It is deeply disturbing that one of India’s most progressive states, Punjab, is in an utter mess with young men taking to consumption of drugs in a big way. All over the border villages, there are needles and syringes that lie strewn around in the fields with men, mostly young, in a pathetic state, many of them in no condition to work and tend to the fields. This is no trivial matter but the governments at the Centre and in Punjab are unconcerned.
Mysteriously, the border districts of Punjab where prosperity was all-pervasive and young men joined the army in droves have been hit by the drugs thunderbolt. A recent survey conducted by the New York Times revealed that one in three college students in the affected border districts is an addict. Up to 75 per cent of the population has been exposed to drugs in one form or another. Most of the addicts are 15-35 years of age. The rich prefer heroin, while the poor make do with synthetic drugs bought off the local pharmacy.
Some see in the proliferation of drug outlets a plot by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to make the Punjabi youth drug addicts so that they may lose the ability to defend their motherland or to be useful to society.
It would be foolhardy to dismiss these reports as mere figments of imagination but there is no indication that our intelligence machinery is taking note of the situation. There is a sense of drift that is unnerving and the country is not looking at it as a potential threat to our borders.
The Border Security Force patrolling the border with Pakistan has reported a spurt in smuggling of drugs in recent months. In the first quarter of 2012, the BSF intercepted 127 kgs of heroin (double of what it caught in the whole of 2011). Ten armed intruders — nine Pakistanis and an Indian — carrying heroin were shot dead as against four in the whole of 2011. This may only be the tip of the iceberg.
The extensive consumption of drugs has taken its toll on army recruitment. Many of the young men who turn up for recruitment drives of paramilitary forces are found unfit and weak. Gone are the days when every youth, especially in the border villages, was ready and fit to go into the armed forces. Not only has the ‘glamour’ attached to the job gone, but the strength and vitality of the youth has suffered.
The Army’s Deputy Director General for recruitment (J&K and Punjab), Brigadier Vinod Raizada, said at a recruitment rally in Jalandhar, Punjab, a year ago that physical standards of the youth from Punjab were going down due to lack of physical activity and drug addiction. Citing examples of poor stamina, he said more than half of the youth who participated in the rally fell down after completing just one round in the race. This is something to be deeply concerned about.
As it invariably happens, politicians of all hues have not helped in controlling the drug menace and have in fact contributed to it. More than 110 pounds of heroin was seized in the recent elections, where drugs became the new election freebie of choice for the competing parties. With most of the pharmacies in villages being run under the patronage of politicians, there was huge off take of injection vials and certain cough syrups which give a ‘kick.’
It is noteworthy that during the campaign for the Assembly elections while the police seized `40 crore worth of drugs, ranging from intoxicating tablets and syrups to heroin and poppy seeds doled out by parties to woo voters, black money seized was only to the tune of `12 crore. In Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, while the cash seized was to the extent of `55 crore, the seizure of liquor was worth `2 crore. This goes to show that the youth in Punjab hanker for drugs rather than money.
That the youth in Punjab have fallen easy prey to drugs is because a new generation of educated and semi-educated youth in the state is no longer interested in tilling the land or going back to the old ways of their fathers. They move to towns in search of white-collar jobs, which most of them fail to get. The more affluent ones consider it beneath their dignity to till their land and instead employ labour from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
These are the people who get lured into buying and consuming drugs, ruining their own lives and those of their families. While in the past they attended to their land energetically, today they while away their time in idle pursuits, including consumption of drugs.
With an improvement in living conditions and job opportunities in Bihar under Nitish Kumar’s stewardship, many Biharis are now preferring to stay on in their villages rather than migrating to Punjab where conditions are tough for them, and with local youth unwilling to soil their hands, the farming sector is suffering. At this rate it should be no surprise if Punjab ceases to the granary of India.
While smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan through Punjab to the rest of the world, including Delhi and Mumbai, has gone on for decades, it is only now that drugs are finding a ready market in Punjab’s villages on a large scale.
There has been no known effort by the Indian government to determine what conduits are involved in the smuggling and selling operations and what are the antecedents of the drug mafias that thrive on them. Indeed, India’s intelligence is shockingly lax.
It is typical of the functioning of our intelligence machinery that we only manage to lock the stable after the horses have bolted. As it transpires now, the 26/11 attacks were the handiwork of state (ISI and army) and non-state actors (LeT) in Pakistan along with some fifth-columnists in India. But it took the confessions of a key Lashkar handler Abu Jundal three and a half years after the attacks to corroborate its hunch that terror bigwigs like Zaki-ur-Rahman and Hafiz Saeed were guiding the terrorists from the ‘control room’ in Pakistan as the terrorists wreaked havoc in Mumbai.
The time to act is now or else it would be too late. Punjab must be saved from the drug mafia. Whether they are backed by the ISI or not is secondary. The youth must be weaned away from drugs and deterrent punishment meted out to those who peddle drugs. Politicians who are part of the crime syndicate must be exposed and severely dealt with.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author. E-mail: email@example.com