Fighting the drug menace: Punjab’s grassroots crusaders against narcotics

Hindustan Times profiles some of the grassroots activists to highlight the challenges they face and what keeps them going.

punjab Updated: Jul 06, 2018 10:35 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times
drug menace,Hindustan Times,Punjab
Anti-drug activist Mukhtiar Singh literally wears the message he wants to spread, while his wife Bhupinder Kaur holds the photo of their son Manjit Singh, who they lost to addiction, in Patti town on Thursday. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

With gloom over drug deaths hanging thick over Punjab, a clutch of ordinary citizens, some of them former addicts or kin of drug victims, are becoming the torchbearers of people’s fight against the menace. Hindustan Times profiles some of these grassroots activists to highlight the challenges they face and what keeps them going.

Kaffan wala banda on a life-saving mission

Mukhtiar Singh, 48

Patti, Tarn Taran district

The people of Patti town call him Kaffan Wala Banda (Man with a Shroud) and his mission is to ensure there are no more ‘kaffan wale bande’ in Punjab.

Two years ago, Mukhtiar Singh lost his son, Manjit Singh, 27, to drugs. The shattered father set aside personal loss and marched on the streets of the town, carrying his son’s body with the demand that the state government fight drug abuse in all sincerity. “I even offered my son’s coffin to drive home the message and save other youngsters from falling prey to drugs but the government didn’t take me seriously,” he says.

Mukhtiar sat on dharna outside the Patti sub divisional magistrate’s (SDM) office and wrote a memorandum addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his son’s kaffan (shroud). He went on to launch his fight against drugs with a group called Kaffan Bol Peya (The Shroud has Spoken). The group spreads awareness against drugs through social media besides putting up hoardings and banners at public places.

“Had the government taken note of my memorandum, which even found mention in Parliament, more than 100 youngsters who died due to drug addiction in two years in Punjab could have been saved,” says Mukhtiar, who always wears a black apron.

This assistant lineman in the border town of Khem Karan says, “My job takes me to villages. I tell villagers about the campaign against drug smugglers. I’ve recently written to the Punjab government, seeking a law to confiscate the property of drug smugglers and use it for treating addicts and rehabilitating their families.”

Had my son been alive today, I would’ve spent lakhs on his wedding. “Now, I’m spending on spreading awareness among youngsters against drugs. It’s a rich tribute to my son,” he adds.

(By Anil Sharma)

Addict to activist, he fights on relentlessly

Baljinder Singh, 40

Gurusar Jodha, Muktsar district

Baljinder Singh

Last week, Baljinder wrote an open letter to Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh to remind him about the oath he took before the assembly elections in February 2017 to wipe out drugs in four weeks.

Also known as Mintu Gursaria, Baljinder was hooked to drugs for 18 years till 2011 but kicked the habit after a lot of struggle. He faced 12 criminal cases for which he was jailed. He admits it’s not been easy to gain the trust of society. Today, his challenge is convincing people, particularly the elderly who are still fearful of drug addicts.

“Anger management while on course to quit drugs was the biggest challenge. For a person like me who also had a criminal history and was short-tempered, I had to control the criminal inside me. Apne andar de badmash nu marna painda,” he says. “Getting a job was another hurdle. Nobody offers work to drug addicts due to lack of trust,” he adds.

Once a kabaddi player, Mintu says he took to drugs when he was at a senior secondary school in Malout.

Today, he is an activist campaigning against drugs and has written two books, including an autobiography called ‘Dakuaan Da Munda’, which is being made into a Punjabi film to be released next month. He has contributed articles to vernacular newspapers and Punjabi radio stations abroad.

He uses social media to run his campaign. Mintu Gurusaria’s Facebook page has about 47,000 followers.

Virtually addicted to the war against drugs, he says he is often trolled for his past but it doesn’t affect his present.

(By Gagandeep Jassowal)

Lost father to drugs, teen dedicates self to cause

Sciencedeep Singh, 15

Chak Sherewala, Muktsar district

Sciencedeep Singh

Sciencedeep was only three years old when he lost his father, Ravinder Singh, to drugs. The son of a farm labourer, he has become a mascot in the fight against drugs for residents of his native village and those adjoining it. “I conduct door-to-door counselling to generate awareness about the ill-effects of drugs. I lost my father but I don’t want anyone else to undergo this trauma,” he says.

“Regular counselling encourages youngsters to give up the bad habit. I get a good response when I interact with villagers. This work has given me an identity in society,” says Sciencedeep, who is a non-medical student at a meritorious school in Bathinda.

“I started social work after getting inspired by a non-governmental organisation (NGO). I am dedicated to this cause and it gives me a sense of fulfillment,” he says.

“My brother is an icon for youngsters. Whenever I get time off from work, I accompany him,” says Sciencedeep’s elder brother, Karnjeet Singh, 21, who works in farms since he completed Class 12.

(By Sarbmeet Singh)

She breaks barriers, wins hearts in fight against abuse

Woman activist, 26, Ludhiana

She says she was 21 when the then Ferozepur deputy superintendent of police pushed her into drugs and raped her. She suffered a miscarriage and was even put on ventilator for six days. At 26, she has been to hell and back.

Today, this woman from a middle class family is determined to rescue youngsters in the state from drug abuse. She launched a campaign, Nashe Khilaaf Punjab, along with Lok Insaaf Party leader Simarjeet Singh Bains last week.

“Most youngsters are misled by corrupt cops and drug peddlers. I wasn’t interested in studies and was pushed into this addiction by the DSP,” she says.

Under the campaign, she will travel across the state and appeal to addicts to undergo rehab and give up drugs. “I am not afraid of any threat and will continue my campaign,” she says hoping to inspire others.

(By Harsimran Singh Batra)

First Published: Jul 06, 2018 10:23 IST