Drug glut in Punjab has become a social menace and errosion of social trust is adding to it’s wide spread prevalence. The figure of 61,000 known cases of AIDS and other statistics do not depict the scenario on the ground in Punjab. Further still, a reliance on over-simplistic views based on being a border state and having gone through a period of prolonged strife are not the only reasons of the current problems. Drugs have become an easy excuse used to hide the underlying feeling of pain and helplessness which Punjab’s youth is suffering from. Having seen close-up the change that Punjab has undergone, I know that it is not only losing it’s body, but it’s soul too.

I read recently that according to a survey, over 60% of school-going students use Gurkha or tobacco; every third male and every sixth female has taken drugs on one pretext or the other; and, one of every ten college-going students abuses one drug or another. Punjab has lately obtained the dubious tags of ‘opium eaters’, ‘poppy husk consumers’ (which they even introduced in Canada until recently under the tag of flower husk, although Canadian law has been amended to check the rise of this) and ‘alcoholics’. Usage does not end there with rising addiction to all types of synthetic drugs. Many cases have been reported where people in Punjab even sell their own blood to keep the addiction alive.

It has been reported that only 40% of households in rural Punjab have been untouched by this malaise so far. The district of Tarn Taran, on the border in rural Punjab, and the largely urban, holy city district of Amritsar are the worst affected in Punjab. The extent of substance abuse is above 70% in border areas amongst the young and over 40% amongst middle-aged people. Drug seizures by the enforcement department have risen over time, but this menace has grown manifold regardless.

Punjab being the land of the Guru has the distinction of a Gurudwara or dera within every few kilometers. Over and above these, the all-resourceful Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the wealthy state Government have collectively failed to live up to the desired result-oriented responsibility which they have. They have avoided their social and moral duty to instill hope, self confidence, and to inculcate the basic life skills into the youth of Punjab.

A huge gap has arisen between state governance and the people they are supposed to govern. The new phenomenon of Manpreet Badal’s ‘Jago Punjab’ has promised to take the above referred moral and social responsibility to lessen the gap and build a bridge to shorten the distance between the people and bodies relating to state government, so people can at least feel that those at the front are from within their own. Lessening this widening gap can go a long way in bringing Punjab youth up and making them shy away from false illusions like drugs and other substances.

There is no question that some kind of drugs have been prevalent since the birth of mankind. Affluence too has been related with this culture. Even today, the ultimate destination of the produce of the drug trade is the western world, more precisely America, the most advanced and enlightened side of the world. Worldwide, jails and prisons are always flooded with drug related individuals. At the same time, a silent uprising to alleviate this problem too has grown in number in the west. There main plank is to legalise the drug culture and help educate people to enhance social behavior. This silent uprising has generated a momentum in certain pockets of the community in Punjab, but the majority still want this subject to be discussed in silent corridors and continue to look down on addicts and drug addiction. A change in social behavior is the main step to begin with in generating a positive mindset without the need for false allurement.

No matter what, drugs can never be taken out of our existence. However, the effects and the way they are being used can be brought into check and under some kind of observation so that efforts be made to bring in societal change amongst the youth. Particularly in Punjab, a lack of will power, total disregard for authority, disrespect for the law and degenrative social behaviour has created a huge vacuum and to fill this, the youth is more inclined towards false pride and dignity and accordingly take shelter in drug culture. The wounds of 1984 and it’s fallout too have played a huge role. The neighbouring country, Pakistan, being itself in turmoil and a major route for drugs produced in other neighbouring countries is a major reason for the problem as is the levels of money and power involved which enhance the allurement of a life in drugs. According to the latest figures put up by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, India has emerged as the highest consumer of heroin in South Asia. But there is also a surge in other pharmaceutical drugs which are easily available over the counter in medical stores.

We should all be aware, drug abuse or problems of any kind are not a problem of an individual. There is always a political and social angle that needs to be tackled. Our religious institutions which dot the landscape of Punjab in every direction have not been able to fulfill their remit and responsibility. People seek them as a means to ease their pains and sorrows, but then adopt their own methods when they are met with no solutions. The role of politicians in perpetuating drug abuse in Punjab is much wider than thought of. The main aim is to keep people’s minds away from real issues, many of which relate to a basic level of living. They mean to keep their firm hold on power, having learnt the political system so well and with full knowledge of it’s viabilities, so that the common man can be kept away from basic human progress and development.

A couple of days ago, the former Chief Minister of Punjab and presently the state president of the Indian National Congress party in Punjab, Captain Amrinder Singh, addressed a huge gathering, stating that there are over 4 million unemployed youths in Punjab. The potential of these youths is being utilised to some extent by the political parties with false promises, creating armies to browbeat the silent population of Punjab and thereby maintaining their position in power. There is a huge street population in Punjab too which is permanently floating and is being used to an extent to further the drug trade.

The ‘Jago Punjab’ yatra of former Finance Minister of Punjab, Manpreet Badal, is surely highlighting this issue of drugs and it’s influence on Punjab, especially the youth of Punjab. it is generating hope. I do wish this hope can become a reality and Punjab can once again regain it’s importance and a sense of self pride and dignity. A correlation of these will surely make a difference one day.