Notorious as the drug haven of Punjab, Daulewala village in this district has a police check post and 24-hour patrolling after a sub-par show in the parliamentary polls forced the Punjab government to order a crackdown on the thriving mafia in the state.
The defamatory sign that the Moga police put up to shame the village is gone after strong objection but Daulewala lives on with the tag. Of its more than 250 villagers charged under the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act, many are behind bars or absconding, including a mother-daughter duo, whose three-floor house with "`2 lakh gate" is the new village landmark.
Now woman cops frisk women pillion riders on motorcycles at Daulewala. With fathers in and out of jail, the village children are not just couriers of heroin but also hardcore addicts and police suspects.
At 6pm on Saturday, a boy (15) sits across the police checkpoint, waiting for a bus. The four Ferozepur policemen at the trap do not know his name but remember his criminal history. "He was a drug courier and addict. Ask him why he sits here every evening and he says it's a public place.
His eyes and defiance betray that he is still doing drugs," said one of the cops.
The tell-tale signs of heroin abuse are on the teenager's arms: both pierced with syringes and marked with dark spots (see picture). Waiting to catch a ride to his aunt's in neighbouring Kot Ise Khan village, he has no qualms accepting he was into drugs. "I had dropped out of school. My father was jailed for drug peddling but released later. Three years ago, I became a courier and delivered 1-gram pouches of "chitta" (white powder, as heroin is called in Punjab villages)," says the boy.
Heroin in school bags
He has seen children like him in the village. "I was paid in cash partly and given a pouch or two to deliver; but I no more sell or inject it," he claims. The police say they caught a few children, some as young as 12, carrying heroin in school bags.
Inside Daulewala, more children have the same story. His father jailed under the NDPS Act, a Class-10 student says police picked him up at 6am recently, took him to Fatehgarh, Kot Ise Khan and Moga police stations, and beat him up. "They hit me because I did not agree to confess that I was into peddling drugs," he says. As a police team from Amritsar patrols the main square, a middle-aged woman speaks out loud: "Sara kam pehlan raal-mil ke hoya. Hun najayaz parche kari jaande ne (the drug trade started under the patronage of police and politicians and now they slap false cases on people and put them behind bars)."
'Govt took away sand mining jobs'
The daily-wagers sitting idle at the roundabout say labourers in 15 to 20 neighbouring villages used to load sand in trolleys and trucks from panchayat and private land on contract basis. "The state government stopped the sand business, took away our jobs and forced us to live a life of penury. If reta (sand) business starts again, the idle youth of the village will get work. Those who peddled drugs are behind bars; we worked hard for our living, but we are all tagged as peddlers," said Gurnam Singh, 40.
The slur of drug peddling has divided the village on community lines. Former sarpanch Harnam Singh, 85, an Arora Sikh, says the community does farming and runs small shops. "But the Rai Sikh families in the village indulge in drug trade. They started by smuggling liquor and then poppy husk; and for the past few years, they sell 'chitta'. Since only small quantity is seized, they come out on bail. They have no work. Earlier, they filled sand trolleys to make a living. About 112 acres of the panchayat land was leased on contract. Police patrolling has stopped the drug business for now but it was their nexus with politicians that started it. We regret migrating to this village after Partition," he said.
While Daulewala's children inherited the legacy, the de-addiction centres in the state also report cases of child addicts. At Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Ludhiana, psychiatrists treat children hooked on correction fluid. "Usually, these children work at dhabas or other places and inhale the liquid under work stress or peer pressure. The addiction of children to heroin is alarming," says hospital psychiatrist Dr Pankaj Verma.
"From the pre-teenage group, we have a few cases, but more instances of addiction are in the 16 to 18 age bracket," says state narcotics control board head Ishwar Singh.