Smoking a Crisis and Rolling an Alarm: Drug and Young in Kashmir 

Suhail Ahmad Khan 

IN Kashmir, discourses about conflict take precedence over other important societal matters, possibly because it seems to pervade all spheres of lives here. Nonetheless, it never leaves room for us to ever get to issues such as domestic violence, environmental degradation, structural problems in the education system, etc., are often overlooked. Moreover, issues that concern the youth are also not given due attention. Given this, an increasing number of the Kashmiri youth have indulged in certain harmful and unproductive activities. Activities such as reckless driving, loitering, and stalking have become frequent. Besides, more and more youth are indulging in drug abuse, which needs the urgent attention of the administration and society to control it.

The number of people who use drugs is rising at an alarming rate, and the most commonly used drug is the heroine. In 2016, only 15 per cent used heroin in the valley, and it rose to 90% by the end of 2019. What is more worrying is that a growing number of school-going children are using drugs. According to a recent study by the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), 57% of the total respondents who used opioids were teens.  It does not bear well for Kashmir that such an overwhelming number of teens are involved in drug abuse. Their involvement suggests that, in future, the social fabric of society will severely get impacted as social relations will hardly last long. The development of Kashmir is also at stake given that the youth, who often prove to be skilful, will not be able to hone and use their skills. Moreover, looking at the patterns of drug inflicted societies of Latin America and Punjab, it is prudent to argue that youth gangs would rake up. As and when these things will unfold due to continuous drug abuse, the socio-cultural identity of Kashmir will be lost. Thus, to rehabilitate the Kashmiri youth, and, at large, to preserve the socio-cultural identity of the valley, two things are essential: (I) identifying the causes of drug abuse among the youth and (II) addressing these causes by taking necessary measures.

Several social factors drive the youth to use drugs, like familial problems, failed love relations, forced marriages, etc. However, in essence, it is the political violence and its associated factors that drive the youth of Kashmir towards drug abuse. The predicament in which the youth of Kashmir find themselves is both difficult to understand and explain. The political landscape of the valley leaves them with very few opportunities. Lack of proper functioning of schools and colleges, lack of employment opportunities, and curtailment of social spaces often force them to take paths, which otherwise, they would not have taken.

The ongoing conflict has a detrimental effect on the education of Kashmiri students. Most of the time, schools and colleges do not function properly. Nonetheless, students chart new ways and methods to continue educating themselves, and eventually, in exams, they pass with good grades. However, it is not the grades, but the atmosphere of educational institutions that shapes the identities of students or youth. In this atmosphere, students exchange ideas, discover and create meanings of life, and are involved in certain recreational activities. Devoid of all these things,  Kashmiri students/youth cannot shape their talents and fulfil their aspirations. Besides, everyday violence puts tremendous pressure on their mental health and turns them hopeless. Given such circumstances, drugs may be seen as stress relaxant by the youth.

Even if Kashmiri students succeed in shaping their talents and completing their education, against all odds, they have few employment opportunities. Due to the ongoing turmoil, the informal sector is almost non-existent in Kashmir, and government jobs are scarce. As such, unemployment is one of the problems for the Kashmiri youth.  As per the data of a Mumbai based think-tank, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMEI), the unemployment rate in J&K was 9 per cent in March 2021. However, it is hard to come to terms with this data as the Union Territory has been under lockdown for three consecutive years since 2019. Besides, a recent analysis highlighted that the think tank’s survey method is “biased towards better-off households.” Therefore, in absence of any updated and reliable data, unemployment in Kashmir can be gauged by comparing the number of job applicants with the number of available posts. In 2020, 5.3 lakh applications were received for 8000 class IV jobs across Jammu and Kashmir. These numbers suggest that unemployment persists in the valley. Off late, in Kashmir, unemployment has driven the youth towards drug abuse as they become depressed and pessimistic, and consequently, use drugs as a last recourse.

As if the above-mentioned problems were less to leave the youth dejected, there is an issue of curtailment of public spaces. Social spaces such as educational institutions, public parks and picnic spots, restaurants, etc., serve as recreational places where, usually, the youth refresh themselves. As these places have been unavailable for three years due to continuous lockdowns, drug abuse has increased among the youth. And as such, it is expected to rise if measures are not taken to curtail it.

A set of constructive measures, both at the administrative and communitarian levels, are required to end the drug menace in Kashmir. The administration needs to use its capacity and resources to bust the drug networks in Kashmir. For the engagement of the youth, alternate public spaces should be made available in the absence of proper functioning of schools and colleges. In this regard, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of J&K, Manoj Sinha, in a recent speech, hinted towards the establishment of the Youth Clubs to engage the youth; what becomes now more important is to ensure that these clubs run smoothly. Besides, mental health infrastructure should be upgraded in the valley so that people suffering from mental stress can consult experts rather than indulging in drug abuse. Also, the administration needs to set up de-addiction centres in every district of the valley. Generating employment opportunities and conducting awareness programs will also help in reducing drug abuse.

As far as the role of the community is concerned, it should put social pressure on those who indulge in poppy cultivation. Further, it needs to listen to the concerns of the youth, engage with them and help them rather than using old Kashmiri cliches such as “yim chi darbadar,” they are vagabonds. In this regard, Mohalla committees need to reach out to the youth and educate them about the impact of drug abuse on society as a whole, and parents need to create a friendly atmosphere at home so that children can share their concerns with them. Moreover, parents need to regulate the amount of money they give to their school-going children, as they can use it to buy drugs. Among the educated groups, discussion and discourses should emerge as to how to end rising drug abuse. These measures are not exhaustive, but they can prove helpful to end drug abuse and other social evils that can emerge from it.

Concerning the drug abuse in Kashmir, a Kashmir-based doctor reportedly said, “ we are sitting on a ticking time bomb…” Therefore, now is the time to act against drug abuse. Once the bomb explodes, the actions taken will bear little results.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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