When I think of Punjab, the agricultural state of India, the first image that conjures up in my head is one of the lush farms. It is the land of 5 rivers flowing through the expansive plains. The food, the music, the people, everything that I saw there, showed me how Punjab has a very rich cultural heritage attached to it. The festivals there are attached to the agricultural aspect. Like Baisakhi is celebrated to welcome the harvest season. They are intensely proud of being Indians, almost every family sends at least one child into the Indian Army; the percentage of Punjabis in the Army is highest I would reckon. They were very instrumental in the Indian freedom struggle eons back.
Three years ago, I had traveled to Patiala, a city in Punjab, for a wedding. We had traveled by road from Delhi to Patiala in cabs. The sights were really beautiful. On the way, we had stopped over at a famous restaurant which is located right at the Punjab-Haryana border. There I remember having the most amazing Lassi (A drink made of churned curd with either sugar or salt) of my life! It was so thick in consistency and so delicious! And it was served in a Kulhad (a terracotta cup), which enhanced the taste even more. The people there were so lively and it was just a beautiful place to be in!
But I was so ignorant, I had not known of this horrid reality of Punjab. Udta Punjab was such an eye opener for me, I am so glad this movie was made. It made a huge impact on me. I am absolutely sure that most Indians do not know about the drug menace in Punjab, or at least if they have heard of it, they don’t know just how deep it runs. There are a few places in India I know are hot spots for drugs, but Punjab is much, much worse.
Udta Punjab has its flaws, some quite big, but it also carries this anti-drugs message very effectively and loudly. And more than that, it makes you aware how bad the drugs menace is and how deep its tentacles have spread. Diljit Dosanjh as Sartaj, Alia Bhatt as Mary Jane, Kareena Kapoor Khan as Dr. Preet and Shahid Kapoor as Tommy Singh, all did their jobs with aplomb, especially Alia. She was absolutely brilliant as the ‘never-give-up-keep-fighting’ hockey player who is sucked into this hell and how she fights back every time. The cuss words laden colloquial dialogues were hilarious; that’s how people there talk normally, so it was all funny.
The nexus runs so deep, the entire system is corrupted. From the politicians to the police to the peddlers, it trickles down uncontrollably. After googling about it, I found so many shocking facts; it’s absolutely appalling. How did I manage to remain so ignorant about it? I am clueless! This is not something new, it has been going on since a very long time.
The movie compared Punjab to Mexico; a comparison I find now as being absolutely justified. Our borders are no doubt porous; it is very easy to slip in a lot of drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only heroin is smuggled in, but they are also creating chemical or synthetic drugs without a fear of the system. It is an utter failure of the system that has accelerated this issue and grown so exponentially.
Apparently about 90% of the heroin is consumed in Punjab itself. There is hardly any clean blood left there now. The Army is not able to recruit as many as they used to from there because of this. And if really the blood is not clean, then I wonder what people who need blood transfusions or organ transplant surgeries must be facing. The politicians are buying their votes by distributing these drugs for free. More than 70% of convicts in the jails there are drug addicts. And the drugs are supplied in the jails as well. According to an article I read, more than 75% youth in Punjab is hooked to dangerous drugs like heroin, smack, cocaine and many synthetic drugs. Out of these 75% addicts, about 30% are HIV-positive people. 7 out of 10 college students have tried a drug at least once. And the age range for all the addicts is 15-35. While there is also this statistic that very young children are fed with drugs unknowingly, they become addicts at an age much younger than anyone can even imagine, which means an entire generation is being decimated because of the rampant addiction.
Many rehab centers have sprung up there, Government as well as private ones, but they all have a serious lack of staff as well as lack of proper infrastructure. They have no way of coping with the sheer numbers. Plus there have been many instances of these drugs being sold openly right in front of these facilities and various hospitals. According to the quartet of Indian comedy, All India Bakchod in one of their AIB on Air episodes, in 2014, of all the drug related crimes in India, almost 31 per cent came from Punjab alone. In 2009, according to a government study, there was at least one drug addict in every family of Punjab. There are so many villages who are losing so many people because of this menace. While Amritsar is the worst affected urban district, Taran Taran is the worst affected rural district.
The latest trend of Punjabi rap and pop songs with lyrics that promote drugs usage, and these musicians consuming these drugs themselves are proving detrimental to the resolution of this crisis. It has now become a vicious circle.
This movie was in a huge controversy because of its theme and the Censor Board had suggested some 89 cuts apparently. But the makers of this movie approached the court and were given the verdict of releasing the film with only one single cut. This move to cut major portions or ban the movie were definitely politically motivated. But I am thankful that the court did not ban it.
All these statistics really blew my mind! It is really horrifying to see the actual picture. I am really thankful to Anurag Kashyap for making this movie. Whether anyone likes it or not is purely subjective, but what it does excel in, is spreading awareness all over the country that Punjab isn’t all song and dance, it is facing its most disturbing health crisis ever and it has gone past its alarming level. I am one of the people who knew nothing about this and I have met many people who are clueless as well. In fact it is a mass ignorance as much I can see it. My Punjabi friends mentioned to me that they came across a lot of people too who knew nothing about it.
I hope the people wake up and do something about it. First thing that strikes me is that addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as such, the stigma attached to it needs to go. And I hope we make the politicians do something about it, rather than letting them be complicit and show off a face of denial to the public. More and more rehab centers need to open up, more funds need to be allocated to fighting this crisis, the politicians and the police involved in the drug trade need to be exposed and arrested, a huge drastic change needs to be brought about to resolve it. Where there is a will, there will always be a way.
A special mention goes to the incredibly beautiful end credits song, “Hass Nach Le” which is an appeal to drug addicts to stop using them and enjoy life in sobriety.
And also to the amazing song “Da Da Dasse” which means fear is killing.
AIB On Air
Udta Punjab, the movie