Gurdwara Nanaksar Sahib in Edmonton just incredible
THE RAILWAY barrier in Angarh, a locality in the border city of Amritsar in Punjab signals the end of too many things. The rule of law. The reign of sense. The fear of crime. The signs of normality. Even the divisions of caste. Drug and crime infested as the area is, people dread having to wait at the barrier for a goods train to pass. Here, 13-year-olds are killed in Diwali gambling brawls; 20-year-olds run amok looting shops in a drug-crazed haze; illegal explosive factories abound near LPG godowns; and Kashmiris peddling ‘sulfa’ — an inferior quality of brown hashish — share the streets with young intravenous drug users (IDUs).
Angarh is just one symptom of a monstrous crisis: a staggering 75 percent of Punjab’s youth is hooked to drug abuse, a figure the state government itself submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2009. One out of every three college students in the state is on drugs. In Doaba, Majha and Malwa — regions particularly affected — almost every third family has at least one addict. Every kind of drug is readily available here. From smack, heroin and synthetic drugs to over-the-counter drugs like Buprenorphine, Parvon Spas, Codex syrup and spurious Coaxil and Phenarimine injections. This is a state where 30 percent of all jail inmates have been arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and the DGP has kicked up a political storm by saying it is impossible for him to control the flow of drugs into his prisons. But the sharp irony is, this matters little because, like Angarh, scores of other towns and villages in Punjab are more notorious than any prison cell.
Walking down a street in Angarh, littered with the implements of death — empty Coaxil bottles, dirty syringes — 16-year-old Sukhbir Sandhu asks for Rs 30 to go home to his mother. “I’m not begging,” he says, “just asking. I am a Jat. I have a big farm and I’ll pay you back when we meet next.” Sukhbir, the son of fairly well-to-do farmers, is dressed in Nike shoes but has scabbed finger tips, puss-filled injection holes on his arms, and the skin peeling off under his eye and his jittery disposition belie his age. When he is refused the money, he almost starts to cry. He finally admits he wants to buy a bottle of AVL (Phenara mine maleate) injection fluid, a drug meant to treat respiratory failure in cattle and horses. What has the potential to resurrect a dying horse, he says, is good enough for him to feel like a living man. If we give him another Rs 100, he says, he will get us the best in town. Still refused politely, Sukhbir leaps across a gutter to what should have been a public toilet but is now a preserve of those who chase smack and inject AVL all day long. In that filthy cocoon, he finds solace chasing fumes off a silver foil in the company of those who “caught him young”.
Boys like Sukhbir are the reason why someone like 35-year-old national body building champion Satbir Singh, who runs a gym in Angarh, swears nothing can be done to save the future of Punjab. “There were 40 of us in the same class in school. Only 10 of us, including me, are alive today. All the others died doing smack and prescription drugs,” he says.
The stories of the boy and the man are intertwined. At 16, Sukhbir will be lucky to be alive on his 21st birthday. At 35, Satbir has already seen his classmates die of violent overdose. At 16, the boy can’t visualize a future beyond his next hit. At 35, Satbir is looking to groom future bodybuilders who, true to the Punjabi gene, will grow into ‘real men’. At 16, the boy has already been slashed twice on his face by blades tied to the underside of a fellow addict’s middle finger. At 35, Satbir throws a mock punch at his 4-year-old son who is trained enough to block it and punch back, clearly daddy’s boy. At 16, the boy walks every day from his village to Angarh not to look for work or buy books but to get his next kick. At 35, Satbir came back to this criminal town to start a gym because there was no work to be found and even his sporting credentials had failed to bag him a Punjab police job. (The Rs 4 lakh bribe he was asked to cough up was beyond his means at the time.) At 16, the boy’s father often wishes his trouble-making son would just never come home. At 35, Satbir is a son who had prayed his father would come home alive from the 1971 war.
