A monstrous crisis is staring us in the face. The problem of drug abuse had been brushed under the carpet for long as a ‘personal problem’ till the ensuing social implications and shocking statistics began to unravel. It has burgeoned into a major problem faced by our nation today. At stake is the future of our youngsters and their families. The degradation of the societal fabric can have far-reaching consequences for the country’s growth that one may not have even thought of.
If we try to understand this ‘menace’ at a very basic level, we see that the need to deal with stress, or get a momentary ‘high’ or to just ‘fit in’ with one’s peers are some reasons that might push people to fall prey to the cycle of addiction. It is a cycle because as soon as this little ‘need’ becomes more important than any other aspect of life and slowly gets transformed into addiction, it is a very tricky situation to get out of.
But, this is just the tip of the iceberg and to comprehend it better, we will have to delve deeper into its causes. Is drug addiction just a personal battle or does it have other linkages?
One’s teens are the time when the youth are filled with invincible valour to do something extraordinary with their lives. But, when their aspirations meet the restrictions that come with family pressure to stick to a norm, they tend to get rebellious. Such kids, when exposed to a little freedom, often take recourse to drugs and alcohol as a means of venting their anger or energy.
Children from dysfunctional and troubled marriages or with an addicted parent are more prone to addiction. One of the pronounced reasons for people getting into drugs was the breakdown of the family system. Drugs and alcohol were taken for the want of love and support. Thus, the tight-knit family system in India can play a big role in curbing the drug menace.
Achieving drug de-addiction on a larger scale in a country like India is a comparatively easier task because ours is a family-based society. According to a report by Unified Lawyers, India has the lowest divorce rate in the world, as low as 1%. As per a research done by the WHO (World Health Organisation), providing a family-like environment is the best way to curb drug addiction.
Here I discuss the crux of the problem and its linkage with agricultural distress.
Whenever we think about drugs and addiction in the context of our country, ‘Punjab’ can pop into one’s head, isn’t it? But here, we need to ask ourselves, is this menace only limited to Punjab because its neighbouring states, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand are equally bearing the repercussions of alcohol and drug addiction. Why is it so?
Of all the states, roughly about 60% of all illicit drugs confiscated in India find their way to Punjab. A staggering 75% of Punjab’s youth is hooked onto drugs, an official figure the state government itself submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2009. The real usage could be even higher. The money earned by the drug-lords is leading to the deterioration of societal fabric and has been giving rise to crime. Socially, the incidents of crime against women and children, especially the girl child has increased manifold in the state.
Punjab, which used to once send maximum trainees to the Indian Army and Paramilitary, has been engulfed by the tentacles of drugs. Many youngsters are increasingly being rejected in recruitment drives as they are medically unfit because of substance abuse. This is the same land that Alexander the Great had once described as a land of brave people, where every inch of the ground felt like a wall of steel confronting his soldiers.
The pumping of drugs in Punjab seems like another kind of a proxy war. After terrorism was curbed in Punjab, it seems like the same people who were involved in violence are crippling Punjab through ‘narco-terrorism‘. The disastrous ramifications of drugs are not only limited to youth but have also engulfed the police force in the state. A few years ago, a state health official rightly warned in a court affidavit that Punjab risked losing a whole generation to drugs.
Personally, I feel we need to examine the problem holistically. I see a strong relationship between drug addiction and the pattern of agriculture. The more chemicals we put in the land, the more we increase the urge for addiction among the populace. In fact, chemicals are already going into our system by means of food that has a very high content of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This is giving rise to various types of addiction, and it could be as mild as addiction to tea/coffee or can take a serious form of substance abuse.
Incidentally, the problem assumed serious proportions after the Green Revolution in Punjab. The way Punjab’s ecology was systematically destroyed in the name of the Green Revolution, it may not be surprising that the state came to be associated with “Cancer Express.” One can’t ignore the rise in cases of cancer and drug abuse. This deadly cocktail of drugs and chemical fertilizers have crippled the state.
The success of the Green revolution brought with it another dark repercussion that has affected the mental and physical health of the people of Punjab for generations. The Green Revolution introduced Indian farmers to GM (genetically modified) crops, pesticides, and fertilizers for higher yield production back in the 70s, particularly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, UP, Himachal, and Uttarakhand.
Besides this, mechanisation was also introduced to the Indian agricultural sector which was largely labour-based earlier. This ultimately led to unemployment and forced the labour class and small-scale farmers to take the path of drugs and alcohol in order to cope with the stress. In fact, 85 to 90% of people addicted to drugs in the current scenario are those belonging to the lower middle class.
It did not end there. This Human body is made up of five elements – earth, water, air, fire, and ether. Fortunately, we are not capable of polluting fire and ether, but earth, water, and air have borne the brunt of our activities. Just like a little need for intoxicants leads to addiction and overdose, the same is the case with soil.
