Drug addiction is ruining families in Punjab

Shashi Devi of Maqbolpura village in Amritsar district, who lost her three sons to drugs, with her grandchildren. dh photo

In the open field, alongside reused syringes, 23-year-old Lavpreet Khan lay dead with froth coming out of his mouth. Lavpreet worked as a farm labourer and is suspected to have died of drug overdose, a new phenomenon which is killing addicts in Punjab faster than ever before.

Left behind are poor families, orphaned children and widows reeling under grief and unexpected misery. The tragedy with Lavpreet’s family is a predicament all families losing their kin to drug abuse in Punjab share.

Weeks after his death, destiny has thrown unexpected challenges for Lavpreet’s family that is struggling to make ends meet. At their dilapidated dwelling unit in Talwandi Sabo, about 30-km from Punjab’s Bathinda district, Lavpreet’s wife looks pale but is forced to work as a daily wage labourer. But she has a toddler daughter, now about seven months old, who cries every time the mother takes her off the lap. There are also domestic issues cropping up that she is left to fend all by herself. Money is hard to come by and the family now needs it more than ever before.

Lavpreet tried hard to give up his addiction to chitta drug, his family claims. His daughter’s birth motivated him to try quitting drugs. But he fell a victim to the bad company, yet again. On July 1, Lavpreet went out with his friends saying he would come soon. But he never did. By the evening, his body was found in the open. Lavpreet was addicted to drugs for the last two years, his father Jeevan Khan said, adding that he tried to give up drugs, but was unsuccessful. For the family, that one evening changed everything forever. Jeevan Khan got a case registered against three unidentified men who had allegedly taken Lavpreet along, hours before he was found dead.

Justice is awaited. Punjab is in the grip of new challenges in its new-found resolve to eradicate the menace of drugs. Record levels of heroin seizures, full-to-capacity drug de-addiction centres, wailing families of drug addicts, youngsters lying in heaps of garbage with syringes stuck in their veins and the police-politician-drug nexus are certain situations that best explain the plight of Punjab that is often dubbed as the ‘dope capital’ of the country.

A course correction is now underway. As soon as he assumed office in 2017, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh committed himself to uproot the drug menace from the state in four weeks. Though the objective hasn’t been achieved in 72 weeks that have gone by since then, a resolute beginning has been made and much progress, too.

Drug supply lines have largely been dismantled, but the big fish still eludes. New laws, including the recommendation of death penalty for drug peddlers and confiscation of ill-gotten properties of drug dealers, are being brought in to strengthen the campaign. As Punjab fights back, mandatory dope test for government employees, policemen, and perhaps, even for people’s representatives has been worked out.

However, DH has found another distressing trend that is fast threatening to spread its tentacles among the addicted youth. The police crackdown on drug mafia might have considerably limited the supply of narcotics, but people are seriously addicted to drugs in ‘Udta Punjab’ and are not able to come out of it.

To fill in the supply crunch, peddlers have now started mixing synthetic drugs and other combinations. The spurious cocktail is even more dangerous, causing death, sometimes instantly. Punjab has witnessed nearly three dozen deaths in the last few months due to ‘drug overdose’. Due to the scarce availability of drugs, patients are opting for injection where addicts instead of inhaling fumes of the drug tend to inject it to get more ‘kick’. This works out cheaper too. From salt, talcum powder and painkillers to anything that is white is believed to be mixed with lesser amounts of drugs, resulting in a deadly cocktail.

DH came across heart-wrenching stories from Punjab’s hinterland that underline the new development: a spate of deaths, mainly of youngsters, due to drug overdose. Sexagenarian Sawinder Kaur is one of the several people whose life has been crushed due to the drug addiction.

Punjab has witnessed nearly three dozen deaths in the last few months due to ‘drug overdose’. Due to the scarce availability of drugs, patients are opting for injection where addicts instead of inhaling fumes of the drug tend to inject it to get more ‘kick’. This works out cheaper too. From salt, talcum powder and painkillers to anything that is white is believed to be mixed with lesser amounts of drugs, resulting in a deadly cocktail.

DH came across heart-wrenching stories from Punjab’s hinterland that underline the new development: a spate of deaths, mainly of youngsters, due to drug overdose. Sexagenarian Sawinder Kaur is one of the several people whose life has been crushed due to the drug addiction.

