In Pablo Escobar’s death, one cog in the wheel was removed but the problem of drug usage and addiction remained(REUTERS)
In Pablo Escobar’s death, one cog in the wheel was removed but the problem of drug usage and addiction remained(REUTERS)

Campaign against drugs, save young people | Opinion

It is clear that our TV channels are either incapable of or uninterested in providing a healthy balance of different kinds of news, especially during a crisis of this magnitude.
By Shashi Shekhar
UPDATED ON SEP 27, 2020 07:06 PM IST

If a research scholar were to conduct a study on the social and political discourse in today’s India during the Covid-19 pandemic about 100 years from now, she would unearth many surprises. If she were to watch the videos from the archives of different news channels, she might not be faulted for thinking that the biggest problem India faced in the latter half of 2020 was the issue of some film stars ostensibly using drugs or other intoxicants. The enormous problems the country faces as a result of the pandemic in the form of unemployment, the plight of migrant workers, the encroachment by China’s People’s Liberation Army into Indian territory, the economic downturn, the lack of health care systems will probably feature as a footnote.

It is clear that our TV channels are either incapable of or uninterested in providing a healthy balance of different kinds of news, especially during a crisis of this magnitude.

I am by no means underplaying the problems of drug addiction or alcoholism among sections of the younger generation. It is well-known that the drug menace has taken on epic proportions in some areas. This goes far beyond India’s borders and is an intractable problem in many countries and this has been going on for several decades. Former United States (US) President Ronald Reagan, who came to power on a nationalistic platform, made a heroic effort to tackle the drug problem in his country. In fact, he declared war on drugs — his wife launched the campaign with the famous slogan “just say no”. The US set up a special task force with the sole aim of killing Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. At that time, the US spent as much by way of resources to eliminate him as it did for Communist revolutionary Che Guevara. Che was the spirit behind the revolution in several Latin American countries. Many people find comparisons between the charismatic Che and Escobar unacceptable, but to US policymakers, both were deemed undesirables.

Did the illegal drug trade in the US end with the death of Escobar? The drug lord was a visible symbol of the malaise. His death did nothing to halt the flow of drugs flowing from various South American countries to other parts of the world including the US. The US in assisting in the hunt and finally the killing of Escobar treated the symptoms of the deadly disease, it was not able to stamp it out. So in Escobar’s death, one cog in the wheel was removed but the problem remained. Escobar was an easy target because he lived the high life. He liked to flaunt his ill-gotten wealth, graced various magazine covers and became something of a Robin Hood in his country. Unlike other old-fashioned drug lords who lived under the radar, Escobar began to entertain ambitions of becoming the president of his country. Given his high profile, his death made headlines across the world. That was what the US wanted. It wanted a part in bringing down a notorious drug baron.

There are many here who feel that the film stars who are being targeted are the victims of politics. But let us not forget that film stars are in many ways role models for our young generation. In my younger days, depending on their looks or style, many young women were referred to by the names of various stars like Sadhana, Nutan, Meena Kumari, Hema Malini or Rekha. And fearless young men were referred to as Dharmendra and the more agile ones, Dev Anand.

My point is that actors and actresses have an impact on young people. So, it is little surprise that the habits of the stars are also emulated. A few months ago, a video went viral showing several popular stars in various states of intoxication at a party. Officers of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) may have been overzealous in calling in several stars for interrogation, but any action against such drug consumption should be supported. The coronavirus pandemic will eventually go away, drugs will not.

The overload of news on various platforms has begun to blunt our memories. This is why we forget that the Punjab election in 2017 was fought on the issue of drug addiction. The Aam Aadmi Party raised this issue initially, but Congress leader, Amarinder Singh ran with it. Today he is the chief minister of Punjab. The seriousness of this problem can be discerned from the figures presented in the Lok Sabha on June 25 last year — 47,344 cases of drug trafficking were registered in 2017. The maximum number of 12,439 cases was reported from Punjab, 8,440 from Kerala and 6,693 from Uttar Pradesh.

But according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Maharashtra had the highest number of cases of drug abuse in the same year. There, 96% of the 14,634 cases was related to personal drug use. This was followed by Punjab.

And if Maharashtra is on top of the list with regard to cases of personal drug use, then what NCB is doing in Mumbai is the right step. But it will only be effective if the NCB officials enlarge the scope of their operations. There must be a sustained campaign against drugs across the country.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal
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