Used syringes, small packets of chitta (heroin), bits of silver paper and empty matchboxes scattered around in the grass at its cremation ground and other crumbling buildings rarely visited by other villagers, the Mullanpur village in Dakha constituency of rural Ludhiana which goes for bypolls on October 21, has an unusual trend.
Many youngsters here have died of heart attack, cardiac arrest, brain hemorrhage and other such diseases, according to their families and none got autopsies done. The deaths were not even reported as suspicious to the police.
As The Indian Express tried to contact the families, most were unwilling to share details of deaths of their young children and politely requested privacy.
“At least six youths in our village have died due to drug overdose or drug-related problems after Congress came to power in March 2017. But families will not share the actual reason of death due to social stigma. For Dakha, what has changed? If SAD in 10 years of its rule sowed seeds of drugs here, Congress only watered them in two-and-a-half-years. No one gets autopsies done and the drug issue also dies with that addict,” says Joginder Singh (60) from the village, sitting at the gurdwara. “20-25 living corpses are still roaming the village, so badly dependent on drugs and ruined, that we know their end can come anytime but no one will speak out”.
Dakha- a rural constituency in Ludhiana, battling the problem of drugs since almost 15 years now, goes for a bypoll on October 21. In the past four elections - Assembly polls 2012 and 2017 and Lok Sabha polls 2014 and 2019 - Congress has failed to register any win here. Hoping to end ordeal that they go through due to drug problem, the constituency overwhelmingly voted for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2014 and 2017 and then for Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) in 2019 (Lok Sabha).
Balraj Singh (24), died August 27, 2017:
‘Drug supply stopped for a month after Cong gain power, then flowed again unabated’
Paramjit Kaur (50) and her husband Karnail Singh (55) are among the very few in village Mullanpur of Dakha who do not hesitate in stating that drugs killed their son Balraj Singh (24).
“We never knew he was into drugs. He would act normal at home. He expressed wish to marry a girl and brought her home. Both started living together but we never objected seeing their happiness. Later, we got to know that she too was an addict. My son started demanding his share in property. We gave them one kanal of land. He sold the plot for Rs 7.80 lakh. Then he sold his car and even mortgaged his motorbike. We never knew everything was going into buying chitta. He had started fighting with us often,” says Paramjit.
On August 27, 2017- nearly five months after Congress came to power in Punjab, Balraj’s health deteriorated and he died. “His partner was under influence of drugs that day too and did not even realize that Balraj has fainted. We took him to hospital but he was declared dead,” Paramjit says, wiping tears. “Drugs stopped only for a month after Captain (Amarinder Singh) became CM but then it flowed unabated. No party is going to do anything for us or to solve this drug problem. For us this bypoll holds no hope because our son is already gone,” she says.
Village sarpanch Kamaljeet Singh from Congress says that immediately after she was elected, announcements were made in gurdwara that if anyone was caught selling drugs or doing any such related activity, panchayat will not stand by them. But she admits, drugs are still available. “Yes, youths here are still dying of drugs,” she admits.
Jaspreet Singh Gaggu (27), died September 28, 2019:
‘While Akalis started it, Congress did nothing to stop it... staying silent won’t help now’
Nearly two and half years after Congress came to power in Punjab, the promises made by CM on ending drug supply come as a cruel joke for the family of Jaspreet Singh Gaggu (27) of village Sawaddi. He died on September 28.
“Drugs ate everything inside him. He took chitta, dodey (poppy husk). His kidneys, liver... everything was finished... and Hepatitis-C also gripped him after re-using syringes. He would try to quit drugs but would get them anyhow from his friends or other suppliers. Ten days before he died, he had gone to gurdwara and taken a vow that now he won’t take drugs but one call from suppliers and his addiction overpowered him,” says a sobbing Karamjit Kaur, his paternal aunt.
His mother in Canada, Karamjit says Gaggu would never ask them for money but they knew something was wrong. “We could see syringe marks on his arms and the restlessness the day his dose would get late. We got him admitted to de-addiction centre but he never really quit drugs,” she says.
“Saada baccha muk gaya, hor kisey da na mukey. Badal, Captain kisey ne kuch nahi kita (Our child died, no one else’s should die this way. Neither Badals nor Captain did anything,” she cries.
Gaggu’s grandmother Charanjit Kaur says, “Bacche mukki jaande ne saadey pind. Kudiyaan vi mukki janidyaan hun. Chhote chhote bacche nashey tey lagge ne. Khulla milda sab (Children in our village are dying of drugs. Even girls are dying now. Children are becoming addicts. Everything is available in the open market),” she says. “Jeh ehna ne kuch kita hunda saada ehna kyu jaanda. Saadey layi koi sarkaar changi nahi hai (Had they really done something, we wouldn’t have lost our son. For us no government is good),” she declares. “Akaliyan ne shuru kita tey Congress ne sirf wadhaaya, Chup rehan naal kuch ni hunda, roula paao (If Akalis started this, Congress did nothing to stop it. Staying silent won’t help, we need to speak out).”
Kuljit Singh Toor (28), died June 29, 2018
‘Chitta (heroin) ruined my house...for us there’s no difference between SAD and Congress’
Nearly a year after her husband Kuljit Singh Toor (28) died of alleged drug overdose, Harpreet Kaur from village Sawaddi finds it difficult to answer queries of her two children on his death.
“My six-year old daughter still cries asking where her father went. I just tell her that he had a heart attack,” says Harpreet.
But Kuljit’s mother Hardeep Kaur (55) minces no words as tears fill her eyes while she picks framed photo of her son who had gone to the fields on June 29, 2018 and hours later his body was found, with a syringe and a spoon nearby.
“Police probe revealed that suppliers had called him. Though he had refused first, he got another call and they said ‘Pure aai hai ajj, aaja’ (Pure drug is here, come). Mainu koi sharam nahi eh kehan ch ki mera ghar chittey ne patteya (I have no shame in saying that chitta devastated my family),” says Hardeep.
Kuljit’s father Sukhminder Singh (60) says that for him now there is no difference between SAD and Congress. “FIR was lodged in our case because the former AAP MLA, HS Phoolka, and LIP’s Simarjit Bains took up the matter. Par saadey layi SAD tey Congress ch koi farak nahi (For us there is no difference between SAD and Congress),” he says.
“Jo Akaliyan ne kitta ohi kamm ehna ne shuru kitta. Eh sirf ohi samjhega jinhe de ghar agg lagi gai.. sab rall mil chalde ne (Congress continued what SAD started. Only those people will understand this pain whose homes have been finished. SAD and Congress are the same and protect each other),” says Hardeep.
Drug deaths in Dakha: No one has an answer
Neither the health department, nor the police has any data on youths dying due to drugs in Dakha. According to Dr Sukhjinder Kakkar, senior medical officer (SMO), Jagraon Civil Hospital, “no drug death has been reported in past at least eight months”. “No such specific data is available which maintains record of young deaths in villages,” he says, adding "We only get to know if families get autopsies done.”
Dr Rajesh Bagga, civil surgeon, Ludhiana says that he has ordered all civil hospital and health centres in district to maintain a register for drug deaths and farmer suicides but families do not get autopsies done due to social stigma. "Recently we sent a nil report for drug deaths," he says.
Ludhiana rural SSP Sandeep Goel says that any such data needs to be compiled. "We do get autopsy reports but no such data on drug deaths is readily available with us," he says.