“There is a drug addict in almost every home, some as young as 12”
Drug abuse is assuming frightening proportions in Hanumangarh district in Rajasthan and the worst hit are the rural youth, whose addiction is tearing apart families and sending crime in the villages and small towns skyrocketing. There are no significant drug-rehabilitation centres in the district to help the victims, complain activists. A ground report.
Parul Kulshreshta 31 Jan 2023 8:22 AM GMT
Tibbi/ Salemgarh-Masani (Hanumangarh), Rajasthan
Sukhwinder Kaur is a devastated mother. She has three sons — all adults, with one of them being a veterinarian doctor. All three sons are drug addicts.
Her neighbour Akki Kaur is no better. Akki’s 17-year-old son died using drugs and another 14-year-old son has just returned from a rehabilitation centre at Hanumangarh city, about 20 kilometres from Ward-20 of Tibbi where both Sukhwinder and Akki live.
Rajvinder Kaur is also struggling to come to terms with her husband, 25-year-old Parwinder Singh’s death due to drug overdose a few months ago. The young mother now works as a labourer and sometimes helps out at the local Gurudwara to feed her two kids. “He was a construction labourer and he got addicted to drugs. He spent all his earnings on drugs and finally overdosed and died,” his sister-in-law Gurpreet Kaur told Gaon Connection.
Drug addiction, also called substance abuse disorder, is leaving family after family devastated in Ward-20 of Tibbi of Hanumangarh district in Rajasthan. There are 700 houses in Ward 20 of Tibbi and in almost every house there is a drug addict. The small town and its neighbouring villages that fall in Bikaner division, bordering Punjab and Haryana, has a spiralling-out-of-control drug-problem.
“There is a drug addict in almost every home, some of them as young as 12,” Jasmeet Singh, a social worker and general secretary of Gurudwara Singh Sabha, Hanumangarh, who has been fighting to stem the rot in Tibbi, told Gaon Connection. “We have met MLAs, MPs, and approached government officials, but nothing has happened. Meanwhile, we are losing our younger generation to drugs,” the 45-year-old social worker said.
Most of the inhabitants of Ward 20 are labourers. They are poor and even if they want to quit drugs, they do not know how, the activist said. “There is no government rehabilitation centre in the Hanumangarh district and private centres charge Rs 15,000 to Rs 50,000 per month. How will these people afford it,” Jasmeet demanded to know.
“It is an epidemic in our district. If it is not curtailed, then one day we will lose all our young people to this poison,” feared Gurbaksh Singh a 75-year-old inhabitant of Ward-20, Tibbi.
Ajay Singh Rathore, the SSP at Hanumangarh acknowledged that drug addiction in the district was growing at an alarming rate. The proximity to Punjab and Delhi was making Hanumangarh vulnerable to the drug mafia, he said. “The modus-operandi of drug lords is to first distribute the drugs free, get people addicted and then get them to work as drug peddlers,” Rathore told Gaon Connection.
Rathore said that while the police had managed to apprehend many of the small-time peddlers, the big fish remained elusive.
Drugs spreading their tentacles
Fifteen kilometres away from Tibbi, at Masani village, drug addiction is wreaking havoc. “I used to be a drug addict. I injected myself with heroin all day long, nearly a hundred times a day. My nerves are clogged now, and I am trying to get off drugs,” 34-year-old Sandeep Kaur, Gaon Connection.
At the Krishi Mandi (Agriculture Market) in Salemgarh-Masani village in Hanumangarh, there is evidence of drug use everywhere. Used syringes, burnt foil paper and spoons littered empty warehouses in the mandi. “In the evenings, this mandi is a hang out for drug addicts, almost all of whom are labourers. They cannot work without drugs. We have complained everywhere but no one listens,” Ravindra Dharaniya, president of the truck union, told Gaon Connection.
As a fallout of drug addiction, robberies, domestic abuse, chain snatching and pickpocketing has gone up in the area, said Sukhdev Singh, an inhabitant of Salemgarh-Masani village.
“My older son is absconding after he stole Rs 50,000 from a jeweller’s shop, and my younger one is also using drugs. They are so desperate that they use syringes they find in the hospital garbage dump. My next generation is finished, but what can I do,” Sukhdev Singh said despairingly.
“In every village of the district, there are at least 200 young drug addicts. There should be a government rehabilitation centre at the district level so that we can treat patients at a low cost,” Gurdeep Singh Shahpini, the MLA of the Sangaria, Hanumangarh legislative assembly, told Gaon Connection. He said he had raised the matter in the assembly several times, but the state government had not done much to curb the problem.
Not just in Hanumangarh, the tentacles of drug abuse have reached other parts of the state too.
“You go to any corner of Jaipur and you will find drugs being sold. The problem is getting out of hand.The government has not been proactive enough in curtailing this problem,” Harish Bhutani, director of Jaipur-based Nav Vikalp Sansthan that runs a drug rehabilitation centre, told Gaon Connection. According to him, there are any number of chemical drugs available easily in the market, and not just opium. “The government needs to do something about it,” Bhutani said.
Funds and guidelines, only on paper
The Rajasthan government granted Rs 10 crore in the last budget to start the Guru Sharan Chabbra Jan Jagriti Abhiyan to spread awareness and campaign against drugs in the state. But as per officials at the Social Security Department, any form of awareness campaign is yet to begin in the state.
The central government also granted Rs 1.12 crore to start an awareness campaign against drugs on district level but the Rajasthan government is yet to utilise that money.
In 2020, Rajasthan government framed guidelines for running a drug rehabilitation centre in the state under which getting licence is an important requirement but till today that has not been thoroughly implemented.
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Sources in the Social Security department said many rehabilitation centres that were shut down in Punjab and Haryana for not following the guidelines, are functioning in Rajasthan, and involved in many illegal activities. According to government officials, there are around 200 rehabilitation centres in Rajasthan out of which only 50 have the licence to function.
“We already have seven government-run drug rehabilitation centres in Rajasthan in seven government medical universities,” Suvalal Pahadia, additional director of the Social Security Department, Jaipur, told Gaon Connection. He said that the social security department had received the clearance to utilise the Rs 10 crores announced in the budget, and teams had been formed to start the awareness campaigns.
“Everything takes time. We are slowly moving towards making rehabilitation an important issue for our state. We will make the drug issue a priority in the state,” Pahadia said.