HT Spotlight: Dose of death in Punjab’s veins

ByHT Correspondents, Chandigarh
Jul 04, 2018 02:21 PM IST

State government is in panic as more and more deaths are being reported daily from across Punjab. HT reporters put faces to victims of suspected drug overdose.

Despite the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government’s promise last year to wipe out drugs from Punjab, the state has seen a spate of deaths due to “drug overdose” in the past two months.

Gurbhej’s mother and children at their home.(Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)
Gurbhej’s mother and children at their home.(Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

Young lives are being cut short, and distraught parents, mostly in rural areas, do not know how to deal with drug addiction. The authorities were in denial mode with health minister Brahm Mohindra claiming that only two drug-overdose deaths were confirmed as per official records.

The government, facing flak from the opposition parties for failing to curb the menace, is in panic now, as more and more deaths are being reported daily from across the state. HT reporters put faces to victims of suspected drug overdose:

Ludhiana: Kuljeet Singh, 29, Sawaddi Kalan; a farmer, he died on June 29

Admitted to rehab thrice, but...

“I’ll be back in 10 minutes,” he told his wife. Three days after farmer Kuljeet Singh of Sawaddi Kalan village in Jagraon subdivision was found dead, his body was cremated on Monday, July 2, after his elder brother Sukhbir Singh arrived from Australia.

His widow holding Kuljeet Singh’s photo. (Gurminder Singh/HT Photo)
His widow holding Kuljeet Singh’s photo. (Gurminder Singh/HT Photo)

Kuljeet, 29, who owned 35 acres, went to his fields with a labourer on the night of June 29, and when his wife Harpreet Kaur called him up at 9.40pm, he said he would be home in 10 minutes.

He did not return till 11, and the family found him lying motionless in the fields.

Manjider Singh, husband of his elder sister, said they rushed him to a hospital in a police patrol vehicle, but the doctors declared him dead. They found a spoon, a cigarette lighter and a syringe near the body, which was apparent evidence that he was doing drugs before he died. His viscera samples have been sent for tests that are likely to confirm the cause of death in a month.

Harpreet says her husband was admitted to a private de-addiction center in Rasoolra village in Khanna for more than two months most recently — this was his third such admission in the past four years — and was discharged on June 21.

“That night, he went out of the house for the first time after being discharged from the centre. I used to check his pockets to know if he was still carrying drugs, but found nothing. I was happy that he had given the habit up. I have no idea from where he got the drugs; he had no money in his pockets.”

Youngest of three siblings, Kuljeet is survived by his parents, wife, a daughter, 7, and a son, 5. Mother Hardeep Kaur says he did not use any intoxicant other than ‘chitta’ (white powder/narcotics), “not even alcohol”.

(By Tarsem Singh Deogan)

Amritsar: Jotu, 32, Gumtala; a mason, he died on May 15

Jotu’s father holds up his photo at his home. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)
Jotu’s father holds up his photo at his home. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

‘Told police about peddling, and it has now killed my son too’

Though he belonged to an underprivileged section of society, Jotu lived a seemingly contented life with his wife Pinki and two kids, son Jashan, 5, and daughter Suneha, 9. His family now believes that had he not been a resident of Gumtala, he would not have “died due to drugs”.

“I took up with the police and even elected representatives several times that drug peddlers are quite active in the village and they must be reined in,” says father Amar Singh, 65. “But no one listened. I never imagined that the concern that I used to express will finally affect me. I have few years left now. Look at his wife and kids, who have just started their life!”

Jotu worked with his father, who is also a mason. “I knew that he was addicted to alcohol, but I don’t known when he got into these narcotics.”

“Around 6pm that day, he was seen rushing to the house from an area where narcotics are sold. His shirt was undone, and he looked nervous. Entering the house, he directly went to the washroom and fell unconscious there,” says Gurmeet Singh, a neighbour.

“I was not at home,” says the father, “Upon being informed, I rushed to the house and hospitalised him, but doctors declared him brought dead. We learnt that he took narcotics through injection that claimed his life. Doctors too cited the same reason.” A medical confirmation is awaited.

A month later, on June 18, another young man died in the same locality, again of suspected overdose.

(By Surjit Singh)

Tarn Taran: Gurbhej Singh, 29, Dhotian; vegetable vendor, he died on June 25

Gurbhej’s mother and children at their home. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)
Gurbhej’s mother and children at their home. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

‘Alone and penniless at 60, how will I raise his kids?’

