Vyasanmukt Bharat. That’s the catch line which Vidya Yeravdekar, principal director of the Symbiosis Society had suggested as the next campaign for Prime Minister Narendra Modi when she wrote to him last year. A letter whose reply she awaits eagerly. “I think it’s time we sat up and took notice of the drugs problem in youngsters. It’s not something we can sweep under the carpet.
Youngsters from across colleges are on drugs and even if they are not doing this within the campus, as academicians we have to help stop it,” she says.
Be it narcotics department, police, drug rehabilitation centres and students themselves, there are few voices that do not acknowledge the problem and the urgent need to address the problem.
‘It’s a different high altogether and I got hooked’
Divyesh Sane, student of a very reputed college, was into drug abuse for almost four years before he quit a month ago. “In Class 12, I smoked cigarettes and later tried marijuana just for fun. During the first year of graduation, I smoked up once in two months. By the third year, I was taking it daily. I would pay the dealer anything from Rs 150 to Rs 1,000, depending upon the quality of drugs.
Getting caught by the police in every few days and bribing them with Rs 100-Rs 200 was a normal thing for me,” he says. However, more than a month ago, he was standing at a bus stand after buying drugs when two sleuths from the anti-narcotic cell caught him. “It struck me that I had got myself into a big mess. I called my parents. Since they stay in Mumbai itself, they came to bail me out. I informed them about what I had been up to, accepted my mistake and promised I won’t let them down again. Now, I don’t even smoke, leave aside drugs,” says Sane.
According to him, while one in five students at college do drugs, most do not do it on campus.
Most students say they took the first drag on a friend’s insistence. “I started doing it because of curiosity. My roommate would do it every weekend. One day, when he was rolling, he offered me and I thought I would try it. It’s a different high altogether and I got hooked,” says a student who hails from Kolhapur and is studying law.
As per a student of a Shivajinagar-based national institute, reputed for political and economics faculty, use of drugs has become a culture at the hostel and is considered “cool”. “There’s no stigma attached to smoking weed. There’s also a common belief among students that weed makes them creative. It helps them to think abstractly or helps them to understand abstract arguments and theories. Many of my friends even have a philosophical and spiritual approach towards weed,” said this 23-year-old student.
For many students, weed and hash have become substitutes for alcohol. Some say an advantage that “weed” has is that it’s difficult to detect. “Say you have smoked a joint or two and are driving. No policeman will be able to charge you even if you are high and he pulls you aside,” said a girl who studies in a reputed college in Deccan area.
A Mumbai student who studies in an Akurdi-based college explains the economics. “Doing weed (marijuana) is cheaper than even alcohol. For Rs 100, one can get a packet which can roll at least 7-8 joints which is enough for two people. If we want a similar high with alcohol, we would have to spend five times the amount,” says the Akurdi resident.
Easy availability in city: from slums to paan shops
It’s not difficult at all to “score”, the slang used to mean to procure drugs. Students say that getting stuff like weed and hash is not difficult as it is freely available. One needs “contacts” for crystals like cocaine, heroin or high-end stuff like Meow Meow, LSD and so on. “Weed is mostly sold through paan shops and old women who sell it in huts and sometimes hidden in garbage containers. Some spots are famous and known to all, including the police. Once I bought weed from a woman who was standing next to a police car in Shivaji Nagar slums,” says a student from a reputed national engineering college.
Among those popular and most frequented points are Patil Estate slums in Shivajinagar, Nal Stop, Ravivar Peth, Swargate and Lullanagar Chowk. “Peddlers are seated in the lane with packets in their pockets or bags or a bucket. Ganja is packed in Rs 50, Rs 100 pouches,” says a student, who hails from Baramati, and studies commerce at a well-known college in Pune Camp.
From paan shops near Mhatre bridge to a eunuch’s hut near Hinjewadi, slum area near Fakhri Hills in Kondhwa to slums near Kharadi’s IT hub, a 21-year-old student of a Bund Garden college rattles off at least 20 spots that he has visited to “score” in the past. But how does one approach a drug dealer? “Confidently. If you say 100 ka chahiye, they will hand you over. If you want the higher stuff, ask 1,000 ka hai kya?” says a 20-year-old media student from a college at Loni Kalbhor.
Most college authorities in denial, some in despair
At Symbiosis, Yeravdekar says, they have taken the problem head-on. “There is no point in saying it doesn’t happen on my campus. The fact is that it happens everywhere. I believe the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging its existence. At our hostels, we have instructed all wardens to keep checking rooms and once we did a big exercise in which we swept all hostels. In the last few years, we suspended over 30 students and even incurred loss by refunding their fees because we want to send a strong message. We have even kept in touch with narcotics cell,” she says.
In January 2013, a student named Ayush Ratanlal Tikku was caught on the New Year’s eve by the anti-narcotics cell as he was in the possession of the party drug LSD and hashish. The student was from MIT College, Alandi.
“It was a rare case. He didn’t stay in our college hostel but somewhere near Vimannagar. While we are very strict about rules and regulations in the college campus, things that happen outside the campus are out of our control. We have always been vigilant and after this incident, the monitoring system has only strengthened. In the past, we do have come across some rare cases of smoking and drinking in the campus and have taken disciplinary action,” said Yogesh Bhalerao, the principal.
At Modern College in Shivaji Nagar, principal Rajendra Zunjarrao says drugs are generally consumed by students of affluent families. “I think the kind of families that students come from and also the atmosphere of our college, our students do not indulge in such things.”
Most principals, when asked about steps taken for drug abuse prevention, talk about awareness campaigns. Principal of Nowrosjee Wadia college, K S Venkataraghavan, says they haven’t dealt with any case of drug abuse. “To prevent such incidents, we hold drug awareness programmes time to time. We also have counsellors available on the campus if a student is in need of help,” he said.