09/06/2016 9:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

Indian Censors Might Want Reference To Punjab Removed From 'Udta Punjab', But That Won't Make The Problem Go Away

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
AMRITSAR, INDIA - FEBRUARY 26: Punjab Police Narcotics Department officials carrying 50 Kgs of heroin recovered from three smugglers coming out from court on February 26, 2015 in Amritsar, India. The state police chief said that after controlling the local availability of drugs and neutralising internal distribution network, Punjab Police is now focusing on plugging supply lines from across the international border. (Photo by Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

"The typical profile of the opioid dependent population is: male, young, Punjabi-speaking, from a lower-middle class background." -- Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey (PODS), 2016.

As the producers of 'Udta Punjab' take to court their battle with the Indian censors over the film's depiction of drug use in Punjab, a state that goes to poll next year, this would be a good time to recall a recent study conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences that estimates the size of the state's opioid dependent population at over two lakh.

Among the 89 cuts suggested by the censor board, one is ironically its review committee's objection to any reference to Punjab. Anurag Kashyap, producer of the film, has written scathing posts on social media and held press conferences to protest the cuts and even labelled the censor board chief, Pahlaj Nihalani, a dictator.

While Nihalani has accused, without being able to furnish any proof, Kashyap of accepting funds from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), that is contesting the 2016 elections in Punjab, the filmmaker has repeatedly insisted that his is not a political campaign, but a war against censorship.

But even as the censor board buries its head in sand and refuses to acknowledge a serious problem affecting thousands of youths in the state, several celebrities have spoken out in support of the film and the light it supposedly throws on the drug menace.

An investigation by the Indian Express over eight months and after scanning of over 6000 FIRs made available under the Right to Information Act, has revealed that the state's big 'war on drugs' is actually a crackdown on mostly impoverished users. At least 2,555 out of the 6,028 arrests (42.4 per cent) were for possession.

It's important therefore that the data on drug use in the study reach the target audience. As Shahid Kapur, the lead actor of 'Udta Punjab', aptly said at yesterday's press conference, "the information must reach the youth."

A study commissioned by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) to estimate the numbers of opioid dependent individuals in Punjab have thrown up this alarming data.

Here are the key takeaways from the 'Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey (PODS)', a study conducted by the Society for Promotion of Youth & Masses (SPYM) and researchers from National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), along with AIIMS and the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Punjab.

  • The estimated size of opioid dependent population in Punjab is 2,32,856. The National Survey (conducted nationwide in 2001) estimated the entire country's opioid dependent population to be 5 lakhs.
  • Male youth in Punjab are disproportionately affected by opioid dependence.
  • Among 18-35 years old men in Punjab about 4 in 100 are opioid dependent and about 15 in 100 could be opioid users.
  • Opioid dependence is no longer concentrated only in urban areas. In all the surveyed districts, estimates of opioid dependent people run into thousands. In fact, across the state, about 55% of opioid dependent population belongs to rural areas.
  • Heroin is the most widely used opioid in Punjab among dependent individuals. This has serious implications for the HIV/AIDS programme of the state.
  • There is a huge illegal market of opioid drugs in Punjab.
  • Opioid dependent people are spending around 20 crore rupees per day on drugs.
  • As many as 80% of opioid dependent individuals have tried to give-up, only about 35% have received any help.
  • It will take about 10 years to provide a single episode of treatment to the entire opioid dependent population in the state.

The study was conducted at 10 districts of the state -- Bathinda, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Moga, Patiala, Sangrur and Tarn Taran -- between February and April 2015.

The entire issue has become a political slugfest ahead of the election next year, with AAP accusing the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government of failing to control the state's drug problem. Nihalani is a self-confessed fan ('chamcha' is the word he used) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party, an ally of the SAD in the state.

The censor board might want all reference to Punjab removed from the film, but that won't make the problem go away.