Dead Man Walking (Part V)

The Blame Game

By Pankaj Debbarma

May 22, 2024

In the complex web of substance abuse, blame is often dispersed among various societal facets. Guardians are criticized for not keeping a vigilant eye on their wards, institutions for failing to provide adequate guidance and counselling, the government for not effectively curbing the availability and access to drugs, and the abusers themselves for succumbing to what some term the ‘path of the Satan.’ This blame-shifting underscores a deeper, pervasive issue of societal nonchalance and indifference that fuels the cycle of addiction.

Consider a scene in a small corner shop. A few young boys, barely in their teens, are buying cigarettes. When asked if they were of legal age to purchase tobacco, the storekeeper shrugged and responded, “What can I say? These days everyone is smoking, even young girls.” This response highlights a critical aspect of the problem: despite knowing the boys were underage, the storekeeper still sold them tobacco products. Even as an elder present at the scene, I did not intervene or chide them. This collective nonchalance towards undesirable behaviour is a significant contributing factor to the issue.

Research shows that substance abuse rarely occurs in isolation. It often starts with legal substances like cigarettes and alcohol. Driven by curiosity and social influences, individuals gradually progress to more dangerous drugs, becoming entrapped in addiction. The transition from legal substances to illicit drugs can be insidious, with each stage marked by increasing dependence and deeper entrenchment into a lifestyle of substance abuse.

The narrative of substance abuse in Tripura is no different. The state has witnessed a troubling rise in drug use, particularly among its youth. Data from the Tripura State AIDS Control Board reveals a staggering number of 5,330 HIV positive or AIDS patients, with 558 of them being students. This figure represents around 10 percent of the total affected population, highlighting the severity of the crisis among the younger demographic.

The storekeeper’s indifference in the earlier anecdote is a microcosm of a larger societal attitude. The easy availability of cigarettes and alcohol acts as a gateway, leading many young individuals down a dangerous path. This is not just a failure of law enforcement but a societal failure where norms and values have shifted to accommodate, and even tacitly approve, such behaviours.

Moreover, societal indifference extends beyond mere availability. It is reflected in the lack of adequate prevention and intervention programs in schools and communities. Educational institutions, which should ideally be safe havens and places of guidance, often fail to address the early signs of substance abuse among students. Guardians, on the other hand, sometimes overlook the early warning signs, either out of ignorance or a misplaced sense of leniency.

Governance plays a crucial role in this blame game. The lack of stringent policies and enforcement mechanisms allows the black market for drugs to flourish. In Tripura, despite efforts by Chief Minister Manik Saha to curb the illegal drug trade, the availability of substances remains alarmingly high. This ease of access contributes significantly to the rising number of young individuals falling prey to addiction.

The abusers themselves are often the last in the chain of blame. While personal responsibility is undeniable, it is essential to recognize that addiction is a complex disease influenced by various factors, including genetics, environment, and mental health. Blaming the individual alone ignores the broader systemic issues that facilitate substance abuse.

To break this cycle, it is imperative to address the issue at its root. Regulating the sale of cigarettes and alcohol more strictly can be a starting point. Educating storekeepers, holding them accountable, and fostering a sense of communal responsibility can create an environment where underage smoking and drinking are less tolerated. Schools and colleges must incorporate comprehensive substance abuse education programs and provide support systems for students showing early signs of addiction.

Furthermore, the government needs to intensify its efforts in cracking down on the drug trade and making rehabilitation more accessible. This multifaceted approach requires the cooperation of all societal segments – from policymakers and educators to guardians and community leaders.

The narrative of “Dead Man Walking” is not just about individual suffering but a stark reminder of the collective responsibility we bear. The students of Tripura, like those young boys in the corner shop, deserve better. They deserve a society that does not turn a blind eye to their plight but actively works to prevent and address substance abuse. Only through concerted and compassionate action can we hope to turn the tide against this pervasive issue and offer our youth a chance at a healthier, brighter future.

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10 thoughts on “Dead Man Walking (Part V)”

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