This then is the tale of two Punjabs. Satbir is a remembrance of a land once described by Alexander the Great in a letter to his mother as “the land of a leonine and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldier” and Swami Vivekananda as the “heroic land first to bare its bosom to every onslaught of the outer barbarians.” A land — until only recently — of farmers and soldiers whose stereotype was proud resilience.
Sukhbir, on the other hand, is the face of Punjab as it stands in the first decade of the 21st century. Fading and injured.
So what explains this monstrous drug upsurge in the state that is leaching it of its sap? Some of the answers are as shocking as the statistic.
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Golden Temple, Amritsar.
The agricultural crisis in the poster state of India’s Green Revolution — Punjab — seems to have reached its nadir as small farmers there continue to commit suicide at an alarming rate.
These suicides haven’t caused a stir at the Centre, unlike those of the Vidarbha and Telangana regions.
But, independent research has revealed that for several years, 2,000-2,500 farmers have been committing suicide every year Punjab. The causes include failure to repay debt because of crop failure, loans incurred to buy seeds/pesticides and land fragmentation leading to a decline in output.
The shocking suicides have been debated in the state for quite some time. Now it become the subject of a one-hour documentary film, Harvest of Grief. The film, produced by former UN official Rasil Basu and directed by Anwar Jamalwas screened at India International Centre on Saturday.
Among several layers, it puts together stories of women and children who have been the worst affected, losing their husbands and fathers. The screening was supported by Ektara, an NGO working for the advancement of women.
Inderjit Singh Jaijee, a Chandigarh-based former state legislator and human rights activist quoted in the film, was present.
“Since 1988 we’ve been trying to bring rural suicide to the government’s notice. In 1992, some top officials and politicians asked us to keep quiet in view of the slowly-fading militancy. But even after militancy ceased, there were no talks. We want to know why,” he said.
"Only two people have helped us so far — former presidents K.R. Narayanan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Now, top officials tell us to keep quiet or else the problem of Naxalism will grow," he added.
Jaijee said Bharatiya Kisan Union, has estimated that around 90,000 farmers have committed suicide in Punjab so far.
"The government first denied it but then set up a research body, Institute for Development and Communication. It has pegged the figure at 2,000 per year. Punjab University puts it at 2,500. But the police have recorded only seven suicides in seven years," he added.
It’s incredible that the suicides happened in the state which was the biggest success story of the drive in 1960s to be self-sufficient in foodgrain by using fertilizers and high-intensity irrigation. The same tools have now turned Punjab into a graveyard.
The film extensively quoted Vandana Shiva, a noted physicist, activist and founder of organic food brand Navdanya. After the screening she said: “Punjab has become a land of rice and wheat monocultures. Climate unfriendly practices, not suited to Punjab’s land type, have brought the state to this fate. Now, they are trying to grow oranges there which will again be a waste.”
Long-term use of pesticides, which has contaminated groundwater, has turned the state’s Malwa region into a cancer belt. Almost every family in Bhatinda district has a cancer patient. The film brings out the macabre reality of The Cancer Express — a train carrying cancer patients from Bhatinda to Bikaner, which has a charity hospital. Then there is the story of a canal that takes water into Haryana, which has given birth to a new business — of fishing out bodies of the farmers who have committed suicide.
Journalist-activist Pradeep Bidwai said agriculture has become unviable for the vast majority of India’s poor who survive only on the land they till. “The small farmers are unable to cope with the high prices of inputs.
"We have stopped investing in agriculture and the large-scale irrigation projects, based on the likes of the Bhakra Nangal Dam, have proved a failure. There needs to be a major change in the way agriculture is being practised in the country," he said.
Jaijee hoped that the film will prod the central government to do something for the beleaguered agricultural state.
Right now, it appears that the crops are not exactly lush and drooping under their own good health in the fields of Punjab as has been immortalised in innumerable Bollywood films.
The illusion of maya, in this age of kalyug, forming a veil over our eyes.
At the Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, Punjab, India