War is certainly a strong word and when one uses the term in a campaign against drugs people generally feel uneasy and restive. If it is a campaign only against drug smugglers and traffickers, one could understand the use of the term ‘war’ to some extent.
Till date, the Manipur government is yet to spell out the aims and objectives of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ to the general public in clear and lucid terms while the state is yet to frame a comprehensive policy for combating the drug menace in all forms. The world has seen enough of the ‘War on Drug’ undertaken by various governments and in some cases it involved death penalties or life imprisonment of drug smugglers and even summary executions without going through legal processes. Thailand’s experience shows that the real culprits at the top of the drug pyramid often escape extra-legal approaches to eradicating drug problems with impunity.
After thousands of deaths, Colombia and Mexico discovered the same truth decades ago. The Philippines is a producer, a transit point, and a consumer of narcotics. Each role requires specific policies that involve the entire state apparatus, as well as civil society. The drug trade is a transnational threat; this means neighbouring states have to work together to fight. Political leaders who want to wage wars against illegal drugs also open the possibility of power abuse from the security sector.
In places with rampant corruption, lack of police professionalism, a culture of impunity, and links between drug lords and political elites, basic human rights are thrown out of the window and security forces are given extra-legal powers in order to succeed in their mission. That is what one calls a War on Drugs, whatever negative connotations it brings along.
When we talk of drug menace in the state, the first scenario which comes to mind is widespread drug abuse among the youth and government’s efforts to curb it. We shall not linger on the damning circumstances which have led to widespread drug abuse among the youth as we will not be able to do justice to it. But, one can definitely say that the lives of thousands of enterprising young persons have been lost. HIV/AIDS is one of the by-products of drug abuse.
How does the state view these drug addicts or the people living with HIV/AIDS? Should we view them as victims of circumstances or as habitual offenders? Also, there is a thin line between the addicts or victims and small-time peddlers. In most cases, drug addicts also double as drug peddlers to finance their habit as against the illicit traffickers and the drug lords who engage in it purely for profit. Well, the general impression is that the state is targeting the victims and simplistic poppy farmers while protecting the interests of the major players.
In the last term, Chief Minister N Biren Singh announced a financial assistance of Rs 15,000 for local clubs annually under the state Social Welfare department in order to root out drugs. It was indeed a good move to encourage the local clubs to join in the campaign against drugs. But much more needs to be done. The local clubs need to be properly sensitised on the state drug policy and its multi-pronged strategy to deal with both drug abuse and drug smuggling or peddling.
It is not all about weeding out the drug abusers and ostracising them and not hauling up the drug peddlers. The rehabilitation part is very important in any response to the problem. So many private drug de-addiction centres or rehabilitation centres have come up in the state and most of them are operating without registration and with their own set of rules, while the state is yet to come up with a basic policy accompanied by proper rules and regulations as such.