When the only son of Ludhiana-based doctors Dr A K Banerjee and Dr Madhumita Banerjee was found dead on June 22, their first thought was this should not have happened to them. The Banerjees run a de-addiction centre among other institutes under their Sadhbhavna Group in Ludhiana, and their son, Abhishek Banerjee, had been away from drugs since January this year after receiving treatment for addiction. Yet, on June 21 morning, the 21-year-old left home for a haircut, carrying Rs 500 with him, and was found dead the next morning in his car parked next to the Government College for Boys. Drug overdose was the reason for death.
A month on, the Banerjees are on a mission to raise awareness about drug addiction in a state where nearly 70 per cent of the youths are said to be battling the problem. They have met President Pranab Mukherjee demanding a CBI probe into the case of their son, they have been meeting parents like them who have similarly lost children to counsel them, they have been going door to door in villages, and they will be starting a campaign in Panjab University soon.
Says Dr Madhumita, “No one is born an addict, but society is the one that makes him or her an addict. Even if my son tried to be free of addiction, on June 21, his old friends again contacted him and he became a victim.”
The Banerjees’ petition to the President, which they have also taken to the Punjab Chief Secretary, seeks a probe into links between addicts and suppliers. According to Dr Banerjee, police have destroyed evidence rather than look into this. These links, argues Dr Banerjee, qualify Abhishek’s death as a murder rather than drug overdose.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Nilambari Jagdale said they have investigated all angles which Dr Banerjee had suggested apart from their own investigation. She said two drug suppliers had already been arrested and work was on to find more links. She, however, refused to comment on the demand for a CBI probe.
The Banerjees want the government to treat drug addiction as a notifiable disease, to investigate Abhishek’s death as an ‘index case’, or primary case, to initiate action against drug mafia, and to make addiction deaths a cognisable offence as in the case of rape or dowry. They are prepared to go to the high court if needed.
Abhishek had been a law student in a Pune-based college. The realisation that he had got addicted while still in school back home came as a shock to the doctor parents.
Says Dr Madhumita, “We got him treated at a de-addiction centre in Delhi and,
since January 2014, he was free of addiction. He had even helped authorities catch three peddlers.”
They could have let their grief overpower their lives, the Banerjees admit, but they decided to use it to help others. A Facebook page, Hamdard, created by them for parents suffering like them is visited by at least two-three parents daily. “Their sons are either addicts or have died due to addiction,” Dr Banerjee says.
The Banerjees have personally met the parents of Sukhdeep Bhatia (33), Abhinav Sachdeva (21), Babloo (21) — all from Ludhiana — Sahil (17) from Nawanshaher, among others. All of them died due to drug overdose.
“We are counselling the parents as well as most of them hide facts fearing they will be defamed. A few came out,” says Dr Banerjee.
Soon, the Banerjees will start lectures for first-year students at Panjab University.
Though volunteers from the Public Health Department and the university’s Department of Social Welfare will help the Banerjees, the couple are funding the entire campaign themselves.