The evidences of the adverse impact of drug abuse have started to stand out from the past with more crime, domestic violence, widows, orphans, and addict women; and worst that substance abusers and men of their families are not getting brides.
The burden of making both ends meet has moved to distraught womenfolk, as their men are either behind bars for drug smuggling or dead because of overdose. "Even daughters from the villages notorious for drug abuse get no offer of marriage," says Kanwaljit Singh of one of these infamous villages, Naushehra, near the Pakistan border.
Kanwaljit Singh is employed with Punjab Police. "We have seen a number of cases where heroin addicts, if they are married, have difficulty becoming fathers; and even if luck favours, you can imagine the kind of children they'll have," he said.
Panjab University sociology professor Rajesh Gill puts it this way: "Time has come when brides will be bought from outside the state. In almost all these cases, women are at the receiving end. Drug abusers indulge in extra-marital affairs, domestic violence, and crime; and there have been cases where they have raped own daughters."
She brought her son back
Not every woman is as lucky as Amritsar crime investigating agency (CIA) officer Paramjeet Kaur, who brought her son back from the world of drugs. The de-addiction cost Rs 5 lakh before her son moved to Canada to work there as driver.
"I had to sell off my jewellery for his treatment at the Bhatia de-addiction centre here first, then Kurali, and Government Vivekanand Centre finally. After every session, he would come home and fall into the same bad company, making his condition worse," she said.
Davinder Singh Johal, associate professor of psychology at Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Amritsar, attributes drug abuse to socio-economic status, unemployment, availability of drugs, peer pressure, easy money, dysfunctional family, and stress. He finds it astonishing that even the holy city of Amritsar is in the grip of drugs, even though contemporary Punjabi society approves of no other intoxicant except liquor.
Drug widows going astray
Sardar Charanjit Singh, a pesticide shop owner at Bhakna Kalan in Attari tehsil, says there have been cases in the surrounding villages where women without sufficient land took to prostitution to survive after their drug-addict husbands. Relatives gave them no support.
Swaraj Grover, director of Amritsar NGO (non-government organization) Jan Kalyan Sangathan that works on gender issues, endorses his views. "These are not official figures but in Tarn Taran district, the number of sex workers has risen indeed to hundreds because of the fallout of drug menace," she said, speaking from field experience of family counselling since 1970.
Punjab Police figures suggest that since 2011, in Jalandhar rural jurisdiction alone, women were named in 185 reports of narcotic smuggling and 49 of bootlegging. Nakodar, Phillaur, Goraya and Bhogpur are the most notorious areas for drug smuggling and maximum bootlegging FIRs (first-information reports) against women are from Lohian village.
73.5% of drug addicts (in a sample size of 600 spread across Punjab) in the age group of 16 to 35; figures based on a 2006 study by Guru Nanak Dev University professor Ranvinder Singh Sandhu, acknowledged by the Punjab government. "It is a misconception that drug addiction is related to the elite. Rather more poor are in the grip," says Sandhu.
Tomorrow: Pressure on health infrastructure
(This article is result of the ground reportage from Punjab by HT senior staffer Sanjeev Verma as part of his project under the Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowship-2014)