For the past several decades, there has been an ongoing drug problem in Punjab, India that has been neglected acknowledgment by the Indian government and police force. Until the controversial release of the movie Udta Punjab in 2016 that served to highlight the severe addiction, the youth of Punjab faces, the current epidemic was simply seen and not heard by the country and in turn, the rest of the world. However, the problem is very real and the continuation of its neglect will only worsen the conditions for the region’s youth.
The Punjabi drug epidemic began when the Indian government intercepted the region’s illegal production and distribution of opium in the 1980s by closing the drug route between Punjab and its neighboring state, Rajasthan. Rajasthan was the main provider of Punjab’s opium circulation, forming a lapse in the drug market when the negotiation between the two regions was abolished. This void was unfortunately filled with a significantly more addictive and dangerous drug: heroin.
This issue does not limit itself to the extremely wealthy or severely impoverished but instead infiltrates Punjabi society at all socioeconomic levels. Those who cannot afford heroin settle for other synthetic drugs and small black balls of opium paste are popular with tea for the younger generation. In fact, most of the drug addicts in Punjab are young males between the ages of 15 to 35 from lower-middle class backgrounds. On average, 83 percent of these addicts are employed and 99 percent live with their families, allowing these addictions to spread through generations and peers easily as the typical drug addict is not a recluse from society.
Despite the government’s superficial efforts to alleviate the state of its deep-rooted drug problems, the Punjabi government and police force are largely at fault for the continuation of this issue. After the state of Punjab risked losing an entire generation to drug abuse, the region saw a rise in the establishment of private drug-treatment facilities and in the number of drug addiction patients the government hospitals treated.
However, regardless of these efforts, drug abuse was barely mentioned during Punjabi elections and was not used as a platform for any major party despite being one of the main issues facing the state. In fact, Punjabi candidates were actually suspected of distributing drugs to villages in order to bribe them for votes, showing the government’s role in fueling the development of this issue. In areas of particular interest, party workers even passed out coupons to redeem at pharmacies to the locals, according to India’s Election Commission. Along with this, the movie Udta Punjab had a difficult time releasing in Punjab due to the ongoing elections as the film highlighted the maltreatment of the Punjabi youth by the government and the true effects of a drug-addicted society.
The government plays an integral role in the continuation of the Punjabi drug epidemic in order to benefit their own state revenue. As about 8000 government run liquor stores operate in Punjab, the sales generated from alcohol are necessary to the function of the economy. This corresponds with the steep rise in alcohol consumption in 2005, which climbed 59 percent since then while also giving reason for the growth of the drug epidemic.
“The state is not conceiving it as a social problem. They are conceiving it as a personal problem.” –Ravinder Singh Sandhu, Sociologist
Though the state of Punjab has turned a blind eye to this issue since its fruition, increasing awareness for the issue is a step toward alleviating the state of this plague by showing the Punjabi government that the people are aware of their neglect. The Punjabi people necessitate a reform in their treatment of drugs that the people should and will bring if the government fails to do so.