Recently, Kashmir valley was rocked by two disturbing news. The first one was related to the news of a 10-year-old Kashmiri boy being brought by his father to a drug de-addiction center in Srinagar for heroin abuse, which was alarming given heroin is an expensive and highly intoxicating, and dangerous drug.
And for a 10-year-old child to be using it, shows that Kashmir’s drug addiction problem has reached a critical threshold, wherein a substantial youth population of Kashmir valley is not just dealing with a mere drug addiction problem, it is rather dealing with a widespread percolation of hardcore drugs amongst a wide section of Kashmiri population including young children.
Another shocking incident that rocked Kashmir was the shootout in downtown Srinagar, where the youth got killed in what the police described as “gang war”. It is not clear, what exactly was the motive of the shootout but downtown Srinagar’s own massive drug addiction is suspected to have played some part in this.
These incidences unfortunately do not harbor well for the future of Kashmir valley. The twin monsters of drugs and criminalization have the full potential of destabilizing the social fabric of small and enclosed Kashmiri society. A couple of years ago, a study report prepared by United Nations had estimated the drug-addicted population of Kashmir valley to the tune of over 70,000 people out of which 4,000 were Kashmiri women.
The drug-addicted population in Kashmir valley has since then been estimated to have been increased to about 2.5 Lakhs out of which 20% or about 50,000 are Kashmiri women. The usage of drugs is believed to be evenly distributed between rural and urban Kashmir. What is even more concerning is that the consumption of hardcore drugs like Heroin has also substantially increased amongst all age groups and all parts of Kashmir valley.
The neighboring state of Punjab, which also witnessed a similar scale of drug consumption has never emerged out of the economic decline that the decade of separatist violence and subsequent drug addiction caused. Punjab, which used to be one of India’s most economically progressing and developing states with growing industrialization has been beaten now even by its lesser developed cousin state of Haryana in economic development.
Kashmir valley, which has already been ravaged by three decades of violence is perhaps looking at a similar kind of economic stagnation and decline due to the collective impact of political instability and increasing drug addiction amongst its young working productive population, which is further made worse by the explosion of criminalization of Kashmiri society, the result of which we saw in “gang war” killing, something that was unheard of in Kashmir.
The source of Kashmir’s ruin lies with my father’s generation, which pushed a previously prosperous and peaceful Kashmir valley and its inhabitants to a darkly violent, and pessimistic future for their ideological belief. Kashmir valley did not achieve anything that my father’s generation, which is now in its 50s and 60s set out for themselves. All that they managed to do was to facilitate the proliferation of guns into Kashmir valley, which never left.
The “gun culture” not only tore apart the social fabric of Kashmir valley but it set out a chain of violent events that consumed the people of Kashmir valley for the next three decades. It is this “gun culture” that gave birth to a rogue, undisciplined generation of Kashmiri youth that eventually gravitated towards religious radicalism, intolerance, violence, and ultimately drugs. The current proliferation of criminalization is the result of the lawlessness and breakdown of the age-old harmonious social order of Kashmir of which the Kashmiri Pundit community was also a part.
Currently, the criminalization is restricted to lawless areas of downtown Kashmir, but it may soon spread all over the Kashmir valley including smaller towns and villages following the path of the travel of drug addiction. The source of most the hardcore drugs remains Pakistan and Afghanistan across LOC. Heroin addiction already destroyed an entire young generation of Pashtun men in Southern Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province from where it spread to Pakistani cities like Karachi and now Kashmir valley has also been engulfed in it.
IS THERE A WAY OUT OF THIS CONUNDRUM?
I think a lot depends on Kashmiri society’s collective willingness to set their house in order. Rather than living in denial and continuing to pursue lofty goals that have rendered nothing but death and despair, Kashmiri society needs to recognize and acknowledge the problems that the people of Kashmir are confronting. The evils of religious radicalism, hooliganism, indiscipline amongst youth are all related to Kashmiri society’s tacit approval for Kashmir to gravitate towards violent, religiously radical, lawless, and rogue society in search of fulfilling a political ideology.
This tacit approval has to be taken back. We must strive to take Kashmir to old glory days of peace, religious tolerance, accommodation, and secular values, which ensured Kashmir’s economic prosperity and intellectual growth, especially in decades from the 1950s to 1980s, gains of which were all lost after the 1990s. It is a choice that the people of Kashmir have to make to further restrict the severe social and economic damage that has been caused to Kashmir valley and its people. It is only because of the lawlessness of “gun culture” that religious radicalism, intolerance, drugs, and criminalization were able to take a foothold in all four corners of Kashmir valley.
It is important to openly talk about these very serious issues that have very significant repercussions on the future of Kashmir’s next generation. We cannot allow Kashmir to further slip into the dark abyss of despair and hopelessness caused by the evil monsters of drugs, guns, and crime, which will consume our future generations. We, as a society need to rebuild the very social foundations of our sacred valley, which was built upon religious tolerance, brotherhood, knowledge, wisdom, and intellect. We can still go back to our old glorious days for which we need to strive to work with honesty and integrity, otherwise, a very dark future awaits us.