By Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Apr 1 (EFE).- After over three decades of a deadly armed conflict ravaging the idyllic Indian Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory is now confronting another, arguably more lethal, crisis: rampant drug addiction.
A government study says the Muslim-majority region of 12.5 million inhabitants has nearly one million drug abusers.
However, activists say the figure could be higher, attributing the spike to persistent poverty, unemployment, and decades of political and armed conflict that has left few families unscathed in the region disputed between India and Pakistan.
The central government informed the parliament recently that there are nearly one million drug addicts in Kashmir, using cannabis, cocaine, opioid, sedatives, amphetamine-type stimulants, and hallucinogens.
A police officer told EFE that most Kashmiri drug addicts are between 17 and 33 years of age, which is a cause of deep concern for the authorities.
The officer refused to give his name because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
He said the drug addiction had sparked a crime spike, recalling how an addicted son in a north Kashmir village allegedly killed his mother recently.
Masroor Hassan, a doctor at the only psychiatric hospital in Srinagar city, told EFE that unemployment and poverty were the top causes of drug abuse rise in Kashmir.
“As unemployment soars, so does drug abuse,” Hassan said.
And the unemployment situation appears to be getting worse.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent think-tank that monitors monthly unemployment in India, the employment rate at 23.1 was the third highest after Haryana (26.8) and Rajasthan (26.4).
An activist working at a rehab center told EFE that an unending political uncertainty and the perpetual presence of armed forces were causing anxiety among youth in the highly-militarized region.
The Himalayan territory, split between India and Pakistan, has been at the center of more than 70 years of an unending territorial dispute between the two South Asian nuclear powers.
The never-ending exposure to violence or its forms in one of the most-heavily militarized conflict regions “leads the youth to the use of contraband substances,” the activist said, adding such drugs are “easily available.”
However, authorities accuse Pakistan of smuggling drugs into Kashmir to “destroy the young generation.”
The government and several non-profits have taken several measures, including awareness campaigns, rehabilitation programs, and crackdowns on drug peddlers to combat the problem.
The government has set up ten addiction treatment facilities.
Over the last nearly seven years, the leading rehabilitation facility in Srinagar has witnessed a 3000 percent increase in patients seeking treatment.
“We are ourselves frustrated to see the plight of the youngsters,” Kowsar Jan, a doctor at the center, told EFE.
An EFE correspondent met at least three drug users at the rehabilitation center during a counseling session. However, they refused to talk in detail.
“I was a charming and healthy youth only a year ago,” said Tariq, revealing only his first name.
Another boy sitting near Tariq refused to reveal his identity. “Once you fall into this dirty world, there is no exit,” he said. EFE