Nikumb Kumar’s hands shake if he doesn’t get his daily fix. He refuses to see a counsellor, and has threatened his parents with suicide, getting violent when he cannot get the cannabis he is so addicted to. Nikumb Kumar is 14 years old, and he buys his fix from a paan shop outside his Gurgaon school.
His parents, both government employees, don’t know how to help him. “We use to pay him Rs 2,000 as pocket money every month and soon he started demanding Rs 10,000. He throws tantrums when we refuse. One day, I caught him with ‘grass’ in his hand. When I approached his friends, they confirmed that he was on drugs,’’ says Nikumb’s father Nikhil Kumar.
The Kumars are just one of many fighting in the war on drugs on behalf of their young children. Another parent, who now takes his son to a counsellor, says, “I received a call from the Palam Vihar police station that my son had been detained for snatching the gold chain of a senior citizen. I rushed to the cops and settled the case.”
A week-long HT investigation has revealed that students in the 12-16 age group are increasingly becoming dependent on drugs.
Dr Brahmdeep Sindhu, senior psychiatrist at Gurgaon’s Civil Hospital confirms than an average of 15 to 20 school-going girls and boys from Delhi and Gurgaon are added to the counselling list every month. “Most of them try it for fun. Students I am treating say drugs are easily available and once they try it, they start enjoying it. Soon, their friends join them and before they know it, they are hooked," says Sindhu.
Cannabis — whose medical uses give it a position in cancer therapy — leads to psychological dependence when over-used, especially by children. “Marijuana or hashish can cause changes in the brain that lead to addiction, a condition in which a person cannot stop using a drug even though it interferes with many aspects of their life,’’ says Sindhu.
Dr Hemant Singh, counsellor at a prominent Gurgaon school, confirms the dependency syndrome. “The students get addicted after a few doses and since they feel psychologically relaxed, they see drugs as the only way out. Students have easy access to vendors supplying drugs,” Singh says.
Team HT discovered that innocuous roadside hawkers, cobblers, security guards and even auto-rickshaw drivers are part of a lethal nexus supplying drugs to students. HT penetrated the drug circle, interacted with the young consumers and suppliers and finally purchased drugs available near the schools and gave samples to the principals.
Bhang golis concealed in toffee wrappings are now a regular in school satchels. It isn’t only the nearby paan shop that stocks supplies. The demand for cannabis has also lured scrap dealers, fruit-sellers and welding mechanics into stocking up. In many cases, drivers and security guards are at hand to offer supplies in return for what they call “a good tip".
Interaction with the students reveals that money is not a problem. “It is easy to buy. The drug helps me concentrate on my studies,’’ one says. Another Class 11 student says, “My friends and I smoke cannabis in the evenings. We started two years ago to impress the girls in our class but are now addicted to it. It is the best way to chill out.”
Parents HT spoke with are distraught. Most say, on condition of anonymity, that the demand for pocket money is growing. One parent, who classifies his 15-year-old son as ‘a drug addict’, told HT that he had spent six months trying to find the drug peddlers.
Many parents HT interacted with concede that they have taken up the issue with the schools but say the authorities are in denial of substance-abuse. School principals when approached by HT denied that they had received complaints of drug-use. Questionnaires sent to several schools remain unanswered despite repeated reminders.
The police, however, confirm that instances of crimes by school children are increasing but are usually settled for fear that a complaint will see the child being taken to a juvenile home. ACP (Crime) Rajesh Kumar says, “We get complaints of purses and gold chains being snatched but the complainants settle for extra money after parents plead with them to not spoil their child’s future.”
What begins as ‘fun’ is clearly becoming a disturbing trend.
All names have been changed to protect identities