“Though my only son was a drug addict, he was the lone breadwinner of the family. And now drugs snatched him away forever, leaving me behind to live for his two kids,” says Sawinder Kaur, 60, mother of 29-year-old Gurbhej Singh, who was found dead with a syringe injected in his left arm at home.

Tears in her eyes, Sawinder says, “When Gurbhej was 21, he was married to Jasbir Kaur of Malia village. A year after his marriage, my husband, who was a farmer, died of heart attack. My life started turning into hell as my son started taking drugs with some other men of the village.”

“Tired of Gurbhej’s addiction, his wife took divorced him and has married to someone else, leaving behind their two kids (son Jaspreet Singh, 8, and Navpreet Kaur, 7).”

“He had son started selling vegetables in the village to run the house, but didn’t stop taking drugs. Some years ago, I took him to various drug de-addiction centres of Tarn Taran, at least four times, but it proved futile. I also sold out my only acre of farmland for his treatment,” she adds.

On that day, Gurbhej was in the bathroom. “He asked for his clothes, but he was dead when I got there, a syringe of drugs still in his vein.”

(By Anil Sharma)

Bathinda: Lavpreet Khan, 23, Talwandi Sabo; labourer at a stud farm, he died on July 1

Wailing mother of Lavpreet Khan who died of suspected drug overdose in Talwandi Sabo. (Sanjeev Kumar/HT Photo)
Wailing mother of Lavpreet Khan who died of suspected drug overdose in Talwandi Sabo. (Sanjeev Kumar/HT Photo)

‘He took chitta weekly, not daily’

“Lavpreet got hooked to drugs about two years back after he came in contact with some such people in our locality. But he wasn’t a regular addict,” says father Jeevan Khan.

“He used to take chitta (smack/heroin) but not on a daily basis; he would do it weekly or so. I had brought de-addiction medicines for him and he used to take those medicines too, and used to give up drugs for many days. He would also bring medicines,” he claims.

He says Lavpreet hadn’t taken drugs for about four months “after he became father of a daughter”, but was in the company of some addicts for the past one week.

A relative, who did not want to be named, says Lavpreet used to take poppy husk regularly but wasn’t hooked to chitta: “It was only for some days that he started taking chemical drugs.”

Mother Praveen Khan too says Lavpreet used to give up drugs for long durations. “On Sunday, three persons came in a white car and took Lavpreet along. We came to know about his death in the evening,” she says.

(By Sachin Sharma)

Faridkot: Balwinder Singh, 22, Kotkapura; a daily wager, he died on June 22

Parents and a younger sister with a photo of Balwinder Singh at their home. (Gagandeep Jassowal/HT Photo)
Parents and a younger sister with a photo of Balwinder Singh at their home. (Gagandeep Jassowal/HT Photo)

Want to help police end this menace: Parents

Someone told Kashmir Kaur, mother of Balwinder Singh, that he was lying in a vacant plot on the morning of June 23. “When I reached there, he was dead already. It looked like he died while injecting drugs as a syringe was in his hand,” she says.

He had returned from Delhi the previous day after visiting his younger sister who is married there.

“He had started taking drugs with some friends a year ago, and did not listen to us,” says Madan Lal, the father, adding, “We consulted several doctors as he was suffering from fever in the last week of May; later there was improvement in his health and he went to Delhi.”

Kaur says Balwinder was working as a daily wager for the last five years and spent his earnings on himself. “I request the state government to stop drugs. I don’t want any mother to lose her son,” she adds.

Both parents say there is “complete dark” in their life after Balwinder’s death “but we will help police by informing them if we came to know of any person selling drugs.”

(By Gagandeep Jassowal)

Jalandhar: Saurav, 25, and Nitin, 21; one a mason and the other electrician, they died on May 11

Parents with photos of Nitin and Sourav in Jalandhar. (Pardeep Pandit/HT Photo)
Parents with photos of Nitin and Sourav in Jalandhar. (Pardeep Pandit/HT Photo)

‘He told me the problem was not that serious’

Brothers Sourav and Nitin were going to attend the marriage of a cousin when some locals informed the family that they were lying unconscious in Amar Nagar locality. Police recovered drug injections and some other banned substances near the bodies.

Their mother, Paramjit Kaur, who remains in disbelief that her sons died of drug overdose and is waiting for the autopsy report to confirm, says, “This is unimaginable for the family as we had no idea that they could take drugs. I suspected that Nitin smoked cigarettes, but I cannot believe they took drugs like heroin.”

