From a shopkeeper keeping an eye on “suspicious persons” entering his village and a former heroin addict teaching kabaddi to locals, to a man posting videos of his confrontation with suspected peddlers to a youth who died confronting an alleged dealer — residents of villages in southern Malwa are leaving no stone unturned to contain drug menace in their area.
“The moment I spot someone suspicious entering the village, I inform the local Nasha Roko committee. The police are informed too so they can frisk that person. Since the committee was formed, the supply of drugs in the village has stopped. This has forced addicts here to seek help. We need to keep doing this to end drug menace completely,” said Baljinder Singh, 46, who rents out DJ equipment in Faridkot district’s Sadiq village.
Hundreds of Nasha Roko committees have cropped up across Bathinda, Mansa, Ferozepur, Faridkot, Muktsar and Sangrur districts. With farmers’ unions across Punjab combining forces with these committees, the movement is expected to grow rapidly.
Explaining what led to the formation of these committees, Seera Dhillon, 25, from Mansa’s Joga village, said, “The realisation that the government and police cannot weed out drugs led to the formation of these committees. People realised that they needed to do something before the next generation gets wiped out because of drugs.”
Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh had told the state Assembly in March that nearly 2.62 lakh addicts were under treatment at government de-addiction centres, while private ones housed about 6.12 lakh addicts. He had said the state possibly had 10 lakh addicts, which was nearly 3 per cent of its total population of 3.17 crore.
A heroin addict until four years ago, Bakhshish Singh, 37, from Bathinda’s Bhai Rupa village not only trains village youth in kabaddi now, but also fights against drug suppliers. “It is possible to quit chitta (heroin). I spent lakhs on the drug before I realised that I was wasting my life. Now, I try to save others from this curse.”
Balbahadur Singh, 34, of Bathinda’s Dullewala village was among the first to form a Nasha Roko committee. “Around 30 committees are connected via WhatsApp. It takes just one message on a drug dealer being spotted in our area for us to mobilise. We have observed some positive changes since we made these committees: addicts have started seeking treatment, a few have joined these committees, consumption of drugs openly has stopped and peddlers have started giving the village a miss,” he claimed.
Of social media and death threats
Some locals have mobilised the power of social media to drum up support for these committees. Joga village’s Seera has over 20,000 followers on Instagram and most of his reels show him confronting alleged peddlers. “My village has a Nasha Roko committee. I have been using social media to fight against drugs for nearly two years now. People realise the magnitude of the issue when smugglers or addicts are caught on camera.”
However, confronting drug peddlers is fraught with danger. Soni Dhillwan, 30, said he was confronting alleged smugglers with Harbhagwan Singh of Dhilwan village in Faridkot district when the latter was shot dead in front of him on August 4. Claiming that the accused’s mother is a local politician, Soni added, “Each person fighting against drugs is risking their life to do so. However, we cannot allow drug peddlers to ruin us.”
On August 4, Visakha Singh of Dullewala village was attacked by alleged drug peddlers. While a case has been registered, no arrests have been made. In Bathinda’s Bhucho Kalan village, activist Sukhwinder Singh was shot at while confronting alleged drug dealers.
An activist from Faridkot village told The Indian Express, “I filed a police complaint after I received death threats from a smuggler in my village. While the accused was arrested, they got bail immediately. My family told me to drop my fight against drugs since the accused are roaming free.”
However, support from some local legislators has helped boost the confidence of these committees. Avtar Singh Tari, a local farm union leader from Bhagta Bhai village, said a few peddlers were arrested thanks to Rampura Phul MLA Balkar Singh Sidhu. “He has instructed all police stations in the constituency to support the Nasha Roko committees.”
But the committees share an uneasy relationship with the police. A viral video dated July 23 shows one Nasib Kaur confronting SSP Gulneet Singh Khurana during a raid in Bathinda city, alleging the involvement of police officers in Punjab’s drug menace.
Welcoming the formation and work of Nasha Roko committees, Bathinda Range ADGP SPS Parmar said, “These committees are good news since our goals are the same. However, the committees should not violate the law by conducting raids, etc. Instead, they should inform the local police about the movement of smugglers.”
To a question on whether the police plan to approach these committees, he said, “We will welcome all information provided by them.”