By Maitreyee Boruah for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Let’s admit it. The film ‘Udta Punjab‘ lays bare the fact that Punjab is in denial that a major chunk of the state’s population, both young and old, rural and urban, are battling a drug epidemic. But it’s not Punjab alone which is awash with drugs.
Bengaluru is facing similar problems. The question is, will it take an ‘Udta Bengaluru’ to wake up the Karnataka government to the scourge eating into its innards?
The growing number of drug rackets busted by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Bengaluru, in the last two years is a clear indication of rampant drug abuse in the IT city. In 2014, NCB Bengaluru, busted eight drug rackets. The number went up to 17 in 2015, as per the data available with the agency. The concern was discussed in a meeting at NCB’s head office in Delhi too, a senior official looking after operations told Youth Ki Awaaz.
According to NCB officials, youngsters are more vulnerable to drug addiction. Drug peddlers know this and prey mostly on them.
For the record, Bengaluru with a huge floating population, is infamous as the ‘drug capital’ of south India.
On the basis of raids conducted by the NCB, the drug most popular among Bengaluru’s youth is LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide also known as acid), followed by hashish, ecstasy pills, ganja, heroin, cocaine and MDMA, a pure form of ecstasy that goes by the street name ‘molly’.
Mostly sold soaked-dry in tiny blotter paper, sugar cubes or gelatin, even 0.1 gram LSD is of considerable commercial value.
Sunil Kumar Sinha, zonal director, NCB, Bengaluru told Youth Ki Awaaz that LSD “can be easily concealed anywhere, and detection is very difficult.” Still, NCB officials have seized a significant amount of the prohibited contraband entering the IT city in recent years. It is believed to be routed to the city via Goa from various European countries.
Sample this: In 2014, of all drug seizures, which included hashish, ecstasy pills, ganja, heroin, cocaine and MDMA— LSD stood out. In February 2014, the NCB confiscated 63 LSD blots and 23 LSD blots in October the same year. Four-five blots come to about 0.2 grams of the banned drug and each blot can either be a tiny piece of paper (difficult to measure) or even hidden in regular looking sugar cubes.
In 2015, the agency in six separate cases seized LSD blot, LSD-laced sugar cubes and LSD blot papers.
In 2016, so far, as many as 165 LSD blots (1.66 gram) have been impounded.
Though these quantities might seem very small, a very expensive drug, 1 gram of LSD can make for as many as 30,000 doses of the banned substance, with the market value of each dose ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000. Now do the math.
Asked if the usage of LSD has increased in Bengaluru over the years, Sinha says, “We can’t confirm the amount of usage, but high detection definitely points to high demand.”
To counter the drug menace, NCB, Bengaluru decided to take its fight public back in June 2014 and launched a Facebook page for the same. The move was intended to reach out to the tech-savvy young population of the city and create awareness on drug abuse.
On the feedback received on Facebook, Sinha claims, “A lot of people have shared important information about drug rackets, traffickers and users over phone after following us on our Facebook page.”
There is, however, a downside to creating awareness in the virtual world. Experts working for rehabilitation of addicts say online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could prove counter-productive.
“Because of the social stigma attached with addiction, neither addicts nor their families talk about the problem openly. We avoid interacting with people on Facebook and Twitter,” says Vivek M, President, Rehabilitation from Alcohol, Substance Abuse Prevention (RASP), a licensed rehabilitation centre.
Vivek’s concern doesn’t seem entirely unfounded. If the response to awareness campaigns and requests for information on social media is any indication, this post shared by the NCB on Facebook in June 25, 2015 got only three ‘Likes’ in a year.
Even though the agency claims to have received several tip-offs over phone because of such public appeals, officials admit no victim of drugs would openly share information about the networks supplying drugs in the city on Facebook.
“It’s risky. Drug trade is a law and order problem, a crime. Most of our callers are anonymous. We keep the identity of all our informers secret,” says Sinha.
The Facebook page of the NCB, Bengaluru chapter, had 560 ‘Likes’ at the time of filing this report.
Rampant mostly among youngsters, drug addiction in Bengaluru, though, is not restricted to a particular age group, sex and class in society, say experts. According to a survey conducted by the Karnataka State Temperance Board, Bengaluru, in 2012, about 30% of school and college students in Bengaluru are drug addicts. The Board is an autonomous body, working under the Karnataka government, entrusted with the task of eradicating alcoholism and hazardous drug addiction. The city has 16 licensed rehabilitation centres, including the Centre for Addiction Medicine at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru.
Drug rehabilitation centres observe that children as young as 13 years are getting addicted.
“We have in-house patients as young as 11 years old also,” Vivek confessed to Youth Ki Awaaz.
Saif Sadiq, a reformed drug addict-turned-outreach worker who works in his neighbourhood on Tannery Road, says, “On Tannery Road, every household, and every lane has drug users.” Sadiq’s claim may sound a bit of an exaggeration but statistics also indicate the same.
In 2015, Bengaluru-based NGO Sangama, along with the Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS), identified around 534 drug users on Tannery Road and DJ Halli, a neighbouring locality.
“The number, 534 ‘injecting drug users’ (IDUs), covers only those who have come out in the open and are seeking rehabilitation. It is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Baiju Satyan, Sadiq’s colleague and a former IDU.
Satyan, 35, who was a call centre employee, lost his job because of his addiction. “Those were difficult days. I got into drugs during my 20s. I come from a humble background. My parents have always been supportive, but it was under peer pressure that I got into drugs. I was an IDU,” Satyan reminisces about his past life.
Talking about his rehabilitation process, he adds, “It is not an easy process. Thankfully, I have not used drugs for the last five years. I went to a rehabilitation centre to free myself from drugs. There are always chances of relapse. I lead a disciplined life to keep myself away from drugs. We need love and compassion to get back into normal life. Addiction to various substances is considered as a crime. In reality, it is a disease and society should accept it to restrict its spread.”
Contrary to the general perception that mostly Africans living in India are involved in drug trafficking, the NCB has nabbed a large number of Indians while busting drug rackets. Of the 25 arrests made in 2014, 20 were Indians. In 2015, 23 out of 34 arrested were Indians, according to NCB, Bengaluru. In 2016, so far, two Indians and two foreigners have been arrested by the NCB for their involvement in drug rackets.
Another fact that has come to the notice of the NCB, is how several illegal drug manufacturing units have come up in Karnataka in the last few years. One such unit was busted by the NCB in Mangaluru early this year. According to the agency, the manufacturing unit in the coastal city was run from a home. The racketeers bought the chemicals required over the internet and were manufacturing MDMA. Similarly, officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) busted a factory in the outskirts of the city in April this year, which was manufacturing spurious drugs.
In Punjab, it took almost a decade of government inaction and an election season for the problem of drug abuse to become a matter of national debate. Is Karnataka too waiting for an election to address the situation?
About the author: Maitreyee Boruah is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist and a senior member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. Her reporting reflects issues of society at large and human rights in particular.