to go and hide. Policemen make a cursory round of the locality and leave. No sooner than the police leaves, the drug peddlers are back, busy with their trade. Commoners told Indian TV reporter that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has failed to fulfil his promise for a drug-free Punjab.
One does not need a voluminous study or report to explain how Punjab is facing the scourge of narcotics. Leaders, police officials and common people know that one out of every seven people in Punjab has become a drug addict.
Along with narcotics, another scourge of HIV has raised its head. This is due to widespread overuse of drug injections. One single syringe is being used by several drug addicts, and cases of HIV are spreading. The number of crimes is also on the rise. Terrorists and drug smugglers in Punjab have formed a cartel with local gangsters. This poses a threat to national security.
On Tuesday, the NIA carried out raids at more than 50 places, against gangsters, drug smugglers and terrorists in Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan and Delhi NCR. The main problem with Punjab is that it has a 550 km long porous border with Pakistan. Most of the drugs are sent from Pakistan. Afghanistan produces 90 per cent of the world’s opium. From Afghanistan, the drugs make their way to India via Pakistan through Punjab border. Smugglers have started using drones to drop packets of drugs inside Indian territory.
Security agencies are trying their best to stop cross-border drug smuggling, but the local police in Punjab is the weakest link. People in Punjab say, if the police acts sincerely and honestly, the youths of the state can be saved from the scourge of drugs. Here, I would like to remind the words of the ‘granthi’ again, who said: “This government and police will not do anything. You will have to fight the war against drugs yourself”. This war against drugs should start from every home in Punjab. This is a must for the future of Punjab.
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