Kashmir mosques that blared ‘azadi’ slogans will now launch war on drugs
Mosques across the Kashmir Valley , which blared slogans for “azadi” (independence) in the early nineties, amplifying a separatist movement, will soon be using their loudspeakers to spread a message against the use of drugs, rapidly becoming a huge problem in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
“The problem has reached alarming proportions and we are considering excommunicating and ostracising drug peddlers,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, religious head and chief of the Hurriyat Conference said.
Drug consumption has seen a surge among adolescents and young adults in the state. Official records at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital’s de-addiction centre point to a worrying spiral: of 342 people admitted for substance abuse from January 1 January to June 20, as many as 309, or 90 percent, were using heroin.
Dr Yasir H Rather, who has been in charge of the de-addiction centre since 2012, is concerned that Kashmir’s youth are switching from solvents and soft drugs such as cannabis to hardcore drugs such as heroin and brown sugar. In 2016, only 15% of those admitted were heroin addicts. The proportion jumped to 46% in 2018.
“Continuous conflict and easy availability of drugs has led to a surge. Socio-political instability is impacting mental health. Earlier, the unemployed would turn to drugs but now anyone and everyone is at risk. I know from my patients that heroin is being sold openly in our society,” Dr Rather said.
As many as 20-30% of patients coming to the de-addiction centre are seeking help after “a near death experience”, according to Dr Rather. Several others are coming because they have seen their friends dying due to an overdose, he added.
Alarmed at the spike in figures and the easy availability of heroin, the Mirwaiz has called for a meeting of non governmental organisations, Imams and doctors next week. “We need to address this at a war footing. Drug peddlers should be excommunicated. We have mosques in every mohalla and through them, we can access our community. A lot of imams are approaching me regarding the problem. We will put our heads together and come out with a plan.”
SMHS’s de-addiction centre has run training programmes for teachers and college professors and has also held a workshop with officers of the J&K Police’s crime branch. Information elicited from patients on where they buy their drugs from is being passed on to the police. According to Dr Rather, “Some drug users have progressed to become drug peddlers. Each gram (of heroin) costs approximately Rs 3000 and patients tell us that they steal family money, gadgets and jewellery to buy their supplies, which they also start selling.”
A police officer, who did not want to be identified, said heroin was coming in from across the border, from Pakistan and added that supplies into the state have increased because neighbouring Punjab has tightened its law enforcement.
“We can’t afford to see our young dying. Heroin is ruining their lives,’’ says Dr Rather, who believes stringent law enforcement and social awareness against the menace is the way forward. The Mirwaiz’s plan to use Friday sermons to spread awareness is a step forward in that direction.