Yogesh Rajput | April 28, 2015
Being the only one in his basement office, Sharma leaves the toilet door ajar. There is none to spring a surprise on him or be embarrassed of. One winter afternoon, he is in there when he is indeed caught unawares – by a cold pressing revolver on his neck. A cautious Sharma does not move. From the corner of his eye he can just make out the brown shiny shoes and the khaki trousers. Soon, he starts accepting that the trigger would be pulled any second, leaving him dead in cold blood.
READ: Punjab drug problem: The lost generation
Luckily, the cop turns out to be Sharma’s friend who is just playing a prank.
This incident, a couple of months ago in Jalandhar, however, got Sharma thinking.
Sharma, who runs a tourist bus service, has made scores of enemies over the past four years. For he has given the names of over 16,000 drug peddlers operating in Punjab to the Punjab and Haryana high court, which is hearing a consolidated case comprising many petitions on drug abuse in the state. The links of the drug trade go up to the top echelons of political leadership in the state and cuts across parties, says Sharma.
Consequences of this outright war against the high and mighty has come in the form of broken limbs and a constant fear for life for Sharma, and murder of one of his informers.
In March 2014, Sharma was beaten up by police officials, which left him bedridden for six months.
In the same year in June, one of Sharma’s informers was murdered by an influential drug peddler. “His throat was slit and he was left on the street to die. Such was the lackadaisical attitude of the police that we were forced to approach the high court to make them arrest the killer,” says Sharma.
It all started in 2010 when Sharma’s friends started dying one after the other from drug abuse. “I was so devastated at the loss of my friends that I decided to find out the reason for substance abuse in our society,” says Sharma. He soon stared gathering information about drug abusers and through them about drug peddlers in his locality. After collecting substantive information, Sharma, in the same year, gave the names of 26 drug peddlers to the local police. Along with their names, Sharma also mentioned the quantity of drugs sold by those peddlers on a daily basis. Sharma, however, was in for disappointment, as police did not take any action. But instead of being disheartened, Sharma steeled his resolve to fight the malaise. He spread his network far and wide, roping in relatives spread over Punjab to find details on more peddlers in various parts of the state.
“My relatives live in all major districts of Punjab, be it Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Ferozpur or Patiala. I told them to find out details about drug peddlers operating in their area. Convincing them was easy, as all of them have seen close ones dying of drug abuse. After four years of work, I managed to collate the information received from my relatives and through my own informers. Upon compilation, I found the involvement of as many as 16,701 drug peddlers in the whole nexus, and gave the details to the high court in the form of a public interest litigation. I still look out for more information on peddlers,” says Sharma.
Now confident that the judiciary would take due action to bring the culprits to justice, Sharma feels there is enough knowledge in the public domain about the illegal trade. “I have given names, addresses and in some cases even telephone numbers of drug peddlers. What more is needed to take action against them? Moreover, till now no peddler has come forward and questioned the credibility of my list submitted in the high court. This can only mean that the names in the list are indeed of drug peddlers.”
In the process, Sharma has got used to death threats every now and then. “My family members often worry about my safety, but now that I have taken this path, there is no question of looking back.”
Soon after the Jalandhar incident, Sharma took some precautions. He installed CCTV cameras outside his office to keep a 24/7 check on anyone and everyone entering the premises. He monitors the movement of his staff and visitors on the LCD screen inside his office. Even though it was just a prank, it served as a timely reminder to the danger he had exposed himself to. Sharma, however, is not one to back out.
Fire on the Ganges: Life among the Dead in Banaras By Radhika Iyengar 4th Estate / HarperCollins, 348 pages, 599
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