On an ill-fated day a few months ago, her world came crashing when she saw her only son, 29-year-old Gurbhej Singh, lying dead on the floor in the dilapidated bathroom with a syringe pierced into his vein.

He died of suspected drug overdose. Kaur, who lives in Dhotian village in Tarn Taran district, had lost her husband a few years ago. Her daughter-in-law refused to live with a drug addict and left the home leaving behind her two kids. A teary-eyed Kaur says, “I have no money. How will I take care of the two little ones.”

Golden crescent

Sources said that a majority of heroin seized by the Border Security Force (BSF) manning the 553-km Punjab-Pakistan border is sourced from what is dubbed as the ‘Golden Crescent’ of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. A major part of heroin seizures is believed to be from Afghanistan as in excess of 80% of the heroin globally traces its roots to Afghanistan. Punjab Police sources reveal that heroin is smuggled across the international border and transits through Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) before reaching other destinations including international markets in East Asia, Europe and other countries.

Punjab is said to be the first victim of Pakistan’s ‘narco-terrorism policy’. Drug peddlers have used this border zone to smuggle narcotics into Punjab and other destinations.

The modus operandi and ploys used by peddlers in Pakistan keep changing. It’s done with the connivance of villagers on the Indian side of the border who are paid heavily to act as couriers. The police say drug handlers in Pakistan procure heroin from Afghanistan after which couriers on the Indian side are directed to pick up consignments which are pushed through by various means.

Police sources reveal that among the scores of people arrested for drug peddling are former village headmen who indulge in this trade for quick money.

Sources indicate that there are at least 22 villages in the border districts of Ferozepur, Amritsar and Tarn Taran that are notorious for drug peddling. Many of them have direct contacts with their handlers in Pakistan. Studies of the ploys used by drug peddlers in Pakistan show new ways used to sneak in drugs into Punjab. Agriculture tools, cavities in water campers, shovels and plastic pipes have been used for the purpose. Hollow zones within the vacuum brake cylinders of the goods train from Pakistan too have once been used to smuggle drugs into Punjab from Pakistan. Plastic pipes stuffed with heroin are often lobbed across the border fence into Punjab.

High amounts of heroin have been confiscated from cavities of farm equipment including spades and wooden planks on the tractors. Sources also indicate the role of some businessmen of J&K in the drug nexus.

With the crackdown on drug mafia in Punjab, peddlers are finding new routes to stay in the business. In the last one week, at least two incidents of major drug seizures of heroin were made in J&K. The heroin was to be routed through the insurgency-hit state into Punjab.

Punjab border with Pakistan remains porous with rivers and streams crisscrossing the two nations. The nexus between drug traffickers in Pakistan and the locals on the Indian side of the border has existed for long. Punjab has a high number of drug addicts which provide a dedicated consumer base to drug dealers. According to credible reports, the total area under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has spiked over the years, spreading over 3,28,000 hectares in 2017.

Heroin seizures

A record seizure of heroin by state and central security agencies has taken place this year in Punjab. The seizures in the first six months of this year are more than the total seizure of heroin made last year, data available with the State Narcotics Control Bureau reveals. Against 193 kg of heroin recovered last year, 216 kg of heroin has been seized up to June this year by various agencies, including Punjab police, BSF, Special Task Force (STF) and the Narcotics Control Bureau.

Punjab government has pushed the paddle even further to stem the rot. It has decided to recommend to the Union government a proposal to punish drug peddlers and smugglers with death penalty, even for the first offence. “Since drug peddling is destroying entire generations, it deserves exemplary punishment. I stand by my commitment for a drug-free Punjab,” Captain Amarinder Singh said. Section 31A of the act provides for a provision of death penalty for second-time offenders. The state government has directed a mandatory dope test for all government employees, including the police personnel. 

Drug racket in jails?

The notorious drug trade traces its links to certain jails in Punjab too. In the last six months or so, nearly five cases have come to light where undertrials and convicts were orchestrating drug deals. In one such case, the Punjab STF exposed a drug racket that was being run by an accused woman from inside the jail, said sources. The woman, STF believes, would contact Pakistan-based drug peddlers through WhatsApp from jail for delivery of drug consignments.

The Punjab police also battle a drug stain on its khakhi. Nearly 100 state police personnel have been arrested for smuggling drugs or related crimes in the last four years. 

As an ‘overdose’ of death runs in Punjab’s veins, a relentless and decisive war on the menace seems to be the only hope. 

DH News Service

  • Drug Menace