Home >News >India >A campaign against drugs is needed to save India’s youth
Shashi Shekhar - Editor In Chief - Hindustan Media Ventures Limited. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint.
Shashi Shekhar - Editor In Chief - Hindustan Media Ventures Limited. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint.

A campaign against drugs is needed to save India’s youth

Let us not forget that film stars are in many ways role models for our young people

If a research scholar were to study the social and political discourse in today’s India, amid the covid-19 pandemic, about 100 years from now, she would unearth many surprises. If she were to watch the video clippings from the archives of various news channels, she might not be faulted for thinking that the biggest bane India faced in the latter half of 2020 was the ostensible use of drugs and other intoxicants by a section of the film fraternity. The enormous problems the country faces as a result of the pandemic—from the plight of migrant workers, unemployment, the economic downturn and lack of healthcare systems—besides the encroachment by China’s People’s Liberation Army into Indian territory, will probably feature as a footnote.

It is clear that our TV channels are either incapable of or are disinterested in offering a healthy mix of news items, especially during a crisis of this magnitude.

I am, by no means, underplaying the problem of drug addiction or alcoholism among sections of the younger generation. It is well-known that the drug menace has taken on epic proportions in some areas. This goes far beyond India’s borders and is an intractable problem in many countries, which has been going on for several decades.

Former US president Ronald Reagan, who came to power on a nationalist pitch, made a heroic effort to tackle the drug problem in his country. In fact, he declared a war on drugs with his wife launching a campaign with the famous slogan “just say no". Reagan set up a special task force with the sole aim of killing Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Back then, the US spent as much by way of resources to eliminate Escobar as it did for Communist revolutionary Che Guevara, who was the spirit behind the revolution in several Latin American countries. Many people find comparisons between the charismatic Che Guevara and Escobar unacceptable, but to US policymakers, both were deemed ‘undesirables’.

But did the illegal drug trade in the US end with the death of Escobar? While the drug lord was a visible symbol of the malaise, his death did nothing to halt the flow of drugs from various South American countries to other parts of the world, including the US. The US, by assisting in the hunt and finally the killing of Escobar, treated the symptoms of the deadly disease, but was unable to stamp it out. So, in Escobar’s death, one cog in the wheel was removed, but the problem remained. Escobar was an easy target because he lived the high life. He liked to flaunt his ill-gotten wealth, graced various magazine covers and became something of a Robin Hood for his countrymen. Unlike other old-fashioned drug lords who lived under the radar, Escobar began to entertain ambitions of becoming the president of his country. Given his high profile, his death made headlines across the world. That was what Reagan wanted. He wanted to be the president who brought down a notorious drug baron.

There are many in India who feel that the film stars who are in the spotlight are victims of politics. But let us not forget that film stars are in many ways role models for our young generation. In my younger days, depending on their looks or style, many young women were referred to by the names of various stars such as Sadhana, Nutan, Meena Kumari, Hema Malini or Rekha. And fearless young men were referred to as Dharmendra and the more agile ones, Dev Anand.

My point is that actors have an impact on young people. So, it is of little surprise that the habits of stars are often emulated. A few months ago, a video went viral showing several popular stars in various states of intoxication at a party. Officers of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) may have been overzealous in calling in many stars for interrogation, but any action against such drug consumption should be supported. The coronavirus pandemic will eventually go away, drugs will not.

The overload of news on various platforms has begun to blunt our memories. This is why we forget that the Punjab election in 2017 was fought on the issue of drug addiction. The Aam Aadmi Party raised the issue initially, but Congress leader Amarinder Singh ran with it. Today, he is the chief minister of Punjab. The seriousness of this problem can be discerned from the figures presented in the Lok Sabha on 25 June 2019—47,344 cases of drug trafficking were registered in 2017. The maximum number of 12,439 cases was reported from Punjab, 8,440 from Kerala and 6,693 from Uttar Pradesh.

But, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Maharashtra had the highest number of cases of drug abuse in the same year, with 96% of the 14,634 cases related to personal drug use. This was followed by Punjab.

And, if Maharashtra is on top of the list with regard to cases of personal drug use, then what the NCB is doing in Mumbai is a step in the right direction. But it will only be effective if the NCB officials enlarge the scope of their operations. There must be a sustained campaign against drugs across the country.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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