A note on the forbidden

 Published in: The Daily Star on July 1, 2015

In 2006, when Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón, declared war on drugs and sent 6,500 troops to the state of Michoacán, all hell broke loose. Between 2006 and 2011, over 47,000 people were killed by violence associated with drugs in that country. Within 2006 and 2009, 18 Mexican mayors were killed while in 2010 alone, the number of murdered mayors was a shocking 13.

Once upon a time, trading drugs was the business of only the other world. Today it happens to be ours. At a time, when one out of every 27 people take drugs, when neighbouring countries pass yaba with the perfect ease of conscience, at a time when smuggling of that particular drug has gone up by 177 times in the last seven years, 107 barrels of sunflower oil consignment with liquid cocaine exported by a Bolivian company from Montevideo port in Uruguay and about to be shipped to a third country, were seized in our very own Chittagong port. Good news, indeed. The age old saying: “Water and oil don’t mix” may be true, but in this case, oil and liquid cocaine surely have blended well, specially because Bangladesh does not have the equipment to separate oil from liquid cocaine. But the great, happy reality is that 185 kilograms of liquid cocaine has been seized, and is probably the second largest recovery after the 310 kilograms of liquid cocaine seized by the Canadian Customs a few months ago. Thanks to the UK intelligence team and the Special Branch of Bangladesh.

But, it’s difficult when morality itself fails to make it to the shore and agencies entrusted with protecting the laws of the land are the ones who break them. A recent report suggests that a few policemen are involved in the trading of yaba. And while the dealers come out of bushes, supply through most unsuspecting channels, offer door to door service and deliver what is on demand: drugs, many law enforcing officers themselves choose to be blinded by greed.

Apparently, one out of five drug users is a woman. This is most likely to begin in school or college. One may just have the misfortune to watch an only child get drugged by a glass of drink that he or she ordered at a party. Unfortunately, drugs have become a routine for many and worst of all, centers offering care and cure are ripping guardians off their purse.

Many years ago, straight out of college, your columnist used to present short features for a television programme hosted by the legend, Fazle Lohani. In one of the episodes, the subject chosen was drugs. Starting from the slums of Hatirpool down to a party scene in Dhanmandi, she interviewed many drug users and blurred their faces on screen. In one of the over-the-shoulder shots, the profile of the interviewee was partially and most unfortunately compromised and that created havoc in the campus, as he was an exceptionally brilliant student and could not afford to be recognised. There lies the irony. Even though they are brilliant, for the most part of their lives, they live in blurred shadows, unable to surface in the sunlight, and often attempt to struggle and fail in absence of a defined route map that promises freedom from their drug induced lives. And most unfortunately, the scene hasn’t changed much.

Right outside my gate, I watch young scavengers sniffing cut plastic bottles with a deep sense of satisfaction. It’s as if they live to inhale that smell. Right within many of our circles of acceptability, there are many who take yaba for slimming; many can’t live to see another day without a puff; many also happily claim labels of being a “social drinker.” But how many of us actually perceive the bigger picture? How many of us grapple with grim statistics of WHO that reveals that around six million drug users in Bangladesh spend over Tk 700 million every day on illegal narcotics, and most users are young, aged between 18 and 30 years? How many of us feel responsible about the reported 79.4 percent of the users being male and 20.6 percent being female? While 64.8 percent of the drug users in the country are unmarried, 56.1 percent are either students or unemployed.

Maximum users are smokers; many remain under the influence of friends and many are addicted to various codeine-containing cough syrups. As for the distribution network, it is often invincible and very few people or agencies have been able to crack their network. More than 100,000 people deal with illegal drug trading in our land and apparently more than six million people are addicted to drugs here, who at an average spend $1.9 – $3.1 on drugs every day, which amounts to $707 – $1,135 a month. And hence, yaba, the fashion drug, phensidyl, the cheap magic cure and heroin, the deadliest have flooded our cities. The signs are everywhere. Addiction is out in the open. While we watch at least one or more addicts selling flowers at traffic signals, there are rickshaw pullers who are “high”, there are also children selling drugs, as they are the best carriers and the most unsuspected. And every year, almost 10,000 people get arrested in connection with drug related violence and crime.

What happens at the end? Counselling? Confinement in rehabilitation centers? An endless drainage of resources? What at the end restores peace in a family? What ends the curse? While commendable movements and initiatives take place in this land, while many declare to be out of drugs in the public domain, the reality is that no one knows who or what will trigger the next phase of addiction in the same people.

The course to end the drug curse must be set by the government in collaboration with all agencies and the civil society. Starting from sneaky bends on little lanes and dark alleys down to party scenes . . . all must be cracked. And for many who even occasionally raise glasses to toast, will you too please put your glasses down, for the sake of all the children?

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