Jagtar Singh, now 17 and off addiction, Jagtar had barely stepped into his teens when he started consuming ‘bhukki’, a residue of opium, a very popular mode of addiction that was easily available in his village – Kakrala Bhaike in Patiala district – like it is in most villages of the state. From heroin and cocaine to pharmaceutical drugs – the boy took them all in the next three years or so. A rich landlord, Jagtar’s father was one of the most prosperous men of Kakrala Bhaike. Money, thus, was never a problem. But graduating from bhukki to other substances (throw in alcohol to the list), and it drills a big hole in your pocket – Jagtar admits stealing money from home and, at one point, spending as much as `1,000 a day on drugs and alcohol.
Later, Jagtar says, he started getting commission on sale of drugs to other young children in the village: “If I could add 10 children, I could get a day’s dose for free.” So where did it all start? Shockingly enough, at the government school in his village, where he studied till class VI. “No one in our school told us that drugs are harmful. In fact, most of our teachers were on heroin, alcohol and tobacco.”
It was not difficult to get them, says the youth from Dhaula village in Barnala district. “There are known drug peddlers in my village, and you can get over the counter capsules even at medical stores,” he says. “Shopkeepers earlier sold prescription drugs and capsules but now give it to regular buyers.” Jagtar says his father put him in Akal Academy in Sirmaur district of Himachal, run by the Kalgidhar Trust, that has several such branches in rural Punjab to help such children and their families quit drugs through value-based education. The academy, he says, is even providing them skills to take up jobs once they leave the institutions. In less than a year’s time, Jagtar says he has changed “completely” – a change that he would not have experienced had he taken the de-addiction centre route. “It is not easy to quit drugs,” clarifies Jagtar, now studying the bridge course to appear for regular class X examination as also doing a vocational course in management system to improve his job prospects. “I ruined precious years of my life and till I didn’t know whether I have a future,” Jagtar says he is studying free of cost.
Kangandeep Kaur, Class VI student at the academy in Cheema says she used to be scared of her father, who often returned home drunk and took “some form” of drugs. As a result, she had never interacted with him. “We are taught (at school) that drugs and alcohol make us handicapped; we cannot think for our families and the society. I have been part of anti-drug rallies and street theatre conducted by the school. But at home I used to see my father drinking every day and getting violent. I was scared of him and would never talk with him,” she says. But one day, at dinner, Kangandeep refused to share the table with her father and that changed the life of her family forever. “My mother had pleaded umpteen times for him to quit drugs and alcohol, but to no avail. I did not know how to tell him. Two years back, I decided to boycott him, and that really affected him,” she says. “Next day, he came to me and promised that he would quit alcohol and drugs forever. I could not believe it, he was an addict for more than 10 years! But he kept his promise.” Giving all credit to the young girl, Kangandeep’s father, a smalltime businessman, says: “Many people had urged me but I could never quit. These children are given value-based education (at Akal academy) and it’s because of her that I could come out of it.”