Gandhi Camp, a slum in Batala that gets its name from the man who compared drugs to devil, echoes time and again with wails of elderly women who have lost their sons to this menace.
The irony was not lost on people once again when a 32-year-old addict from the slum, which is known to have a sizeable part of its young population hooked to one or the other drug, breathed his last late on Sunday.
A day before his death, Sonu had narrated his agony to some mediapersons. He had told them how he fell prey to drug abuse around four years back, and was consuming around 50 habit-forming capsules a day, before he was left with no money to fund his addiction.
One of his friends, on the condition of anonymity, said unable to procure drugs, Sonu was having withdrawal symptoms. Fed up of his addiction, his family had already left him. On Sunday evening, his condition had deteriorated and he was rushed to a private hospital, but he could not survive.
“Drug smugglers are becoming richer, while the addicts are forced to live in penury. The way youths of our locality (Gandhi Camp) are getting addicted to drugs, it won’t come as a surprise if it is left with only elderly people in coming days,” he said.
Blaming the laxity on part of the Batala police for the thriving drug trade in the slum, Shanti Devi, 61, who lost her son Joginder Kumar, 31, to drug abuse, said as cops are afraid of taking action against the ‘merchant of deaths’, residents are forced to witness one coffin after the other. “My daughter-in-law also died due to shock after my son’s death, and I am struggling to feed my 8-year-old grandson by doing menial jobs,” she said.
Not far from Shanti Devi’s house resides Deepo, 70, whose sorrows are too much to bear. The elderly woman has lost three sons -- Tirath Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Puchi -- due to drug peddling and addiction, and now fears for her only surviving son, who she suspects is also hooked to drugs.
Bachno Devi, 70, has a similar tale to tell. The Gandhi Camp resident remembers her three sons -- Ramesh Kumar, 32, Pawan Kumar, 30, and Jassi, 16 -- who died due to drug addiction a few years ago. The elderly woman blames the lack of action against drug smugglers for the plight of her locality.
Sources said a large number of youths at Gandhi Camp, which has a population of nearly 25,000, with majority being Dalits, are hooked to one drug or the other. Although illicit liquor and smack are the common drugs available here, people allegedly have free access to narcotic drugs as well.
Batala senior superintendent of police (SSP), Daljinder Singh said in the past two years, 457 cases have been registered and 460 suspects have been arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and Excise Act.
Police have recovered 5.3-kg opium, 4.1-kg heroin, 31,566 capsules, 1,166 injections, 15.6-kg poppy husk, 2,642-litre illicit liquor and 314-litre ‘lahan’ (brewed concoction from which illicit liquor is distilled) during this period, he said.
“We have increased patrolling, especially in Gandhi Camp, and I have chalked out an elaborate plan to constrict the supply of drugs. The results will be seen after a month,” said the SSP.
OST centre trying to save addicts
To check the growing menace, the Centre had set up an opioid substitution therapy (OST) centre at Gandhi Camp, where more than 1,000 youths are provided injections of less harmful drugs every day, as part of de-addiction under medical supervision.
Besides running the needle exchange programme (NEP), the centre also provides methadone tablets to around 250 addicts daily. An operational manager of the centre said: “The NEP is a social service that allows injecting drug users (IDUs) obtain hypodermic needles for free. It is based on the philosophy of harm reduction, which attempts to reduce risk factors for diseases, such as HIV, Aids and hepatitis. The NEP requires users to return syringes to receive an equal number of new needles.”