Anurag Kashyap’s film ‘Udta Punjab’ and the controversy surrounding the infamous 89 cuts recommended by the censor board headed by Pahlaj Nihalani may have had a political motivation but it has served a useful purpose—bringing into sharp focus on the serious problem of drug abuse and unbridled liquor consumption in Punjab.
It is no accident that one of India’s most progressive states is in an utter mess with major chunk of young men consuming drugs in a big way. All over the border villages, there are needles and syringes that lie strewn around in the fields with men, mostly young, in pathetic state, many of them in no condition to work and tend to the fields.
Mysteriously, the border districts of Punjab where prosperity was all-pervasive and young men joined the army in droves have been hit by the drugs thunderbolt. If the country and State’s establishment are not viewing the menace with due seriousness it is downright foolishness and myopia.
Considering that almost all the heroin comes to Punjab through the Pakistan border, pumped in by smugglers allegedly aided by ISI, there is grave danger in trying to mask the evil and in shielding the bigwigs in Punjab who provide protection to the smugglers for monetary gains.
It was this smuggler network that the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase were believed to have used. According to NGO website alcoholrehab.com, the rate of heroin abuse among 15 to 25-year-olds in the border districts of Punjab is as high as 75%. The extensive consumption of drugs has taken its toll on army recruitments. Many of the young men who turn up for recruitment drives of paramilitary forces are found unfit and weak and are therefore rejected.
Gone are the days when every youth especially in the border villages was ready and fit to go into the armed forces which was deemed to be a matter of great pride. Not only has the ‘glamour’ attached to a job in the armed forces gone away for various reasons, but the strength and vitality of the youth has also suffered. Since Assembly elections are due in Punjab next year and the Akali-BJP government fears that any adverse publicity could ruin whatever chances it has of coming back to power, it has a stake in underplaying the drugs issue.
Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had devoted a whole episode of his talk show ‘Man ki Baat’ to the drugs menace in Punjab but hemmed in as the BJP is with coalition compulsions it has been soft-pedalling the issue. Undoubtedly there has been a surge in arrests of drug runners and pedlars but the ‘big fish’ are continuing to get away, taking advantage of their high connections. The Centre too is no less culpable.
A multi million drug nexus operates under the noses of the Border Security Force, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Intelligence Bureau, as they prove to be mere bystanders to Punjab’s erosion. The Akalis and the BJP need to realize that they run the risk of angering and alienating the people in Punjab but there seems little consciousness of that in the current establishment both in the Centre and in Punjab.
The State is indeed going downhill rapidly with little seriousness to stem the tide. It is not just drugs that are driving the youth in the state, the yearly consumption of alcohol in Punjab is touching 29 crore bottles making it one of the highest per capita consumers of alcohol in the world! It is deemed to be a status symbol to serve and consume liquor in huge quantities and the youth are sucked into this habit as early as when they are at their most vulnerable age.
We may pin all blame on Pakistan which doubtlessly is playing a sinister game by abetting the drugs menace, the cold reality is that the State’s youth can hardly be absolved of blame. They have forsaken their age-old reputation as bravehearts and martyrs and are going obsessively after money and superficiality, throwing all norms of morality to the winds. Culture is an obvious casualty.
Parents are unable to keep a tab on what their children are doing and the ‘kitty’ culture has gripped even middle class women who have little time for devoting attention to their children. Drugs and alcohol are indeed playing havoc with a generation that is gullible and largely ignorant of the damage they are doing to themselves. Today’s politicians and officials who are in cahoots with drug syndicates are bequeathing to the future Punjabis a frightening legacy.
The time to act is now or else it would be too late. Punjab must be saved from the drug mafias. Not only must the youth be weaned away from drugs and deterrent punishment meted out to those who peddle drugs, an intensive campaign must be launched to improve literacy levels with textbooks dwelling on the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol. All this is necessary if Punjab is to be pulled back from the precipice.