a word that has dominated Indian news for the past few months. From Arnab Goswami’s viral statement shouting ‘Mujhe drugs do’ to Bollywood’s drug crisis and the Sushant Singh Rajput case, all that we have spoken and heard about is drugs. While we have been obsessed with ‘a certain’ drug crisis, a bigger, more pressing, and more worrying crisis related to drugs has been ignored as it has been for many years now. One can’t help but think, what could have been the outcomes if such extensive media coverage was given to the rampant drug crisis of Punjab.
Punjab’s proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan has meant that Punjab has become a major transit route in the lucrative trade of drug smuggling. This has lead to the easy availability of opium and heroin and has thus attracted a vastly unemployed youth and a large number of distressed farmers to it. According to the BBC, two out of three families in Punjab have at least one member addicted to drugs.
Furthermore, the new agriculture bills have caused deep anger and anxiety among the farmers of Punjab, looking at such political developments it only seems logical that the number of farmers taking to drugs is going to be on the rise.
On the other hand, an unemployed, barely literate and frustrated youth has also turned to drugs as an escape. It is estimated that 73% of Punjab’s rural youth is addicted to some sort of drug. This means that not only is the current generation of farmers under threat, but the future generation of Punjab is being threatened as well. This becomes particularly worrisome since Punjab is referred to as the ‘bread-basket of India.’ Over 17% of the nations wheat and 11% of its rice is produced by Punjab, the ongoing drug epidemic can have unwanted and mightily harmful impacts on the GDP of the state and country.
The question might be raised, ‘what has the government done about the situation?’ In 2017, the Amarinder Singh led Congress government had been elected on the promise of tackling the drug menace. Since then the government has set up a special task force to monitor the inflow of drugs from across the border, special departments under the state health ministry have been established to assist with addiction treatment and the facility of a fast track court for drug-related offences and preemptive detention for repeat offenders has been made available. Yet the situation remains dire. Factors such as rampant corruption in the police force and involvement of politicians in drug smuggling have insured minimum progress. According to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment levels of drug consumption in Punjab still remain more than three times higher than the national average (836 drug users per 100,000 compared to the national average of 250 users per 100,000)
Understanding the magnitude of this crisis only raises more questions. Does drug consumption only matter when the consumers are high profile? Do lives of ordinary citizens lost to drug abuse not matter? Has the issue of drugs suddenly become oh so important to the media simply because Bollywood and more importantly, female actresses have been associated with it? Has cracking down on drugs in Punjab to save a lost generation become less significant than cracking down on a screenshot reading ‘maal you have?’ Politicians, citizens and media have to think and answer, have we been obsessed with the wrong drug crisis all this time?