Menacing shadows – Drug Abuse in Kashmir

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By: Shahid Shabir Hussain Makhdoomi

International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, observed each year on June 26, is a global reminder of the devastating impact of drug abuse on individuals, families and societies. This significant day raises awareness of the importance of prevention, treatment and rehabilitation efforts to combat drug addiction. It underscores the need for international cooperation and collaboration to address the challenges of illicit drug trafficking and abuse and to create a healthier, drug-free world for present and future generations.

Our own Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyaan (NMBA) is a flagship programme of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (Government of India) to reduce the demand for drugs of abuse in the country. It was initially rolled out in 272 vulnerable Districts across 32 states and union territories and now covers 372 districts nationwide. NMBA aims to raise awareness about substance abuse among young people in India, with a particular focus on colleges, university campuses, schools and community engagement. The programme is envisioned to achieve health and happiness of people who have been de-addicted from the harmful effects of alcohol and drug abuse, thereby reducing the demand for substances of abuse. J&K administration has also implemented this programme in the UT to raise awareness about the menace of drug abuse in the region.

Kashmir, which until recently was known for its syncretic traditions, is now beset by a new crisis of drug abuse and is gradually emerging as India’s drug hub. Evidently, drug addiction is becoming a serious concern in Kashmir, devastating the lives of young people.

For decades, life in this particular region of the Himalayas has been plagued by conflict and unrest, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of lives, a pervasive sense of fear, and a decline in socio-economic and socio-cultural well-being. This situation has left the people grappling with a loss of hope and an uncertain future, exacerbating tensions.

Among the numerous factors contributing to the alarming increase in drug abuse in Kashmir, unemployment and poverty stand out as the main drivers. The lack of opportunities and economic hardships have pushed many individuals to seek solace in drugs as a means of escaping their troubles. Additionally, the easy accessibility of drugs has amplified this issue, largely due to the porosity of borders with neighboring countries.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has estimated 10 lakh residents in a population of 1.25 crore (or 8%) were drug addicts in J&K in 2019-20. About 8% of the region’s population uses some form of drugs, including cannabis, opioids, or sedatives. Although there are no comparable figures from earlier years, doctors say the number of addicts using hard substances such as heroin has risen sharply in Kashmir.

Reports indicate a sharp increase in the number of abusers consuming hard substances such as heroin. According to a survey conducted by the Jammu and Kashmir administration last year, more than 52,000 people in Kashmir admitted to using heroin. On average, a user spent about 88,000 rupees ($1,063.54; £860) per month to obtain the drug. The numbers are likely even higher, as many people do not admit their addiction or seek help because of the stigma surrounding drugs.

Experts attribute substance abuse to a range of social, cultural, psychological, emotional, and mental health issues that arise from residing in a conflict zone. The pervasive impact of living in such an environment has further exacerbated the vulnerability of individuals to substance abuse, making it a complex problem deeply rooted in the region’s circumstances.

The situation is deeply concerning, according to doctors who specialize in treating drug addicts in Kashmir. Dr Yasir Rather, a psychiatrist and professor at the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Srinagar, emphasizes the severity of the issue by stating, “A decade ago, we would receive around 10-15 cases of drug addiction per day seeking medical assistance at hospitals. However, at present, the number has skyrocketed to 150-200 cases per day.” This alarming surge in drug addiction cases highlights the urgent need for intervention and support in the region.

Drug abuse is not a new problem in the region but the most alarming part of this picture is that many young girls are involved in substance abuse. The constant need for money to cover the cost of buying drugs tempts them to commit other crimes, doubling the danger to them and driving up the number of crimes in Kashmir. Most of these young girls eventually become drug traffickers, allowing even more people to fall into this trap.

A major worrisome reason for the increase in the number of drug addicts is complete breakdown of centuries of informal social discipline and control mechanisms enforced by elders. The deadly attacks on the cultural core of the valley have rendered this traditional mechanism of social control completely ineffective.

Jammu and Kashmir Police are carrying out a major crackdown on drug peddling in the Kashmir Valley. Tons of drugs have been recovered by the Police from various districts of the Valley. Most of these consignments have been recovered from the bordering areas in North Kashmir in Valley & International Border in the Jammu region. Though the role of police is commendable, the government needs to develop a broader strategy to curb the drug menace in the valley.

The biggest challenge in addressing the drug problem in Kashmir is the inadequate infrastructure and shortage of manpower. One cannot expect a government hospital and a dozen or so small centres, including a rehabilitation centre run by the Kashmir Police, to work miracles.

When it comes to the question of who is responsible for curbing the drug problem, it becomes clear that each individual must do his or her part. It is not the sole responsibility of the police and the administration. It is necessary to publicise the reasons and factors that lead to drug addiction and, above all, to create a practical roadmap to combat drug addiction with suicidal tendencies among the young generation.

Educated, knowledgeable and professionals, religious scholars and people among cross section of society should come forward while working resolutely with affected families. Nobles of the society are rich source of wisdom, experience, capability and capacity to reach out to vulnerable generation committing suicides or taking to drugs with profound trauma to social fabric.

Issues related to mental or emotional well-being are said to be vital factors that are linked to drug addiction as well as suicide and hence need primary attention.

Role of Psychiatrists, Clinical Psychologists, Mental Health Counselors and related professionals, is seen as crucial and inevitable.

The taboo created around mental health in our society at various levels is said to be primary obstacle in tackling grave problems of suicides and drug addiction. Experts concerned  for have an authority to explain it.

Talking in terms of social menace, it is only suggested to engage with a multi-tier approach at societal level while following SOP’s. The police and administrative setup do have a vast human, technical, technological resources and wherewithal to crackdown on drug peddling. One such suggestive measure would be that the source crop needs to be weeded out and replaced by any agriculture crop.

Administration is to be extended cooperation while embarking on tackling grave social issues viz Drug Addiction. The resistance from anonymous drug mafia having anonymous patronage needs to be trampled upon for practical positive results on ground. Let everyone contribute a bit to make noble initiative a real success. All media platforms have responsibility to objectively and freely complement and supplement this noble initiative. All Schools, Colleges, Universities, Vocational, Professional & Technical institutions and Public Places must have Narcotic/ Drug Testing Labs and related professionals to make all concerned undertake tests to check narcotic use so that de-addiction & rehabilitation process is undertaken with dignity. Urine Drug Screening (UDS) must be made mandatory in all educational institutions.

Love, empathy and rehabilitation are potent tools to exterminate drug menace to put in order the social fabric in the Kashmir region.

Finally, talking about human issues is as important as the remedial measures. Accepting problems and coming up humanely and sincerely, is something befitting pro people Administration, in any part of world facing disastrous situations.

(Courtesy: PIB Srinagar)

Author is a freelance writer.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are author’s own.

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