On 3 June, in broad day light two motorcyclists shot dead a local money changer in Jalandhar. According to reports police suspect a ‘hawala money dispute’. Easy money coming from drug trade in Punjab has many disturbing offshoots; hawala and gang war are some of it.
Shashi Sharma, a resident of Jalandhar who has been working relentlessly for last one decade and has given the names of over 16,000 drug peddlers to the court, says, "Drugs problem have increased manifold in last few years and have resulted in gangs and gang wars now. And this all has happened in last four-five years. Anyone who wants to suppress any information regarding the problem of drugs in state in an active accomplice in the menace."
Sharma was one among thousands of those who lost their family members and friends to drugs. There are infinite imageries of a ‘lost generation’ in the bylanes of numerous villages in Punjab. Pahlaj Nihalani and his ‘censor’ army might not be able to cut them all.
In Punjab the political class have always been evasive on questions of drug abuse in the state and have been in denial mode for long. In contrast Himachal Pradesh which too is grappling with the drug menace is accepting the problem and making some genuine efforts for finding long term solution.
In the month of April speaking at a conference, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh acknowledged the problem of drug abuse in his state and said, “It is a big threat to the country and is destroying the present generation and humanity at large. There is a constant war between the people who are trading in drugs and people who wants to stop this. We have to stop this at any cost.” This was by any means an honest admission of the problem by a chief minister of the state.
Davinder Singh Johal, associate professor, department of psychology, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar who has been researching on drug abuse in the state for many years says, “Drug abuse is something which people of Punjab are well aware of. It is a reality with which people are living and are forced to live. If someone wants to tell this story of irredeemable loss then what is wrong in that. If a filmmaker wants to depict how this great land of Punjab succumbed to drugs, I don’t think censor board has any right to stop it. I think it is more about the people’s right to know than someone’s right to tell."
Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had raised serious objections over the film Udta Punjab, which addresses Punjab’s drug abuse problem, CBFC has ordered 89 cuts in the film including deletion of references to Punjab not just in the title but the entire film. While CBFC might be ‘concerned about image’ of Punjab, its people are more concerned about their youth falling prey to its youth.
Gagandeep Singh, a student from Panjab University says, “Censor board is showing a clichéd ostrich like approach. We all are aware of the problem here. I have friends who are into drugs. The problem is evident even from government record, which in any case is quite downsized. Why does CBFC want to suppress truth?”
Udta Punjab has now raised a political storm in the state with Congress and AAP accusing the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for influencing censor board’s decision. While there is no proof of the allegations, the fact remains that political masters in Punjab have always been averse to questions on drugs.
OP Sharma, former superintendent of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Chandigarh and currently posted as senior superintendent (preventive) Of Central Excise and Service Tax, Shimla, says, "If it is a truth then it is prevailing and is all pervasive. Just by closing eyes to it does not meant that it don’t exist. You cannot suppress the truth because it is existing in the society. And ultimately it is the society that will react to it and find a solution to it."
Sharma says, "In Himachal Pradesh, the governor convened the meeting of all the heads of departments (HoD). In that meeting I asked the CID, the state narcotics department and forest department officials that if they know the extent of the problem. I told them if we are seeking solution of problem we need to know the scale then only we plan a strategy to strike at the menace and eradicate it."
He adds, “I asked them if the government accept the problem or not and if they don’t accept it I will tell them, the extent of the problem. I told them I can challenge them with facts. I told them that 100 metric tons of charas alone is produced in the state. The fact is that state took it positively and took note of it and now the chief minister is accepting the problem."
While in Himachal Pradesh the problem is being discussed, reasons for its existence are probed upon and serious deliberations are made to find solution, denial exists in Punjab. While the officials talks about problem off the record, no body readily accept the extent of problem openly.
“Whom are you betraying? Your own people. If you do not acknowledge the problem how will you make genuine effort to find a solution?" asks Sharma.