Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s untimely death has not only generated several debates but skeletons seem to keep tumbling out of the film industry’s closet.
After the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the probe into Sushant’s death and began exploring several angles, now there is a new twist. The alleged film world-drug mafia nexus has come to light with the arrest of two close aides of the deceased actor on 4 September.
Yes, Showik Chakraborty, brother of Rhea Chakraborty, the live-in partner of Sushant and Samuel Miranda, his former house manager are expected to provide valuable information that could bring many more under the CBI’s radar.
But the growing worry of a similar unholy drug network extending beyond Mumbai is borne by the arrest of a former small-time Kannada television actress and two of her associates in Bengaluru by the Narcotics Control Bureau on August 21.
According to media reports, large quantities of MDMA pills valued several lakh was seized from her. MDMA (methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) commonly known as ecstasy, is believed to be a party drug, which alters mood. Each ecstasy pill is reportedly priced between Rs. 1500 and Rs. 2500 with its rate escalating as the party progresses. The drug’s perception, said to be chemically similar to stimulants and hallucinogens, produced a feeling of increased energy/pleasure.
After soliciting orders online, the accused allegedly supplied drugs to college students apart from VIPs and film celebrities. That over 2000 names have been found in their seized mobile phones which includes cinema actors, prominent musicians and children of VIPs clearly shows that their clientele was large. Further that the drugs were sourced from abroad using international courier services and payments for the same were made in bitcoins according to reports indicating the existence of a bigger network of unscrupulous elements at work in the said drug mafia.
The Bengaluru arrests set off a chain reaction. South Indian filmmaker Indrajit Lankesh was quick to remark in a press meet that drug use was rampant in the Kannada film industry which generated sharp reactions from several quarters. It led to the Central Crime Branch (CCB) questioning him and he claimed to have provided names of around 15 people who were into drug business. Indrajit’s revelations are said to have resulted in the cancellation of the marriage of a Kannada actor after the bride’s party refused to go ahead with the wedding on hearing about the drug mafia in the film industry. In a related development, on September 4, CCB police arrested Kannada actress Ragini Dwivedi, after raids at her residence led to unearthing of ganja, which was reportedly filled in cigarettes.
Addiction to drugs is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs. Drug abuse, however, does not only include consumption of drugs such as cocaine, hallucinogens, cannabis, opiates among others, but also includes prescription medications such as painkillers and sleeping pills.
According to the 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 255 million people worldwide use illicit drugs, of which 29.5 million suffered from drug use-related disorders.
In India more than 3.1 crore Indians have reported using cannabis products, Bhang, Ganja, Charas, Heroin and Opium, in the last one year. 72 lakh of these drug users are addicted to them but only one in 20 drug addicts gets treated.
In 2019, a total of 2448 kilograms of Heroin was seized by NCB, compared to 1258 kg in 2018. Similarly, in 2019, the total seizure of Opium was 7317 kg compared to 4307 kg in 2018. In 2019, 58 kg of Cocaine was seized against 35 kg in 2018. Under the the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, import inter- state, export inter-state or use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is punishable. Offences involving small quantity (ranging from 1 gram to 50 grams depending upon the item) – on conviction can lead to rigorous imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to Rs. 10,000 or both. Offences involving more than small quantity but less than commercial quantity can be liable for rigorous imprisonment up to 10 years plus fine up to Rs. 1 Lakh. In case of offences involving commercial quantity (20 grams to 50 kg) rigorous imprisonment can range from 10 to 20 years plus fines between Rs. 1 to 2 Lakh.
As per the 2019 All India Institute of Medical Sciences study, an estimated 8.5 lakh Indians inject drugs while close to about 4.6 lakh children and 18 lakh adults need help for inhalant dependence. Besides, a whopping 77 lakh Indians require help for opioid dependence and the prevalence of opioid use in the country is three times the global average.
Another study that has found that drug addicts in five states including Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir spent up to Rs 2000 a day for buying and consuming narcotics such as heroin, opium and chitta, which are banned under NDPS Act. Peddlers were the main source of the drug supply. Those addicted to drugs suffer as the cost of treatment varies from Rs 5000 to Rs one lakh.
Surveys by the Indian Council for Social Science Research have concluded that over 70 per cent of the drug addicts are in the age group of 15 to 35 years which is rather unfortunate. 65 percent of addicts started taking drugs when they were between 15 to 20 years of age. 18 per cent fell prey to the menace when they were 21 to 25 years old.
The problem of drug abuse seemed more serious in rural areas with 54 percent of addicts belonging to villages and mainly consisted of cultivators' and labourers' households. Peer pressure, unemployment and easy availability of drugs were some of the key factors behind the rising drug menace.
In a first-of-its-kind study conducted in government schools of Chandigarh, it was found that a whopping 50 per cent students consumed intoxicants such as bhukhi, weed, tobacco and cocaine. The study conducted by the Chandigarh Commission for Protection of Child Rights found that 40 per cent of the students started consuming drugs between the age of 13 and 14 years and the frequency of such consumption was as high as four times a day in only 1 per cent of the total students interviewed under the survey. Notably, it was found that 93 per cent students preferred the company of their friends while consuming drugs.
The cause for concern is that the hydra-headed menace of drug abuse refuses to let go of its tentacles, despite seizures and arrests. How to smash the well-coordinated network through which narcotics and opiates find their way to the public at large?
Some individuals who suffer from social anxiety, stress and depression start using drugs to try to feel less anxious as drugs can produce intense feelings of pleasure. They may do so for a number reasons.
According to research, use of stimulants such as cocaine is said to be followed by feelings of power, self-confidence and increased energy. Also, the euphoria supposedly caused by opioids such as heroin is followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.
So, when one uses a drug for the first time, they may perceive what seem to be positive effects and also may believe they can control their use. But drugs can quickly take over a person's life.
If drug use continues, over a period of time other pleasurable activities become less pleasurable, and such individuals have to necessarily take drugs just to feel normal. It needs to be realised that it is better to be away from drugs.
In many cases, drug abuse is both preventable and treatable. When left untreated, its adverse impact can last a lifetime and may even lead to death.
On the flip side, the Centre has identified 272 districts in the country which are hugely affected by drug abuse and a Rs 336 crore national action plan for a ‘ nasha mukt Bharat’ (addiction-free India) is to be implemented. Nonetheless, at the macro level, there is an imperative need to prevent drug addiction and rope in more clinical psychiatrists and counsellors both at urban centres and rural areas. Studies have pointed out that long stay homes for drug users can be of much help, so it is all the more important to create such facilities to prevent the risk of relapse.
At a macro level, while porous borders and proximity to international drug routes in the country need to be addressed, it is equally important to fast track drug abuse cases. To fight the drug menace, the move to attach the moveable and immoveable properties of those arrested in cases registered under the NDPS Act can serve as an effective deterrent. What is more important is the certainty of the law catching up, and swiftly, can surely prevent such crimes.
(Published on 07th September 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 37)