It is a matter of great embarrassment for our society in Kashmir, that despite our religious fervour, faith and daily practice, our people, particularly our youth, have fallen victim to the use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances on a large scale, something vehemently unsanctioned by all the religions we follow here.
If it is true that Kashmir is going the Punjab way in terms of high prevalence of narcotic drug users, as per the statement of police carried by Indian Express about two weeks back, then we are stepping into dangerous territory and need to do all we can, to save our vulnerable youth from sure destruction of their physical and mental health and indeed of their lives.
There has been some confusion about the number of substance and opioid users in Kashmir, but it certainly is a few lakhs if not several lakhs, as of now.
A recent report gave a figure of 67468 persons found suffering from dependency on psychoactive substances, quoting the survey conducted between March 2022 and March 2023 by the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Kashmir (Imhans-K).
But the actual number of dependents may be much more as there would be many who are in the early phases of psychoactive substance use and therefore not reporting for treatment and de-addiction. There is another way of calculating the actual number of users.
If, as per the same newspaper report which has quoted statistics from Imhans-K survey, substance abuse has reached 2.87% of population and opioid dependence 2.23 %, then the number of substance users works out to over 2.2 lakh and opioid dependents over 1.6 lakh, in Kashmir division alone.
Assuming that there is overlap among the substance and opioid users identified by the survey, the total number of dependents on substance and opioids would still work out to atleast three lakh, if not more.
In terms of percentage of population dependent on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances obtained through the surveys, Kashmir seems to have overtaken most neighbouring states within about three to four years, rising from 1.5% in 2019. A dubious distinction indeed! However, absolute numbers are still less than these states.
The causes for increasing narcotics and substance dependency are many, namely proximity to the primary narcotics producing areas in India's neighbourhood, the golden crescent comprising areas falling in Afghanistan and adjoining countries and Pakistan, the new trend of smuggling of narcotics across the LoC and IB in Jammu and Kashmir, suspected smuggling of narcotics from Punjab and other states into Jammu and Kashmir, cultivation of certain types of narcotics yielding plants in certain areas in Kashmir and finally huge profits in narcotic drug trade and trafficking.
And then the presence of vulnerable youth who are largely unemployed and seeing few opportunities and worn down by continued difficult economic conditions in an area bruised by militancy and political conflict.
Lack of requisite parental watch and care, lack of awareness among parents and society in general and apparently, less than adequate crackdown by the law enforcing agencies against the drug traffickers and dealers are other important causes and contributing factors.
The police authorities have even referred to narco-terrorism being one of the reasons for smuggling of narcotic drugs across the LoC in Kashmir and a spokesman of the Ministry of Defence has also reportedly expressed concern over smuggling of narcotics across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. Our situation therefore is on the edge and if necessary counter measures are not taken now, we may be in for a long haul.
A number of suggestions came up in the workshop held at Jhelum Valley Medical College, Srinagar on the world anti-drugs day on 26th June which was also attended by some of us from the Group of Concerned Citizens (GCC).
The suggestions included creating awareness among the students, parents and teachers through counseling in schools and colleges for which the government will need to take appropriate steps on a continued basis.
It was also suggested that religious scholars, Imams of mosques and priests in temples etc need to be approached to speak against drug abuse and about ill effects of abuse and addiction.
And finally, the government through its information department will need to do much more to warn the people in general and youth in particular about the adverse health effects and penalties under the relevant laws, that is the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) and Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1988.
The later law gives powers to senior government officials to detain the traffickers for prolonged period. It was also felt that government authorities at the highest level may be approached to have stronger action taken under the relevant laws by the Police and other authorised agencies like the Excise Department and Narcotics Bureau to put the fear of law in the minds of the traffickers and dealers and arrest the rising trend of drug abuse and addiction.
It is a matter of some satisfaction that police crackdown against traffickers and dealers has been intensified in the recent days in Kashmir division and dozens of offenders arrested.
Drug trafficking and supply has also been described, elsewhere, as crime against humanity in view of the destructive impact of drugs on the lives of those who are continuously supplied drugs to turn them into addicts and therefore these nefarious activities need to be curbed urgently and strongly.
There is something bafflingly worrisome about our society here in Kashmir which does not allow us as people to quickly accept and adopt appropriate social behaviour and conduct to ward off a social problem or a health hazard until the same becomes an existential threat or life threatening.
This was seen during covid in 2020 vis a vis wearing of masks and it was only after high incidence of positive cases and deaths that common people started to heed the advisory about masks and other advisories.
People's consciousness will possibly be awakened only when drug addiction and consequent health problems assume epidemic proportions or tend to move beyond control. Now that is not a desirable situation.
All suggestions referred to above are useful. But the best and the most impactful thrust against narcotic drug smugglers, traffickers, dealers, suppliers and addicts needs to come from the governmental agencies, security forces guarding the LOC and IB and the UT Police.
There must be fear of law and fear of punishment under law as nothing can substitute for swift and strong action under law. Prevention is better than cure and all sections of society will need to rise in unison against the menace.
In all this, the doctors and paramedics incharge of treatment, the counselors incharge of de-addiction and rehabilitation and those among the police who are acting strongly and sincerely against narcotic drug offenders, cannot afford any respite as the task is humongous and hard. We wish them good luck because as of now they are singly, singularly and selflessly rendering great service to the society.
Khurshid Ahmed Ganai is a retired IAS officer of erstwhile J&K cadre and former Advisor to Governor, J&K