She adds, “I had told him to get medicine for de-addiction, but he refused, saying that the problem is not that serious,”

She says Sourav, who had settled in Dubai last year, used to drink liquor.

“Police told us that there could be another reason behind their death as the bodies had turned blue. If they died of drug overdose, the bodies’ colour won’t have changed,” she contends.

(By Parampreet Singh Narula)

Tarn Taran: Sukhjinder Singh, 34, Fatehabad; a labourer, he died on June 6

Sukhjinder Singh’s children and wife in Fatehabad village in Tarn Taran district. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)
Sukhjinder Singh’s children and wife in Fatehabad village in Tarn Taran district. (Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

‘His death means the death of our family’

Jasbir Kaur, 32, finds it hard to work in the fields as one of her legs is afflicted with polio. But she has no option. Her husband, Sukhjinder Singh, 34, died of suspected drug overdose on June 6, leaving her behind with their children, son Samsher Singh, 8, and daughter Manpreet Kaur, 6.

She puts up in a one-room tenement while her father-in-law, also a labourer, lives with another son in the same village.

“My husband was sniffing drugs for the last around five years. Earlier, he used to only drink, but after coming in contact with some smugglers of Fatehabad and Goindwal Sahib, he started taking drugs. I didn’t admit him to any de-addiction centre because of the poor condition of the family,” she says. She alleges that his body was found in the house of a smuggler in Goindwal Sahib, “with a syringe still in his vein”.

“He did sundry labour work, and was the sole breadwinner of our family. I thought of killing myself too, but then thought about my children, who are in a government school in the village.”

(By Anil Sharma)

Bathinda: Kamal Kant Maheshwari, 24, Rama; a businessman, he died on June 10

Victim Kamal Kant Maheshwari (Family album)
Victim Kamal Kant Maheshwari (Family album)

Puneet Maheshwari, a Congress councillor in Rama whose younger brother, Kamal Kant, died of suspected drug overdose, says he came to know about his brother’s habit a year ago. “I saw him to the fields with one of his friends whom I knew was a drug addict; I had seen that boy taking drugs through syringes.”

When the family realised that Kamal was also taking drugs using syringes, “Without wasting time we sent Kamal Kant to a de-addiction centre in Malerkotla in July last year. Doctors said they needed to keep him in the hospital for five months only, but we wanted to make sure that he gives up drugs, so he came back only in May this year,” says Puneet.

“After coming back, he had given up the drugs. On June 10, he was at our shop when Charanjit Singh of Talwandi Sabo who knew Kamal as he was also at the same de-addiction centre in Malerkotla, came and took him along. In the evening we got know that Kamal had died and the body was at the home of Charanjit as they took drugs at his home,” he adds.

(By Sachin Sharma)

Farozepur: Shivam, 22; an auto mechanic, he died on July 1

Family of Shivam at their home. (HT Photo)
Family of Shivam at their home. (HT Photo)

‘He started with tablets, and then got into chitta’

Eight months ago, when Shivam, 22, started abusing pharmaceutical drugs in the company of friends. He was one among five children of Ashok Kumar, a daily wager.

Victim Shivam (Family album)
Victim Shivam (Family album)

Educated up to Class 5, he was an assistant mechanic in an auto shop where he fell into a bad company and started taking pharmaceutical tablets, says his family.

“Initially he was taking tablets, but later became addicted to ‘chita’ (heroin or smack), for which he was managing funds on his own from unknown sources,” says Ashok.

That evening, he came home in an inebriated condition. As his health deteriorated, before he could be hospitilised he collapsed and died.

(By Gaurav Sagar Bhaskar)

Ferozepur: Basant Singh, 28, Khai Pheme Kee; an electrician, he died on July 1

Family at Basant’s funeral. (HT Photo)
Family at Basant’s funeral. (HT Photo)

‘If only police had acted...’

Basant Singh of Khai Pheme Ki village, 5 km from Ferozepur on the Fazilka road, appeared to be living a normal, happy life, and earning decently for a Class-8 passout as an electrician.

He had a son, 3, but six months ago got trapped into the drug menace and stated taking “injections”, says the family.

Repeated efforts by the family to get him treated remained futile and, on Sunday night, he injected himself with the drug that apparently proved fatal.

“We have repeatedly intimated the police about the sale of drugs in the village, but all in vain. Had there been action, our son, and others like him, could have been saved,” says Mahinder Kokhar, an uncle of the victim.

(By Gaurav Sagar Bhaskar)

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