Hopetrust - Udta Punjab - Drug Addiction

The recent public debate about censorship of Bollywood movie Udta Punjab has once again brought focus back on the drug problem in the state of Punjab.

The apparent reasons for the censorship is either the facts are exaggerated or the government is being falsely and adversely portrayed.

In the first instance, all art is exaggeration. Of course, I haven’t seen the movies since it is not yet cleared for release. However, I personally think there is hardly any scope of exaggeration as the extent of the drug addiction in the state is huge and any honest portrayal may appear to be an exaggeration. Secondly, the massive smuggling and trade of drugs in the state is not possible without the collusion of individuals and agencies who govern. If the government claims that the problem is not serious (as Deputy Chief minister said “Some opportunistic non-Punjabis, political parties, and leaders" have painted a "distorted picture of Punjab as a drug haven“), then that is a worse reflection of the government since it indicates the local authorities are not even aware of the such a huge social issue and are living in denial.

A team from Hope Trust toured the state in 2015 and found an alarming situation prevailing in Punjab. Medical practioners are in a fire-fighting mode to tackle the huge influx of addicts seeking treatment. Large number of de-addiction centres have sprung up – mostly unprofessional with dubious backgrounds. It’s a matter of demand and supply. Those meeting the demand – doctors, psychiatrists, treatment centres – are making the most of the situation with little or no attention to internationally accepted protocols or ethics.

If the ruling politicians say that the drug addiction scenario is not severe, consider the following:

• The Supreme Court in November 2015 said that drug dealers and peddlers had "spoiled an entire generation in Punjab."

• A survey in January of ten Punjab districts conducted by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) at AIIMS revealed that 18-35 year olds accounted for 76% of opioid users in Punjab. (Opioids are a class of drugs that includes some prescription analgesics, morphine and heroin).

• National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data showed that average drug abuse among youth in Punjab in 2013 was 51.6%, a figure that's 18 times higher than the national average.

• Heroin accounted for 86.6 % of total opioid consumption in the state. That's worth a staggering Rs. 7,500 crore, the survey added. Moreover, the state's 2.3 lakh opioid abusers spend a total of approximately Rs. 20 crores every day on drugs. Heroin is primarily smuggled across the border from Pakistan.

• Punjabaccounted for 60% of all illegal drug seizures in during 2015 in India (Livemint).

 These statistics portray a grim scenario. And if the politicians continue to bicker, the situation is not likely to improve. In fact, if we look at the experience of other countries, drug epidemics have a robust tendency to spread and tear the social fabric. The only ones who benefit are those who supply the drugs and those who purport to provide the solution.

If Udta Punjab is scaring the powers-that-be, then it’s probably more than just a Bollywood movie, and it must be screened widely so that there is pressure on the authorities to break out of denial. If not, let us enjoy the entertainment.