Kafan nu jeban ni hundian. Chitta bechde ne eh maut de vepari, te bhul gaye ne eh ke kafan bi chitta hunda ae. (The shroud does not have pockets. These merchants of death, who sell white powder or heroin, have forgotten that the colour of shroud is also white).
These words from a widow in her 50s, who lost her son to Chitta-addiction, portrays the story of almost every house at Havelian village, situated 200 metres from the India-Pakistan border, where every villager dreams of getting rich overnight through smuggling of heroin. As if it were not enough, her daughter-in-law left for her parental house a few years ago leaving the feeble woman to fend for herself and at the mercy of her relatives, also suspects in narcotics abuse.
A village with around 100 houses and a population of over 900, facing the silent onslaught of substance abuse, has the distinction of having around 50 people, including three to four women, landing behind bars in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) cases. In a visit to the village, one can come across palatial houses and SUVs like Toyota Fortuner, Ford Endeavour and Tata Safari with the investment of drug money.
Since there are hardly a few who have completed their matriculation, none from the village is in service. "Naukrian kithon milneya? Havelian ch kismet wala hi ha jeda jail na gaya hove. Paida honde hi aamir hon de supne dekhan lag pende aa (How would they get jobs? At Havelian, one would be considered lucky if one had not been to jail. Right from birth, they start dreaming of becoming rich," says inspector Rajvinder Kaur, station house officer of Sarai Amanat Khan police station, having jurisdiction over 22 villages, including Havelian.
Kaur was posted here four months ago for cracking down on the rising number of women in the drug racket who, when caught, used to allege harassment by male police officials. "This year, we have registered 113 first information reports (FIRs) under the NDPS Act. It includes cases against 2-3% women smugglers," says Kaur, whom the villagers see as a terror.
There are cases where even three generations of a house are behind bars for smuggling of drugs. "There are two bungalows near the main road of international smugglers known as Choothe (liars). Eleven of the family are behind bars and four are absconding," says Kaur.
Havelian village is an example of people, especially from border districts of Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur, graduating from smuggling gold, traditional drugs like opium, poppy husk and charas, to smack, heroin and other synthetic drugs over a period of time.
A senior police officer, who does not wish to be named, says border people are into smuggling since beginning. "Earlier, they used to smuggle gold from Pakistan when there was no fencing. Then they started business of opium till around 2000, thereafter, they started smuggling smack, and around 2008, they got into smuggling of heroin into Punjab," he adds.
"Beda gark ho gaya ji," says Anmol Preet Sandhu, a BA first-year student of Baba Budha College, whose Naushehra village is adjacent to Havelian, adding that in the last four months, three villagers died by injecting heroin. "By seeing a drug addict we can very well make out for how many months he will survive," Sandhu says with little hope of getting opiate-dependent smugglers stemmed some day.
A National Crime Records Bureau report puts Punjab at the top where 14,564 people were booked in 2013 under the NDPS Act, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 6,039 cases. Punjab has the highest drug abuse rate of 51.6% against the national average rate of 2.8%. The state has 80.5% conviction rate in such cases.
Tomorrow: Socio-cultural impact of drugs
(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)