Shiv Dayal, a 62-year-old former policeman, took 100 grams of ‘doda’ thrice a day until the Rajasthan government’s blanket ban on poppy husk kicked in on April 1. He now takes it just once a day, twice on rare occasions.
“I can’t buy it at Rs 4,000 a kilo in the black market,” he says.
For 70-year-old Chand Ratan Vyas and his brother Shankar Lal, 64, the story is no different. They pooled their stocks to last them some days but consumption came down. “Now we take it twice but gulp down lesser quantity. It’s better than having none at all,” says the elder Vyas. “It’s an addiction of more than 30 years and it will not go. The government should either give us doda or give us death. We will die anyway if we don’t consume it,” he adds.
Across several districts of the state, the ban on ‘doda’ — the local term for a derivative from the poppy pod — has brought down the curtains on a social tradition that turned into an addiction.
Drinks laced with opium and poppy husk have been an old ritual during ceremonies, including weddings in western Rajasthan. As 264 retail outlets for selling ‘doda’ closed down on March 31 on the Centre’s directions, nearly 20,000 licenced addicts suddenly found themselves without their daily fix.
They are now getting together to demand continuation of supply till they die. The permit holders are mostly elderly, their median age being 65, and they say they will all die in some years. Surya Prakash Panwar, 65, has compiled a list of 176 addicts in Bikaner city to take their demand forward in a group.
BJP worker Shankar Lal Vyas, leading another such group of 20 addicts, wrote to chief minister Vasundhara Raje on April 1 to request supply of ‘doda’ to them for the rest of their lives. “We are in our twilight years. The government gave us permits for 40 years and wants us to leave it now. It seems it is trying to kill us, which is against human rights,” the letter said.
In northern and western Rajasthan, ‘doda’ is known as “mazdooron ka nasha” (intoxication of the labourers). Truck drivers take it with tea to stay alert on long journeys, farm workers and daily wagers for working overtime without feeling tired.
In January last year, the government started a de-addiction campaign called Naya Savera (new dawn) in 17 districts for addicts. But those who attended them say the camps ran only on paper.
The chief medical and health officer of a district where de-addiction camps were held agree addicts cannot give it up. The doctor adds, on conditions of anonymity, that people who have used doda for 20-30 years can’t give it up. “They will die soon without the narcotic. They might commit suicide,” he says.
For many, the new dawn has turned out to be a never ending nightmare.