Ludhiana: Gursharan Kaur is a housewife in the Tamkot village of Punjab’s Mansa district. Every evening, she along with 20 other women in the village wrap up their household chores early. Once the utensils are back in the racks, these women start moving out of their houses with batons in their hands.
Every night the women gather near a peepul tree, and from 8.30 pm to 10.30 pm, they comb all isolated areas in the village in search of drug addicts and peddlers. Their goal is simple: catch anyone taking or peddling drugs in order to maintain peace in their households and the neighbourhood.
Jeeta Kaur, 43, says that the night vigil started late last year after a 17-year-old boy died of suspected drug overdose. “His mother could not believe that she lost her son at the age of 17 and this affected her too much. Seeing her condition, women in the village were afraid that this could happen to anyone and the matter was discussed with village elders,” she said.
Soon, the local Gurudwara asked the womenfolk to start a night vigil to keep drug addiction out of the village, says Jeeta, who is part of the night vigil.
Balwinder Kaur, 38, who is also a member of the night vigil says that the drug menace in Punjab has not spared any area. “We want to keep the monster of drugs away from our village, as a result, we keep a watch over secluded areas where young boys can inject drugs. In the past, we have caught two boys red-handed and they were handed over to their parents. After counseling by the parents and women of the village, and later admitting them to a drug de-addiction center, they left drugs,” says Balwinder.
Drug addiction killed 23 people in Punjab in June alone and was one of the major reasons behind the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government's fall in the 2017 Assembly polls. Though Congress came to power with a promise to end the menace, it's having sleepless nights with no solution in sight.
Ranjit Singh, sarpanch, Tamkot village says that Punjab can come out of the drug addiction only if women take charge. “We are not against the addicts but drugs that are destroying Punjab. We believe that Punjab would come out of the grip of drugs only when women take charge,” she says.
A research conducted in Jalandhar and published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care observed a high prevalence of heroin and intravenous drug abuse. It found that drug abuse among the youth of Punjab is a matter of serious concern as "every third person is hooked to drugs other than alcohol and tobacco”.
The study also noted “a high prevalence (20.8 percent of heroin abusers among study subjects" with the prevalence of non-alcohol and non-tobacco substance abuse being 34.8 percent. A significant association of drug abuse was observed with male gender, illiteracy, and age above 30 years.
Women worst affected by drug addiction
According to Tamkot villagers, the youth who take drugs often demand money from their mothers and in case they are denied, they do not hesitate to use force. Recently, some of the addicts threatened the women carrying out the night vigils, following which, men have also joined the vigil group.
Dr Rajiv Gupta, a prominent psychiatrist of Ludhiana, narrates a horrific story of a woman whose husband and two sons became drug addicts and had to sell their house for Rs 2.5 crore.
"Within three years they became bankrupt. Both the sons are in the jail under the NDPS Act and the woman is running from pillar to post to get bail for them," said Dr Gupta.
The impact of drug abuse on women is far more than on men, though. In a study by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it was found that female substance users are more likely to have faced sexual abuse, premarital/extramarital sex, exchanged sex for money voluntarily or under coercion and had more sexual partners than non-users.
Some newly-married girls are victims of sexually-violent behaviour by their addict husbands, while others find that their husband is impotent due to continuous substances abuse. Many times such cases lead to divorce.
“There have been cases where families do not find a match for their daughter as their son is a drug addict,” said Dr Gupta.
Thirty-five-year-old Surjit Kumar, who died due to a suspected overdose of drugs in Ferozepur district on 9 July, had sold all valuables of his house to buy drugs. His wife Sukhwinder Kaur says that while drugs are being sold openly in villages of Punjab, the government has not been able to do anything against the menace.
"People are dying due to drugs every day in Punjab," she said.
Only 2 percent of drug addicts recover
Dr Madhumeeta Banerjee of Sadhbhavna, an NGO that works for the recovery of drug addicts, says that drug addiction is a disaster for the entire family, especially the mother and the wife. "It becomes difficult for them to first digest that their family member is a drug addict and thereafter they try to hide it from people," she said.
The recovery rate of drug addicts, says Dr Banerjee, is only 2 percent, and a lot depends on the family members, especially the women related to those who have recovered, that they do not go back to drugs.
“We used to have only men addicts a few years ago but the number of women addicts has also increased now,” she informed.
The journey of Punjab, known for its valour all over the world, from being an agrarian society to a drug-ridden state is a very long one.
Addicts didn’t even spare their mothers
There have been shameful cases in Punjab where addicts have even killed their mothers when they refused to give money to buy drugs.
On 8 July, Jalandhar police arrested a 35-year-old addict Dharamvir Singh for killing his own mother in an intoxicated state. In a similar incident, a 17-year-old drug addict killed his mother and sister when they refused to give him money to buy drugs. The incident took place in Burwala village of Fazilka on 7 June.
The situation of drug menace in Punjab is evident from the fact that in 2017 the state reported the highest number of heroin and opium cases in the country — 3,078 and 308 out of a total of 7,069 and 1,408, respectively.
Moga district’s Daulewala village is infamous for being a drug haven. Forty-five-year-old Kiranjit Kaur (name changed) says she dies daily seeing her 18-year-old son who started using a synthetic drug ‘Chitta’ eight months ago.
“My son was a kabaddi player and wanted to play for the country. Many children have died of drugs in our village in the past but I never thought that my son will also become an addict,” says Kiranjit. Her husband died five years ago after a stroke.
Some like Rupinder Kaur from Ghaloti village in Moga, do manage to get out of drug addiction due to their strong willpower and support from family.
She says that it is very important that family members of addicts support them even during the worst times.
Her husband used synthetic drugs after which she also got addicted. “Once an addict realises that many lives would be spoiled due to his addiction, he will automatically generate the willpower to quit drugs,” she says.
With inputs from Lachhman Jeet Singh Purba from Moga and Navdeep Ahluwalia from Mansa
The author is a Punjab-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Jul 16, 2018 14:55 PM