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Let’s stop Kashmir from going the Punjab way!

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By: Mehraj Malik

Is Kashmir going Punjab way? As of now the situation may not be that grave, but if the data on increasing substance- and drug-abuse is anything to go by, the situation here is far more alarming that what is believed. Any place with more than 70,000 of its young people involved in substance abuse, and over 30 percent of this chunk comprising females (young girls) is certainly not a very encouraging sign. Nor is the fact that some of the victims are as little as eight.

These revelations were put forth during a webinar this Sunday (July 05) organised by Kashmir-based think-tank — Kashmir Dialogues in association with Anjuman-e-Amir-Kabir Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) Trust.

The main focus of the webinar was to address the increasing drug abuse and drug addiction amongst Kashmiri youth and those who participated came from varied backgrounds – they were students, activists, teachers, medical experts, and religious scholars et. al.

Sajad Farooq Rather, a student activist from Kangan spoke on the how drugs were easily available to wide range of youngsters across Kashmir, including the college students and near the hostel localities. One Haris Abrar spoke on how the problems can be solved by a multi-pronged approach of counselling, rehabilitation, social re-integration and prevention modules.

Dr. Anayat Mir drove home the difference between drug-abuse and drug-addiction and how former makes way for the latter. “Abnormal, not-prescribed and inappropriate use of mind altering drugs is drug abuse, and people get addicted to these drugs over a period of time depending on their health,” he explained, adding “as the tolerance for a particular drug increases in the body, person craves for its added quantity which then severely impacts the person’s cognitive skills and behavioral patterns.”

Drug addiction, as the definition goes, is the continued compulsive use of drugs in spite of their adverse health, social and emotional consequences. Once a person becomes addicted to drugs she/he loses control over drug use and often become isolated from family and friends. They may also face difficulty at work and sometimes are even driven to commit crimes, experts pointed out in the webinar.

“For an addicted person, persistent use of drugs is the primary focus in life and once the drug stops the person will have cravings — intense and strong desire to get drugs – could make him/her do anything,” pointed out Mehraj Khurshid Malik, a social activist, while stressing on the need to have a civil society focused on building a bridge to address the gaps and loopholes through which these things can be controlled, those driving this menace can be punished as per law.

Experts also stressed on the need to break the nexus between various people and groups in running this entire chain of drug trade.

Other key points raised in the webinar pointed to the social stigma attached to drug abuse and addiction and how the same was denying victims the necessary wherewithal to come out of the vicious web of substance abuse.

Islamic scholars and preachers were called upon to use their influence for spreading the awareness about drug addiction and drug abuse. “Imams and preachers are a very important part of Kashmir’s day to day life, they can certainly be change-makers and change-replicators in the society if they use the pulpits of the mosques to hold back youth from falling prey to substance abuse,” speakers observed.

As per the organizers, over 45 speakers participated in the webinar, which used the data published in a report by UN-Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) to drive home gravity of the matter.

According to the report, over 70,000 people are addicted to drugs in Kashmir and what is shocking is that more than 30 percent of them are women, the speakers revealed, adding that most of the drug addicts and abusers are youngsters from the age-group of 17-35, and in some exceptional cases patients as young as 8 year olds have also been found.

While the government and its different agencies have initiated measures to tackle the challenge, but there is still a lot that has to be and needs to be done. For instance police and army have started Drug De-Addiction centres which are partnering with NGOs, and civil society actors to identify and help the affected people, it was revealed. But Revenue and excise authorities too need to pull up their socks to destroy huge tracts of poppy and opium cultivations, particularly in various south Kashmir districts, it was observed.

Some speakers also talked about easy availability and subsequent abuse of some over-the-counter and other medicines by the addicts and urged the authorities to go for a massive crackdown on all those people who are associated with this illicit and illegal trade in whatever manner.

The webinar unanimously decided that all the people must work with selfless zeal to rid the society of the growing menace of substance abuse. Government agencies, educational and religious institutes, NGOs and other social institutions must educate people, especially the young generation about this problem.

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