Trust a satirist to put seemingly complicated matters into perspective. So even as the political class of debates the veracity of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's comment that seven in 10 youngsters of Punjab are 'into drugs', Punjab's satirist-in-chief Jaspal Bhatti wrote on his Twitter account: "Why's Akali Govt. angry at Rahul Gandhi? Is he trying 2 snatch the credit from them for making Punjab 70% drug addict? (sic)"
Over the past week, what could have been an opportunity to start a debate on how to pull Punjab's Gen-Y out of the undeniable abyss of abuse, has been reduced to a typical Centre-state rhetoric. While Rahul, in his speech at Panjab University in Chandigarh, blamed the SAD-BJP government of Punjab for the drug addiction problem, the state government has not only passed the buck back to the Centre but also interpreted Rahul's concerned comment as an insult of the state's youth.
In this playing with fire, the dodgeball is an affidavit submitted by the Punjab government in the high court three years ago, which cited a report to conclude that 70% of the state's youth are indeed hooked to drugs. The Congress has been flashing the affidavit as proof that the Gandhi scion was right.
Here's the irony: the writer of the '70% report', Amritsar-based sociologist Ranwinder Singh Sandhu, insists that his 2006 study has been misinterpreted: "I did not study the general population, but a scientific sample of 600 known drug addicts from four districts -- Amritsar, Jalandhar, Patiala and Bathinda. The aim was to understand the trend within the addiction circles, and we found that 73.5% of the drug addicts belong to the 16-40 age group. That's the '7/10' that people cite."
But what he says next holds key, "Irrespective of my report, the drug problem must be acknowledged first. They (the government) do not even think it is a problem, it seems. Or else, why has there never been a survey to determine the extent?"
IT'S A 'HURRICANE'
Even if one were to discount the 70% report, the same affidavit makes another data-based claim -- 67% of rural households in Punjab have at least one drug addict. It also mentions, "Households survey conducted by ICD [International Classification of Diseases of the UN] indicates that there is at least one drug addict in the 65% of families in Majha and Doaba and 64% families of Malwa region. Three out of 10 girls have abused one or the other drug. Hostlers [sic, read hostellers] are more prone to addiction. Nearly 66% of school students abuse gutka or tobacco; and about seven out of 10 college-going students abuse one or the other drug."
In fact, it admits that "the whole of Punjab is the grip of a drug hurricane which weakens the morale, physique and character of the youth", and that it has become "a stigma that belies the claims of prosperity".
There are other, glaring pointers to the seriousness of the problem. Aged between 13 and 40, at least 5,000 drug addicts undergo treatment every year at the 51 authorised counseling and rehabilitation centres across the state. Amanjeet Singh, president of the Punjab State Drug Counselling and Rehabilitation Centres Union (PSDCRCU), said addiction doubled in the last five years. "The average number of addicts admitted in each centre was 80-85 till 2007, and has gone up to 190 in some centres."
Amanjeet, who runs a rehabilitation centre in Ludhiana for the past eight years, said more than 90% addicts start with synthetic drugs (prescription medicines) and then switch to smack, heroin and cocaine. While Ludhiana, Moga, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala are the hub of synthetic drugs, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur and Jalandhar are known for easy availability of heroin, cocaine and smack. Mansa, Bathinda and Patiala have maximum number of opium and poppy husk addicts, according to the rehabilitation centre union.
TRANSIT ROUTE OR DESTINATION?
It doesn't help that Punjab remains a frontier state through which narcotics produced in Afghanistan and refined in Pakistan are transited. According to the state government, 40% of all drugs transited via India from the Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan "golden crescent" to the West go through Punjab.
There's reason to believe that the route is turning into a destination.
A recent study by Chandigarh's Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) to assess patterns of abuse of psychoactive substances in northern India over three decades (September 1978 to December 2008) found an eight-fold increase in the number of patients who approached the premier institute for de-addiction. The number of those registered for de-addiction rose from 555 in the first decade (1979 to 1988) to 4,168 in the third decade (1999 to 2008). This study, too, is rather broad as PGIMER gets a third of its patients from Punjab, while the rest are from Chandigarh UT and the neighbouring states of Haryana, Himachal and J&K primarily.
Yet another marker could be that 30% of all convicts in Punjab jails are due to drug-related crimes, while over 40% of undertrial also face similar charges.
"There is a need for a comprehensive analysis of the problem to understand it in all its complexity," said Dr Pramod Kumar of the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) in Chandigarh.
But the annoyance over a hollow public debate on a serious problem is reflected in the words of Satish Sachdeva, a retired health official working for rehabilitation of drug addicts for the past five years: "It's unfortunate that the Congress and SAD is busy blaming each other for the problem of addiction in Punjab but none is interested in dealing with the genesis of the problem. The need of the hour is to acknowledge, study, and then eliminate the problem."
(inputs by Anshu Seth, Aarish Chhabra and Vishav Bharti)