By Sadhavi Khosla:
Punjab, the land of five rivers, the sanctified place which has been blessed by ten Sikh Gurus, and many Pirs and the valiant warriors of the nation, is crying in agony today.
The state which was once known for its sheer beauty, lush green farms, gleaming water streams, and stunning backdrops, is now popular for some spiteful reasons as well. Being home to beautiful cities that are dotted with resplendent shrines, Gurudwaras, temples, ashrams, and cultural monuments, Punjab has now fallen in a trap of a menace.
Even with a disguise that does not reveal the true picture of what’s happening inside the soul of Punjab, the state fails to stop the bleeding deep within. To be honest, my heart bleeds when I witness my Punjab bleeding, and this time it is not because of the Khalistan Terrorism, but ‘Narcoterrorism’.
Partition, Khalistan, Operation Blue Star, communal riots, Black Thunder, terrorism, migrations and the failure of the mighty state Government to provide employment opportunities to the youth, along with the easy access to drugs, all this has collectively led Punjab to go to rack and ruin.
The bloody inheritance of India’s partition hit the skids, and Punjab was the state which suffered the most during the ‘Unforgettable Divide’ and continues to do so, as a result of the seeds of vulnerability and vengeance that were sown almost 68 years back in time.
The partition of the nation that took place in August 1947, was more of a partition of Punjab then the entire nation. It was a brutal dissection of Punjab, and time after time, the place has seen poignant situations that sink the hearts of those who genuinely care for the state.
With the pain of being politically divided twice in less than half a century, Punjab has certainly descended into chaos.
It was first divided during the partitioning of the Indian Empire along religious lines in 1947, and yet again in 1966 on linguistic basis, when Punjab, Himachal and Haryana were formed out of the erstwhile Punjab state.
And then, came the era of Green revolution in the 1970s – taking the people of Punjab away from the seamy side of life. It was the time when India’s first agricultural revolution completely reformed the traditional farming system, and with it Punjab acquired the valuable status of being the “food basket” of India.
While the nation enjoyed the tremendous growth in agricultural production and the much-needed food security, Punjab celebrated its affluence and the accreditation of being ‘the most prosperous state of India’. With boundless prosperity, vibrancy, increased per capita income, better standards of living and larger than life image, the people of Punjab were reveling in the thrill of good times.
However, the other side of the picture was not apparent to many. When the Green revolution flourished in Punjab, many of its fundamentalist leaders, who were living high off the hog, assumed that the state has enough money and power to become a separate entity. This boded disaster and regional disparities, communal riots along with the rise of Sikh fundamentalism turned up in the state.
A terrifying situation arose when a Sikh fundamentalist leader, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, began killing Hindus in large numbers in an attempt to create a Sikh state to be named as called ‘Khalistan’, and slayed several innocent lives.
Although the initiator of terrorism was Sant Bhindranwale, but there were several other factors including communal politics played by the Akali’s policy of appeasement and communalism, followed by the Congress. The rise of terrorism in Punjab I believe, was largely fueled by the Akali leaders and they backed it fully till the end.
With this, Punjab’s tryst with decade-long terrorism began until Sardar Kanwar Pal Singh Gill (KPS Gill), the then Director General of Police (DGP) Punjab, crushed it.
KPS Gill not only restored the peace in the state, but also helped India in retaining its unity and integrity. I believe that India in general and Punjab in particular, owes a lot to this legend for his contribution in thrashing terrorism in the state.
Never in his dreams would KPS Gill have imagined that the peaceful state which he left in 1995 will once again hit by terrorism – and this time it will bleed the tears of being in the clutches of drugs.
Over the past decade, Punjab has experienced deceleration of its economy, and has been seeing dwindling positions in the list of prosperous states of the country. Punjab, as of today, lags behind its counterparts, not only in terms of industrial growth but also in the agricultural sector, due to stagnancy. There are no jobs, no future in farming, industry has literally moved out of the state, and deep-rooted corruption has left the state in dismay. Punjabis who are famous for their courage, hard work, honesty, compassion and enterprising approach towards life, are now losing these attributes to the evil drugs.
Trans-border terrorism and the Khalistan movement which divided Hindus and Sikhs had been the prime cause for which we heard so many families crying every day in the past. And, today, once again Punjab is crying, due to the insidious demon of narcotics sharpening its claws in the entire realm.
It would not be immature to say that this is nothing but a dangerous trap into which the spirited Punjabi youth are being led, on whom the future of the nation depends.
At present, more than 75% youth in Punjab is hooked to dangerous drugs like heroin, smack, cocaine and many synthetic drugs. Out of these 75% addicts, about 30% are HIV-positive people.
According to the latest report by the Narcotics Control Bureau, Punjab alone has registered 50 percent of the total drug-related cases in the country. But, as pitiful as it may seem, the Akali Dal Government which is led by the Badal family continues to live in a state of denial, even when the names of many of their top leaders have appeared for running the drug nexus.
One of these big shots that is involved in the Narcoterrorism that has clasped Punjab in its grip is said to be a close relative of the Badal family. No wonder the Badal family is refusing point blank to be involved in the matter!
