Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Deaths due to ‘overdose’ of drugs: A harrowing picture of loss in Punjab’s hinterland

Punjab recorded 266 deaths due to overdoses of narcotic and psychotropic substances from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2023.

Drug Story in PunjabSunny’s mother Rekha says he had left home saying he will return soon, but never did. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

In a recent submission to the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Director (Bureau of Investigation) of the state police department, LK Yadav, revealed alarming statistics regarding drug-related fatalities in Punjab. According to the report, Punjab recorded 266 deaths due to overdoses of narcotic and psychotropic substances from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2023. The breakdown indicated 36 deaths in 2020-21, 71 in 2021-22, and a staggering 159 in the most recent year, ending March 31, 2023.

This revelation came in response to a directive from the High Court in connection with a petition filed by one Nidhi from Jalandhar. The court had instructed the Bureau of Investigation, Punjab, to furnish an affidavit detailing the total number of deaths resulting from narcotic drug and psychotropic substance overdoses during the mentioned period.

Upon reviewing the submitted affidavit, Justice Mahabir Singh Sindhu, heading the bench, expressed concern over the situation, terming it “very precarious.” Consequently, the bench directed that a copy of the filed affidavit be brought to the attention of the Punjab Chief Secretary for necessary actions in accordance with the law.


Yadav highlighted the division of the entire state into 29 field units, including three Commissionerates of police in Amritsar, Jalandhar, and Ludhiana. Notably, Bathinda registered the highest number of reported deaths at 38, followed by Tarn Taran (30), Ferozepur (19), and Amritsar (Rural) (17), where 12 deaths occurred in a single year.

Ten of these field units reported deaths in double digits, including Ludhiana Police Commissionerate (14), Amritsar (Rural) (17), Faridkot (13), Moga (17), Muktsar (10), and Fazilka (14).

Festive offer

Further details from the affidavit outlined specific changes in the incidence of drug-related deaths across various regions of Punjab over the years. Instances included an increase in cases in certain areas, such as Moga reporting 15 cases in 2022-23 compared to only two in previous years. Bathinda also recorded a significant rise with 23 deaths in 2022-23 against 15 in the preceding two years. Conversely, there were areas with minimal or no cases reported over specific periods, exemplified by SBS Nagar, Pathankot, and STF reporting zero cases of drug overdose.

The varying statistics across regions unveiled significant fluctuations, underscoring the complex nature of the issue and the need for targeted interventions to address the concerning rise in drug-related fatalities in Punjab.


Bathinda family feels the loss

Lakhwinder Singh, a 62-year-old retired court employee, resides in a dilapidated house in Chandsar Basti, Bathinda, alongside his wife Sukhjit Kaur. Suffering from a pelvic fracture and confined due to his condition, Lakhwinder Singh struggles, wearing a badly soiled kurta.

Reflecting on a tragic event from about two years ago, Lakhwinder Singh recounts the discovery that his son, Sukhmanjit Singh (32), was battling drug addiction. Unfortunately, Sukhmanjit succumbed to a drug overdose on July 16th, 2023, leaving behind his widow and a 12-year-old son. Despite having studied till the eighth grade, Sukhmanjit opted out of school, seeking odd jobs to support his family.

Drug Story in Punjab Sukhmanjit’s father Lakhwinder Singh is yet to come to terms with the loss. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

“It was about two years ago when I discovered that he was injecting drugs into his body. I tried my best to stop him, but failed. He [Sukhmanjit] did not even spare my pension money and spent it all on his drugs. On July 6th, 2023, I had paid his Rs. 30,000 that he owed people for purchasing drugs. They would have killed him, otherwise. Ten days later, he died in the civil hospital, Bathinda. I am bedridden due to my pelvic injury and do not know for how many more days I will live. My elder son Swaranjit Singh works as a painter, and he is the one on whom I can pin my hopes for performing my last rites,” shared a visibly shattered Lakhwinder Singh.


Following Sukhmanjit’s demise, his wife Ranjit Kaur and son Eknoor moved to her parents’ home in Nathana village. “There was a case registered against Sukhmanjit last year, which is still pending under trial in the court. There is no need for that case now, because he has already got the punishment for his deeds,” added Lakhwinder Singh.
Death in a graveyard

In Basti No. 2 of Bathinda, a young woman named Gurpreet Kaur sits in her home’s courtyard beside her father-in-law, Gurcharan Singh, holding a portrait of her late husband, Kulwinder Singh (27), who tragically passed away on October 10, 2023, due to a drug overdose.

“He was found dead in the graveyard, barely a few hundred meters away from our home. An injection and a syringe were found in his pocket. Police informed us that he died of a drug overdose. He worked as a Palledar (mandi labourer), earning around Rs. 400-500 daily. He had been a drug addict for the last few years. Last year in October, he experienced severe abdominal pain, and we admitted him to a private hospital in Bathinda for about a week. After leaving the hospital, he resumed using Chitta. He spent about Rs. 300-400 daily on his drug habit. Initially, he used to hand over his daily earnings to us, but gradually stopped because he spent all his earnings on drugs before reaching home,” recounted Gurcharan Singh.

“Approximately 90 per cent of our area is involved in selling Chitta/intoxicant tablets. Police do arrest many of them and throw them in jails, but they resume selling once they’re out on bail,” added Gurcharan Singh.

“I was married to Kulwinder for over seven years. We have two sons, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. When our first son was born, I thought he would stop, but he didn’t. He used to come home intoxicated daily. Initially, I thought it was alcohol, but later we discovered he was taking drug injections,” expressed a grief-stricken Gurpreet Kaur, who has studied till the seventh grade.