With every passing year, the soil needed a larger quantity of pesticides for a good yield of crops. In the long-run, soil and water bodies were severely contaminated with pesticides and the direct effect was on the quality of the food crops that were being harvested. There is a famous saying in Hindi, “Jaisa Ann, Waisa Mann”, which translates to ‘Your mind becomes what you eat’ and that certainly stands true in the context of Punjab.
Impurity at the bodily level with low quality and contaminated food reflects in the human psyche, leading people to fall prey to addiction. The standing testament of this heartbreaking situation is a small village of Maqboolpura, popularly known as the ‘Village of Widows’, near the bustling city of Amritsar.
Living their lives in the anguish of addiction, the men of the family are either heavily affected or dead, whereas the burden of running the house financially and taking care of household chores has fallen on the women.
This village of Maqboolpura describes the vicious cycle of drug-addiction aptly, where at least one member of the family has fallen prey to huge amounts of pills or has used needles for sensory gratification.
Looking back, is this the kind of revolution we had worked for? Shouldn’t revolutions be more far-sighted? The Green Revolution started off giving us astronomical gains, but the pay-off has been comparatively huge.
Secondly, alcoholism and drug usage also have a direct relationship to the dynamics of structural violence. Structural violence in India can be seen in the form of militancy, terrorism, insurgency, and Maoism. Truth be told, this form of violence is pretty evident in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern part of India.
Non-state actors have a big hand in perpetuating the cause of structural violence. The irony is that once such kind of violence has continued in a region for more than 10-15 years, an economy of violence sprouts up in that region. A significant percentage of local populations’ income generation directly or indirectly becomes dependent on this economy. The external agencies or the perpetrators of violence then take advantage of this situation to economically sustain the violence.
The resources and capital of violence are generated locally through the sale of drugs and other intoxicants. Now the innocent local people are trapped in this vicious cycle of addiction and the violence is sustained and sponsored through that. In addition to that, we must not forget that all structural violence has its origin in a strong moral cause and it is sustained by that.
But, the ideals dilute with time and people tend to take advantage of it. They exploit the helplessness of innocent people. These people, when they are unable to cope with the psychological trauma of violence, take recourse to drugs and alcohol to get over it.
Now, the question arises as to why did other states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand fall prey to it? This brings us to the third major cause. About a decade and a half ago, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand went through huge reforms. With the reforms, many educational and professional institutes sprang up there. A large number of students from other places also came for education. Moreover, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are also major tourist destinations.
All these factors came together to make this a ripe market for drugs. There are some places such as Kasol in Himachal Pradesh which is known for the easy availability of drugs. The cultivation of Malana cream and Chitta has been among the major crowd-pullers for youth to the hill destinations of Himachal. Going by the police records of Uttarakhand, the number of cases, leads, and arrests for drug addiction increased manifold times after these developments.
In view of this, the Chief Ministers of all the four states- Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand met in Chandigarh earlier this year to discuss this issue and reach a solution.
Among other reasons, until even a few years ago, our mass entertainment mediums portrayed alcoholism in a very glamorous light, influencing young minds with a wrong notion of ‘being cool’. Also, a huge number of Indian youth are traveling abroad for work. Along with foreign currency comes the assumed need for upward mobility and social status. Expensive alcohol and drugs are often seen as a social symbol of status, thus inviting addiction and the degradation of moral values.
To bring about any lasting change we need to bring about a reform in agriculture. The indigenous cow Sahiwal once used to be the pillar of ecology, farming and social life in Punjab. Today, you hardly find any desi cows like Sahiwal in Punjab. People are increasingly becoming reliant on packed or synthetic milk, which is further deteriorating human health.
Drug addiction is not just a social issue, it should be seen as a criminal act. On top of that, resorting to Yoga and meditation is a great avenue to channelise your energy in the right direction. Otherwise, the youth could indulge in sensory gratification.
Socially, nothing short of a Jan-Andolan (mass-movement) with strong participation of women is required. Women in the past have led successful movements against alcohol and drugs in other parts of the country. I am sure this success can be replicated to Punjab as well. Until and unless people do not speak out collectively, this nexus which has many players and patrons can never be dealt with. Isolated voices can’t do much because the scale of the problem, if impossible to quantify precisely, is unquestionably enormous and worrisome.
To conclude, I wish to mention that prohibition is necessary to break the vicious cycle of addiction and structural violence. When former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh N.T. Rama Rao declared total prohibition of liquor consumption in his state during the oath-taking ceremony on January 16, 1995, it was a landmark announcement.
Although the succeeding government did not take this amendment forward, the work against this social menace has not stopped. Yes, a drug-free society is a hard task to achieve but it is definitely not impossible. Spreading awareness on a larger scale about this menace is the very first step against it and we as a society are already working on it.
A problem as acute as drug addiction cannot be solved by a few events or initiatives. It is an ongoing process that all citizens of this country need to be a part of. Making India drug-free is the need of the hour.