Several years ago, I found myself at a wedding on the outskirts of Amritsar. It was exactly what you’d imagine a lavish Punjabi wedding to be: a beautiful house with a dark patch of farmland behind it draped in bright generator-powered ferry lights, a live band singing bollywood, exaggerating the punjabi-ness to any word that could lend itself to the tongue, and a lot of dancing and mehendi rehearsing. And the smell was confusing. Sometimes fresh marigold flowers, other times diesel from the generator, but most often alcohol, especially around the gang of elderly men struggling to hold their glasses.
We were escorted inside to a smaller AC room where the young adults were – a waiter came up to me with a tray and asked If I’d like any.
“Like any what?” I asked as he lowered his tray full of drugs in the form of tablets. Neatly arranged, all in different colors, and each named after famous political figures in Punjab.
Drugs in Punjab is far more serious a problem than you can imagine. The Udta Punjab controversy is about free speech and creativity in a democracy. And without even seeing a single frame of the film, I do think the Censor Board chief is clearly out of line in trying to change the name of a movie. But we shouldn’t have to wait for a big budget bollywood blockbuster to make ourselves aware of the extent of the problem.
1) The police are arresting only the drug addicts, but not the suppliers.
2) Sources in Kapurthala Jail say 40 per cent of new admits are drug addicts. In 2015, 14,483 FIRs were filed under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. That’s an average of 27 cases a day.
3) Healthcare provided to addicts in jails across Punjab is so inadequate that every 4 days 1 person booked for drug usage dies in police custody.
4) And this is possibly the most frustrating point of all: Drugs are easily available inside prison. A raid inside Kapurthala jail on May 9 this year yielded 308 syringes, which suggests a hand-in-glove economy even within the prison system. Amritsar prison is the only one with a de-addiction center, but last year 30 people booked under NDPS Act died in just this one prison.
We will continue our investigation and hold agencies accountable but this issue certainly needs your attention.
Because the fact is that the state has lost an entire generation to drugs. Where are Punjab’s legendary young and restless? Where are they in law, business, sports, academia, science, media or entertainment? The Indian hockey team captain had dropped by our newsroom (you will read his Idea Exchange next week) and he said there’s been a sharp dip in the number of players from Punjab, the talent pool is drying up even in sports… and that’s scary.
I remember as a young boy in school my Geography teacher spoke of Punjab as the state where you’d never find a beggar on the street. It’s sad to read reports today of several young boys and girls, lying lifeless overdosed on drugs.
And sad to see that the fall from grace of a state so large and beautiful gets so much attention only because of a dictatorial censor board. What is clear is that the problem should have gotten more national attention many years ago, and let us hope that the controversy around the release of Udta Punjab doesn’t take away from the real problem: that what was once arguably India’s most prosperous state now stands ruined by drugs.