A few months ago, a video surfaced on social media, showing a young woman screaming under the influence of drugs after being caught during a police raid from a lodge in a central Kerala town. An investigation later revealed that the woman, once a bright student, was lured by the drug mafia and used as a carrier to run their lucrative business.
It was one of several such incidents that shook the collective consciousness of Kerala society, prompting the government to crack down on those engaged in the dirty business in the southern state.
A new survey conducted by Kerala Police among youths aged below 21, who were victims of substance abuse, has revealed another shocking fact: 40% of them were aged below 18. What is more frightening is that most of them were girls and were being used as carriers after falling prey to drug cartels.
“In the past, substance abuse cases were reported more in colleges. Now more cases are reported in schools, and girl children are becoming victims of substance abuse,” says ADGP (Law and Order), MR Ajith Kumar.
Small businesses around schools sell drugs
Kumar, who is also the state nodal officer for Yoddhav, the anti-drug campaign of the state police, said female carriers are being used to lure girls into the trap. They first befriend schoolgirls and then slowly introduce them to substance abuse, Kumar told PTI.
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The senior police officer said the small roadside eateries called thattukadas and petty shops in schools’ vicinities are active sellers of contraband to students. “Female drug carriers are being used to draw girl students into the network. Many a time, boys are also used to lure their girlfriends into the drug trap,” he said.
To eradicate the drug menace from school premises, the police conducted 18,301 raids in small eateries and petty shops near schools in the state and registered 401 cases. They have also arrested 462 accused while seizing 20.97 kg of ganja, 186.38 grams of MDMA, and 1122.1 grams of hashish.
Carriers target coaching centres, too
When some schools tighten up their surveillance and prevent the entry of drugs, the carriers target coaching centres to draw children, the police officer said. Counsellors attached to Child Protection Units say they have come across drug packets on the desks, benches, and inside school bags during their visit to some schools for counselling victims of drug abuse.
“The prevalence of substance abuse is very high among schoolchildren. When we counsel them, they admit to have used these substances but never reveal the source from which they got the drug,” Anju Dias, a counsellor attached to the Thiruvananthapuram District Child Protection Unit, told PTI.
In girls aged 13 and above, sexual abuse is often connected to substance abuse. “Boyfriends introduce them to drugs and sexually exploit them. The girls tend to comply with their wishes to keep getting the drug,” Dias added.
Onus on family, teachers
Psychologist Aswanthya SK of the District Child Protection Unit, who extensively works among both sex abuse and substance abuse victims, says family and teachers play a very important role in prevention.
“Most of the time, teachers and parents are too much into academics and fail to notice any deviant behaviour. Only when the child gets into trouble, the teachers and parents realize that the kind of teaching or parenting they have been imparting was not appropriate for the child,” Avanthya said.
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She says parents should maintain a close relationship with their children, observe them closely and should check their belongings, including bags, thoroughly. “Most of these substances are psycho-active drugs. It can affect and alter the brain chemistry of the child. That really makes the child abnormal and, at a later stage, hallucinations start to set in. Children will then have abnormal and strained relationships,” she added.
Huge jump in seizure of drugs
Police said Kerala is now facing a situation that Punjab has been unsuccessfully fighting for several years. But the state government has resolved to fight the menace more vigorously, launching a massive anti-drug campaign by coordinating various departments, including police and excise departments. As a result, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) cases registered in the state and in the number of people arrested.
The police have identified 1,377 black spots, which are the nerve centres of drug trafficking activities, under the jurisdiction of 472 police stations in the state. In 2022, Kerala Police registered 25,240 NDPS cases and arrested 29,514 accused compared to the 5,334 cases registered in 2021 and 6,704 arrested in 2021, reveals a document.
“There is a huge jump in seizure of synthetic drugs like MDMA in 2022. Compared to the 2.739 kg MDMA seizure in 2021, police managed to seize 14.032 kg MDMA during 2022. In 2022, 1.223 kg of brown sugar and 35.942 kg of hashish or hashish oil were also seized,” it says.
(With agency inputs)