By Tanveen Kawoosa
Kashmir: Increasing drug abuse has begun to claim a heavy toll among the youth
Today perhaps there is no part of the world frees from the curse of drug addiction and drug trafficking. Closer home, Kashmir is emerging as a fertile ground. Its deceptively tranquil environs are caught in a vicious circle of drug abuse with the number of addicts increasing day by day.
The culture of drug abuse is not entirely new to the region. From time immemorial, charas, a local plant used for getting a ‘high’ was popular. Charas is resin from the flowering tops of poppy plants. After a simple treatment, this was smoked generally through clay water pipe called chillum. Sometimes charas was smoked in tobacco cigars or cigarettes. According to old tales, especially in district Islamabad, charas takayas (den of charas addicts) were well entrenched.
Hermits and faqirs or wandering minstrels, who remained outside the ambit of formal religious bodies and exercised their ‘freedom’ to find oneness with eternity, also smoked hashish, another addictive substance. The state of illusion it produced was touted as the ‘realised state’ being pursued by its protagonists. They remained alienated from the material world and immersed in this self-defined ‘sacred’ state of existence. According to renowned educationist prof Madhosh, during 1970s and 1980s, at least 42 places were identified in the district Islamabad as a seat of charas takayas.
Charas-smokers were somehow socially acceptable. Their philosophy and way of life remained confined within their groups which were on the periphery of society. Beyond these groups of self-proclaimed religious men, charas smoking did not have many takers in society. This can be gauged from the fact that only a miniscule of the youth population, nearly two to three per cent falling in the age group of 18-30, was substance abusers during that period. Sadly this changed and gradually drug addiction struck its roots almost in every part of Kashmir.
Though not widely prevalent, the insidious practice had found pockets in Kashmiri society way back in the 1960s and 1970s but remained much on the margins of society. Findings by noted psychiatrist of the Valley, Mushtaq Margoob, and reveals that isolated cases of drug intake like diazepam were reported in the 1960s and 1970s. Cases of taking 30-40 sleeping pills (meprobamate) per day were reported.
In those days professional colleges in Kashmir attracted several foreign students where the abuse of mandrax, a stimulant, became rampant. In a later sample in 2002, Margoob observed that heroin abuse is the most common (73.61 per cent). With media reports that Jammu border is becoming the main transit point of international heroin smuggling, the nexus between drug-traffickers and drug-users becomes all the more apparent and a matter of grave concern.
A comparative study of substance abuse in 1980-88 to 2002 by Margoob reveals a disturbing trend of drug abuse in Kashmir. Now the practice is moving beyond the male bastions and females are now part of the growing drug takers. In 1980s only one female addict in her late 60s in the whole sample was addicted to a small quantity of raw opium. The picture over the decades has changed drastically. In a 2002 sample, women in their late 20s were found addicted to multiple psychoactive substances. At one of the hospitals that was tracked from March 2002 to November 2002, 72 patients with drug abuse-related problem visited the concerned department
One of the females in the sample was from rural background, educated up to primary level. It was found that she used to inject herself five to 10 ampoules pentozocaine almost daily for more than a year. She was also consuming 10 to 20 tablets of dextropropoxyphane, also a psychotropic substance.
With most drug users being in the productive age group of 18-35, the loss in terms of human potential is incalculable. The damage to physical, psychological, moral and intellectual growth of the youth is very high.
More recent studies serve to only reiterate this. The research study conducted by renowned educationist prof Madhosh in 2005 revealed the involvement of 25 to 30 per cent of male population in drug abuse. The report ‘Prevention of drug abuse among youth’, presented by senior SSP Anantnagh, on July 8, 2006 indicated 45 per cent involvement of male youth population.
“Addiction occurs here primarily in response to trauma, unemployment or the chronic lack of medical care,” says prof Madhosh.
Tanveen Kawoosa, Sub Editor ‘Features’ in English daily ‘Etalaat’, is also the Coordinator of the Kashmir Womens’ Forum, a network of women journalists and freelance writers based in Srinagar established in June 2008 in consultation with Charkha.