After hearing and reading numerous articles and stories on the drug abuse that is ruining my homeland, I decided to get firsthand information on what exactly is happening there.
My recent visit to Amritsar left me in tears, shock, disbelief and distress after having witnessed the entire situation with my eyes. I came across a sight which I will never forget in my life – the agony and pain of all those mothers who had lost, or who are going to lose their children because of drugs, wrenched my heart.
Being a mother myself, I could imagine the pain of a mother, who raised her son with lots of efforts, hopes and desires, and then loses him to appalling drugs.
For me, there is no bigger pain in the world than what these mothers have to bear when they see their children dying a slow death every single day.
The village, Jagdev Kalan, near Amritsar carries a painful history. The place which encountered the worst slayings of Hindus by Sikh terrorists, and lost more than 30 people in terrorism in 1987, has today become a cremation ground for its residents who are gradually jumping into the fire that was set alight by drugs. In the past two years, this village has lost around 30 people because of drugs.
I heard several painful tales of this deserted village wherein each house has been mourning after losing a loved one, either due to terrorism or due to drugs.
My visit to Swami Vivekananda Drug De-Addiction Center in Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, Amritsar and OTS center located inside the Civil Hospital of Tarn Taran revealed the scale of the problem. Impossible to quantify precisely, the situation is undeniably immense and worrisome for the entire country.
An overwhelming majority of addicts in these centers belong to the age group of 15 and 35, which is a harsh reminder about the risk of losing the entire generation to drugs. I was shocked to see the drug epidemic and the mounting pressure on the health infrastructure which the state offers.
I interacted with some of the drug addicts, who to my surprise were regretful, as well as, sad to see themselves in that vulnerable state. In fact, some of them were scared of the fact that they may not live long and were dejected of being unable to get out of this nexus, even when they are willing to do so. Many of these addicts are incapable of affording the de-addiction treatments and, hence, they continue to consume drugs, because that at least gives them an opportunity to earn money by becoming a peddler.
So, it would not be wrong to state that it is a vicious cycle, and those who are trapped inside it, don’t see any ray of hope.
I can clearly recall that one drug addict met me, and he was carrying his daily dosage of heroin (smack) in his pocket. He requested for rehabilitation assistance, which he was not receiving in spite of his will to get rid of the menace. In reality, Punjab’s de-addiction centers are facing a shortage of staff, including counselors and psychiatrists.
After seeing the unfortunate ordeal prevailing in Punjab, I am unable to understand why the State Government has still not formed strict drug policy reforms, even when the whole state has reached such a severe level of substance abuse? Why there are no adequate facilities available for the addicts? Why are the rehabilitation centers not accessible free of cost?
The Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal still refuses to acknowledge the fact that Punjab has the highest number of drug addicts in the country.
I want to tell him that I saw drugs being sold openly outside the Civil Hospitals in Amritsar and Tarn Taran, two majorly affected districts of his state. Drugs are easily available in all the medical stores near various schools and colleges in the state. As a matter of fact, people there made a mockery of the situation by asserting that – “In Punjab, it’s easier to fetch drugs than water.”
You might be surprised to note that more than 70% of the jail inmates across the state are drug addicts.
During my stay in Punjab, every single person or an addict that I met with raised their voice against the Akalis, and the Badal family in particular, for the rise of drug addiction in the state, over the past decade.
It might be beyond belief for many of us, but several big names, mainly of the representatives of renowned political parties, largely from the Akalis and some from BJP have come into light which are said to be involved in this drug mafia. In actual fact, on a number of occasions, some of these delegates have been caught red-handed as well while smuggling drugs, but to no avail!
What Punjab needs right now is a strong political and social will to fight this war against drug terrorism. There’s a huge nexus and in order to make Punjab drug free, the triangle of Politicians/Police/Smugglers that are involved in the drug menace needs to be broken.
This war against drugs is a far bigger challenge, than what the war against fundamentalist terrorists was. We are in need of a strong iron hand, in the form of another KPS Gill to save the state once again. Only someone like him with similar courage and tactical sharpness, can stand like a rock against all the odds in the state, and crush the menace and regain its glory.
The BJP Government at the center, including PM Modi, has closed its eyes when it comes to the outrageous state of affairs in Punjab. Their softer approach towards Akali Dal and the Badal family has led to mis-governance and Akali Goondaraj in the state.
Mr. Modi had promised that if the BJP-led NDA will come into power, it will put an end to the act of pushing drugs into the Indian Territory from across the border. But, unfortunately, these words were nothing else than exaggerated rhetoric.
Looking at the current scenario, it is quite difficult to find the one who can save Punjab. Everybody knows everything but nobody has the courage to raise voice against this peril, which is poisoning the state with time.
Haunted by the fear of losing their children to drugs, most of the families in Punjab are either migrating out of the state or sending their children abroad.
The land of Guru Nanak and Bhagat Singh once again needs a ‘Messiah’.
The state which had outperformed rest of the India, in terms of growth & prosperity in the past, must be saved, and I hope that it happens before the wheels fall off.