With yet another shocking case of homicide reportedly linked to drug abuse, the third in six months, hitting the headlines, the gravity of the drug menace in Kashmir is once again in the limelight.
It has prompted discussion among academics and the medical fraternity on the rising incidence of drug abuse in the Valley and the linkage between drug addiction and crime.
On March 30, Showkat Ahmad Ganaie, a 32-year-old resident of Dangerpora village in Sopore in north Kashmir, reportedly strangled his 70-year-old mother, Aisha Begum. It is speculated that the accused, now under detention, is a drug addict.
Reports of rising abuse
The reports of homicide come at a time when nearly 10 lakh people in Jammu and Kashmir are victims of drug abuse, as the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment informed the Lok Sabha in March this year.
Of this, the government data showed, at least 1.44 lakh drug abusers are consuming cannabis while opioid addiction is prevalent among 5.34 lakh men and 8,000 women, and sedative addiction among 1.6 lakh men and 8,000 women.
The Ministry was responding to a query by Lok Sabha member Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference.
Health experts suspect that these figures could be much lower than the actual numbers as many drug users are loath to open up or seek medical care fearing ostracism.
At any rate, the figure is a significant spike from 2022, when a report by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of AIIMS in June estimated the total number of drug abusers in Jammu & Kashmir at over 6 lakh for that year, placing the Union Territory fifth in the country among all States and Union Territories.
Another study, conducted in December 2022, also painted a grim picture. In this study, done across all 10 districts of Kashmir by the Department of Mental Health and Neurosciences in collaboration with the Health Services Department and financed by the Social Welfare Department, Kashmir was ranked second, ahead of Punjab, in drug abuse among the States and Union Territories in the country. The North-East States combined took the top spot.
Also Read | Why is drug abuse in Kashmir skyrocketing among the youth?
The Sopore incident was not a one-off case. In December 2022, Javed Hassan Rather, a baker in Pahalgam, attacked his family members and neighbours with a wooden log, allegedly under the influence of drugs. Neighbours said that he was a long-time drug abuser and killed three persons, including his mother, Hafeeza. He reportedly injured seven others.
In October 2022, Aqib Ahmad Khan, the elder son of Razia of Kehribal village in Anantnag, attempted to steal money from his home along with his friend, Abid. When an argument broke out between Razia and her son, he attacked her, crushing her head with a heavy stone. He was reportedly stealing money to buy drugs.
According to experts, it is common for abusers to get into the habit of stealing from friends and family to maintain the cash flow required to buy drug.
Speaking to Frontline, Dr Yasir Rather, professor of psychiatry at IMHANS Srinagar, said that the increasing crime graph in Kashmir may be linked to the spike in heroin abusers, with users turning to burglary and even murder in their desperation to acquire their fix. He pointed out that “addicts becoming peddlers to secure a cash flow is rampant”.
Drugs from Pakistan
There seems to be a firmly entrenched corridor for illegally routing drugs from Pakistan to Kashmir and from there to the rest of India. Many political observers have described this racket as “narco-terrorism”.
In previous interactions, a handful of officials in the security apparatus and researchers tracking the drug menace in Kashmir had told Frontline that Keran village in Kupwara in the northern tip of the Himalayan valley serves as the conduit for the drug racketeers. From Keran, the consignments reach Rajouri border and then make their way to Jammu, from where they travel to the mainland.
The money involved is enormous. Apparently, one gram of heroin is available for Rs.1,200-1,500 in Kupwara, but in Srinagar peddlers charge Rs. 2,500-3,000 for it.
There are frequent seizures of consignments coming from Pakistan. In March, over 300 kilograms of narcotic substances were seized and destroyed in Samba district by the Narcotics Control Bureau’s Jammu zonal unit. It included 153 kg of heroin and 177 kg of charas.
In October 2022, the Jammu & Kashmir Police seized 21.5 kg of heroin worth more than Rs.75 crore. The consignments had “Afghan” stamps on them and were being smuggled in a truck from Kashmir to Punjab.
In 2022, the Jammu & Kashmir Police registered 1,021 cases and arrested 1,700 drug peddlers under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985.