Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav is finally over. A record number of national flags were sold, thanks to the Prime Minister’s campaign Har Ghar Tiranga. If reports are to be believed, the flag sale fetched around Rs. 500 crores of business. Many would say it is a great achievement. People were able to earn money at a time when unemployment and inflation were very high. However, this has a flip side too. Reports suggest that flag code was violated with impunity with several deficiencies in its production. The campaign was launched to glorify the 75th year of India’s Independence. It has only reduced the national flag to another commodity. However, it is pertinent to ask an important question, how free are we?
As the Prime Minister spoke from the ramparts of the Red Fort, he laid down five resolutions for making India a developed nation in the next 25 years. Every Indian should focus on developing the country, 100 per cent freedom from slavery, taking pride in Indian heritage, giving importance to unity and integrity and by becoming responsible citizens!
Be that as it may, the Prime Minister at least accepted that slavery is still prevalent in the country. While it is not clear what type of slavery did Modi talk about as new genres of slavery are evolving as we move away from our value system. It could be in the form of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, drug addiction, crime and many more.
A recent incident in Kerala has set the alarm bells ringing. An 11-year-old school-going girl revealed that her classmate gave her drugs feigning love. It was given free initially for reducing mental stress. However, as she became an addict, she was forced to “sell body for money”. She has allegedly claimed that there are many more girls who have fallen prey to such tactics. Many have a tendency to commit suicide. The matter is being investigated.
Well, this certainly is not the only incident where drugs and crime were inter-connected. People can take extreme steps in the illusive world that drugs transport them into.
Stand outside a college or a school, it is common to see children, young adults or adolescents holding handkerchiefs close to their nose, sniffing the toxic smell of thinner or other products. It is their urge to forget the present that forces them to buy medicines like cough syrups and use them in exorbitant proportions, without any ailment, leading to drowsiness. The quantum of drugs consumed decides the effects.
A small quantity acts as a stimulant, speeding up one’s action while a slightly higher quantity can act as a sedative, slowing down one’s activity, and larger quantities can also lead to death. Often children are forced to take drugs under peer pressure. Their curiosity to explore new things, desire to have a kick and a moment of fun often leads to addiction once the drugs are consumed frequently.
A study conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) reveals that tobacco and alcohol are the most commonly used drugs amongst adolescents. It shows that 46 per cent of slum dwellers start using smokeless tobacco at an age as early as six years! As they start growing, they easily get into the habit of smoking, drinking alcohol and consuming cannabis. It has been found that children from urban regions start smoking at an average age of 12 years.
In terms of seizures, India is the fourth highest country where 5.2 tonnes of opium were seized in the year 2020 at a time when the entire world was reeling under the pandemic. During the same time, 0.7 tonnes of morphine and 3.8 tonnes of heroin were seized making us the third highest and fifth highest consumer in the world respectively! The trend does not seem to slow down if the data is to be believed. In fact, the report shows that increased consumption of drugs shall trigger increased levels of trafficking and associated organised crime.
What is more worrying is the increased involvement of children and juveniles. The recent report of the national crime record bureau (NCRB) shows 74 per cent increase in cases registered under Narcotic Drugs and psychotropic substances (NDPS) Act. The number of cases involving juveniles has doubled during the last decade. It has been estimated that more than 40 lakh children consumed opioids and 30 lakh consumed alcohol and inhalants in 2018. The number might have increased by now.
The government has launched Nasha Mukti Bharat Abhiyaan in 272 vulnerable districts of the country with an objective of creating awareness on the ill-effects of substance abuse in 2020-21. The focus is on the youth studying in colleges and universities. Awareness is certainly one of the ways to control drug addiction. However, the government needs to introspect, find reasons why more and more youth and children are falling prey to drugs, and seek sustainable solutions.
It is pertinent to note that India’s drug policy needs to be reviewed holistically to save the demographic dividend of its country. A nationwide study by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2019 found that 75 per cent of the people who try to give up drugs, do not get the right kind of treatment.
The NDPS Act criminalises possession of drugs for personal consumption as well as for trafficking. In other words, it treats the consumers and the drug peddlers in the same fashion. It also fails to acknowledge that drug addiction is a disease and requires treatment and rehabilitation rather than punitive action. It is high time to revise the Act while differentiating between addicts, first-time users and recreational drug users. The national fund to control drug abuse must be put to effective use for setting up drug de-addiction centres with a focus on evidence-based treatment facilities, rehabilitation of the drug addicts.
It is also important to collect data and conduct research-based studies to assess the extent of substance use disorders, drug-dependence, related health issues, criminal tendencies etc. at various levels. Such surveys shall help in early identification of regions and population groups which need immediate attention. Instead of focusing on institutions and laws focused on criminalisation, the government needs to focus on curative institutions for rehabilitation of the drug addicts, restoring their emotional wellness through psycho-social counselling and provision of medical and economic support.
In the absence of a strategic plan to tackle drug abuse at a war footing, we won’t be able to have people to support the country’s development. Nor shall we have responsible citizens who can write India’s growth story. We will only be left with modern slaves, permanently hooked on to a fantasy world, miles apart from reality, lost in the quagmire of drug abuse! The five resolutions of the Prime Minister will remain ineffective.
(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at email@example.com)