A group of teachers in Indian-administered Kashmir has kicked off an awareness campaign aimed at rehabilitating thousands who have taken to drugs in the midst of nearly three decades of insurgency in the conflict-torn Himalayan state.
During a meeting earlier this week in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district, the group vowed to spread awareness about the ill effects of drugs across the state and to identify addicts to provide counseling.
“A teacher can play an important role in spreading awareness about the ill-effects of drugs among students and make them stay away from the menace. In my opinion, a student will take a teacher’s advice more seriously than [that of] his father or guardian,” Mohammad Amin Khan, a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Teachers’ Forum, told BenarNews.
The state has more than 83,000 identified drug addicts, according to the Srinagar-based Drug De-addiction Center operated by the state police.
Among the nearly 16,000 addicts undergoing treatment at the center, 1,800 are between the ages of 18 and 35.
Research conducted by the government-run Psychiatric Disease Hospital in Srinagar last year, revealed that about 60,000, including an estimated 4,000 females between the ages of 18 and 35, were drug addicts. Hash, opium and heroin were the choice of drugs in the region for this age group.
Khan said many Kashmiris were driven to drugs because of decades of instability and fighting in the disputed region, which is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan ever since the bitter partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947.
“Due to ongoing turbulence and political instability, the menace is fast spreading its tentacles and mostly Kashmiri youth are falling prey to it. It is high time teachers joined hands to fight against this social evil and contribute to combating this abuse that is destroying our youngsters,” he said.
Drugs smuggled across border
Police said a large chunk of illegal substances are smuggled from across the border.
“In many cases, we found that banned substances are coming in from Pakistan. In a few cases, police established that the drugs were being manufactured near the Line of Control (LoC),” Uttam Chand, north Kashmir’s deputy inspector general of police, told BenarNews.
In a statement released Wednesday, police said it had destroyed more than 137 acres (55.6 hectares) of poppy farms in the state this year alone. Poppy seeds are an important ingredient in the manufacture of and heroin.
More than 380 people suspected of manufacturing and trafficking illegal substances have been arrested since February 2013, police said.
“The police [are] committed to fight the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of drugs in the state. We have tightened the noose against suppliers and peddlers to combat the menace,” Chand said.
But Shabir Ahmad, a member of the teachers’ forum, said it is the responsibility of all, not just police, to prevent the drug trafficking.
“Police alone cannot combat the social evil that is destroying the future of our youngsters. It is the collective responsibility of society, especially teachers and religious clerics, to play a role in doing away with the problem,” Ahmad told a room full of teachers and academics at the forum’s last meeting.
Nazir Ahmad, another member, told BenarNews that selected teachers will be tasked with identifying students who they believe may be addicted to drugs and convince those students to undergo counseling.
“Medical experts will also be engaged if needed to counsel or treat such students so their health is saved from getting ruined,” he said, adding that, besides political instability, unemployment in the state was another major reason youths were falling prey to drugs.
Thousands dead since 1980s insurgency
Since the late 1980s, a separatist insurgency has claimed nearly 70,000 lives in Jammu and Kashmir.
Mushtaq Margoob, a Srinagar-based psychiatrist, welcomed the program, but insisted that the greater responsibility lies with security forces to stop the flow of banned substances in the region.
“The latest move is encouraging indeed. We all need to play a part in defeating this menace,” Margoob, who has authored a book titled “Menace of Drug Abuse in Kashmir,” told BenarNews.
“But we must realize the problem can be addressed effectively only when the availability of drugs is choked,” he said.
“Law enforcing agencies, particularly the police, have to sincerely work to put a check on the sale of drugs and act tough against drug peddlers, he added.