A basti destroyed by drugs

The neighbouring area, known as Basti No. 3, houses an elderly woman named Santo (65), who is washing utensils in the courtyard of her home located beside the village school’s wall, assisted by a young boy named Ajay.
Ajay, displaying numerous marks on both arms, indicates a history of regular injection use. Ajay’s father, Mukhtiar Singh, tragically passed away on June 15, 2023, due to a drug overdose, while his mother, Rano, had passed away a few years earlier.

“He [Ajay] is 17 years old (a claim disputed by villagers who insist Ajay must be at least 20 years old). He has sold everything we had in our house—cots, air cooler, water tank, etc. I am utterly fed up, but what can I do? He is the only one left in my family,” expressed Santo, struggling to walk steadily.

Drug Story in Punjab Harpreet (centre) cousin brother of Jaspal Singh alongwith his friends at Basti in district Bhatinda. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh) 28102023

Without remorse, Ajay mentioned previously working as a driver and having saved Rs. 1.5 lakh over the years. “I spent all that money on buying Chitta. I started taking drugs with my friends, who also consume it daily in our area. I was 14-15 years old when I first injected drugs into my arms. Now, you can see the marks. Earlier, I used it four-five times a day, but now I limit myself to twice a day—morning and evening. It costs me around Rs. 300-400 per dose,” claimed Ajay, adding that drugs are readily available in their area. “You can find it anywhere and at any time. Many youngsters here are involved in drugs; they both consume and sell,” he added.

A few houses away from Santo’s residence, three youngsters gather under a tree. Jaspal Singh (23) had tragically died there on November 20, 2020, due to a drug overdose. “He had started injecting drugs about six months before his death. He was found dead on the road leading to our area, with an injection and a syringe in his pocket,” recounted Harpreet, Jaspal’s cousin. Similar was the tale of Joginder Pal, who also succumbed to a drug overdose last year in the same vicinity, shared by his brother Balwinder Singh, who works as a tailor in the locality.


Similar stories from Mansa

Around 60 kms away from Bathinda, the horrific stories of drug-related deaths can be witnessed in streets of various localities of Mansa too.

In July this year, at least three youngsters died allegedly due to drug overdose in just a week in Chaman Doctor valli gali on Lalluwana road in Mansa.

Shimla Devi (64) had lost her husband Lachman Das due to drug-overdose about seven years ago. She lost her son Raju (20) two years ago and lost her other son Kuldip alias Kaka (23) on July 22, 2023.

“My husband Lachman Das used to sell drugs and also was an addict. He died about seven years ago, but I lost my entire family to this evil called drugs. Both my sons too died due to this. Kuldip was earning his living by selling vegetables and working as a daily wager. Over the last few months, he had become extremely violent because he was not getting enough dosage of the Chitta. Last year, he got married, but within one week, his wife discovered that he was an addict and left him. She went back to her parents and never came back”, said Shimla Devi with tears in her eyes.

Showing how her son Kuldip took out the iron rods from the plastered walls of their two-room house, sold their water cooler, air conditioner, refrigerator, gas cylinder etc to take care of his drug-expenses, Shimla Devi said, “He was badly addicted to injecting drugs. Throughout the day, he kept lying in the cot after taking drugs. When he woke up, he used to look for things he can sell to buy his next dose of drugs. He even stole the wheat grains and sold it to buy his drug-dose. When I was left with nothing in my home to sell, I borrowed money from my daughter who is married in a neighbouring village and paid Rs. 30,000 for getting Kuldip admitted into a drug-de-addiction centre. He stayed there for a few weeks and got back to the same drug-addiction, this time even worse than before”.
Shimla Devi is now working as a helper at weddings and in people’s homes to earn a living for herself.

Devastated by chitta

In the same lane, Rekha mourns the loss of her 20-year-old son, Sunny, purportedly died due to a drug overdose on July 31, 2023. “He studied until Class 8 and worked as a DJ at weddings for the past few years. He was heavily into smoking chitta on silver foil. A few months ago, we caught him smoking. He promised to quit but didn’t. That day, he left home saying he’d return soon. The next morning, he was found dead on the roadside in the Patiala district. The police informed us, and we discovered he was no more,” expressed a grieving Savitri, Sunny’s grandmother.

Sunny’s father passed away a few years ago, leaving Sunny and his brother Kaku with their mother, Rekha, and grandmother, Savitri. Both women now work as daily wagers to sustain themselves.

All lost in six years

In a nearby street, Santosh Rani (58) shares a similar tragic tale. Her husband, Mohan Lal, works in a city factory, while their son Mohit (29), who had completed Class 9, abandoned studies to assist Mohan in supporting the family.
Lying in their dilapidated two-room home, Santosh Rani recalls discovering six years ago that Mohit had become a drug addict. He passed away on July 30, 2023.

“He started injecting drugs about six years ago, occasionally taking pills too. On that day, his condition worsened, and we rushed him to a Patiala hospital where he eventually passed away. He had faced multiple drug trafficking cases, but that’s inconsequential now,” shared a visibly shattered Santosh Rani.

Drug Story in Punjab An inconsolable Santosh Rani recalls how Mohit got addicted to chitta six years ago. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

“For a week before his death, Mohit started taking pills, later found to be intoxicant tablets. He sourced them from somewhere, consumed them, and spent most of his time sleeping. His consumption escalated rapidly, culminating in an overdose that proved fatal,” she continued.

While the area residents are cognizant of the escalating drug menace, they remain hesitant to be identified, fearing retaliation from addicts or traffickers.

“Whenever we witness youngsters smoking chitta, taking pills, or injecting drugs, we inform the police. Often, they’re picked up but resurface after a few hours or days. It’s increasingly challenging to keep our children safe in such an environment,” expressed an area resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

First published on: 25-12-2023 at 08:21 IST
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