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Indian celebs rave about dope

CNN-IBN
Jun 20, 2007 at 12:24pm IST

New Delhi: Former cricketer Maninder Singh was released on bail Wednesday after being arrested for possessing 1.5 grams of cocaine. Singh got bail on surety of Rs 50,000 after he was booked for possession, sale, consumption and purchase of drugs. Police said Maninder took to drugs nearly two years ago due to family problems but made it clear that he was into personal consumption.

Singh who is also a TV commentator is infact the second public face from the capital to be embroiled in a drug case in the past one year. In June 2006, slain BJP leader Pramod Mahajan's son Rahul Mahajan was hospitalised for an alleged overdose of drugs and alchohol. The same incident reportedly caused death of Bibek Maitra, Senior Mahajan's personal assistant.

In August 2005, Salil Chaturvedi owner of the multi-crore apparel brand 'Provogue' was arrested for possession of cocaine. Bollywood actor Fardeen Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Hollywood star Kate Moss are some of the famous personalities who confess to using cocaine. The question is, what is it that connects high-profile personas to substance abuse? Is drug abuse the ultimate symbol of a glamorous lifestyle?

On CNN-IBN India 360, actor Rohit Roy, news daily Hindustan Times columnist Seema Goswami, and Deputy Commissioner of Police Manish Agarwal (Delhi) analyzed the issue.

Is cocaine use far more common in India than we think it is?

International drug experts say that India is emerging as a major market in the sub continent for cocaine. Ramachandra Sundaralingam, who has spent over 15 years with Interpol was quoted by The Hindu saying that the market in Europe is now saturated and the international drug cartels are now exploring new markets in Central Asia, India, Pakistan, Singapore and Thailand. Is cocaine use far more common in India than we think it is?

Cocaine, one of world’s most expensive narcotics is often consumed by the rich and famous of the high society. The target groups in India are those in the world of music, arts, fashion and films. However, a proper study of drug abuse is not possible because unlike conventional crime, the victim in this case does not complain.

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Although it is for the Narcotics Control Bureau to make an assessment of user pattern in the country, there are reports that indicate that besides Mumbai and Delhi drug abuse is traveling to Bangalore and Hyderabad. Conservative estimates indicated that there are around 14 million cocaine users worldwide and the global turnover of the trade is around $200 billion.

Manish Agarwal DCP, Delhi Police said, “Consumption of drugs takes place in close-knit social groups. Even when the consumption of high magnitude leads to risking one’s life, these ‘close-knit social groups’ do not seek medical help. The drug peddling and consumption happens in a such secretive way that’s it becomes difficult to track these people down.”

There is an elaborate hypocrisy about cocaine use in India. When reports of drug abuse come out in the newspapers, it stirs a lot of moral panic. But the fact is that cocaine and other such luxury drugs are almost normal for the select rich and famous. They are using it because the supplies are there.

“They use it all the time. I have been to parties in Delhi where cocaine is available and it is consumed. We all know who does it, we all know where its bought and sold. And yet there is conspiracy pf silence. Everybody writes about it like it doesn’t happens in pout country,” said Hindustan Times columnist Seema Goswami.

“There are rave parties and late night clubs where drug peddling takes place. But it happens in a secretive way. It becomes impossible to track them down,” said the DCP.

Relationship between glamour and cocaine

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant. It targets brain's 'pleasure centre' and leads to a feeling of euphoria. Cocaine high is intense and compelling. It has side effects like anxiety, irritability, aggressive paranoia and depression.

In 1993 Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram was alleged of carrying Marijuana. There are many celebrity addicts of cocaine in India and world over, which includes Rahul Mahajan, Fardeen Khan, Drew Barrymore and Kate Moss.

Hollywood celebrity Robbie Williams once said that if you are doing cocaine, it finally means that you are making a lot of money. On being asked if there a sort of celebrity status attached to cocaine, actor Rohit Roy said, “Though I don’t subscribe to use of any drug whatsoever. But having said that, yes there is a certain amount of style that is involved in the use of expensive drugs like cocaine.”

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“It probably starts off with a couple of guys using it in the group. Because you want to belong to that circle you start using it too. It is expensive which is why it is seen as a status symbol,” he added.

When the role models for the young—Kate Moss, Sanjay Dutt, Fardeen Khan confess to drug consumption, does it drives the youth into trying the same?

“To begin with I don’t think these people should be role models for the young at all. I don’t think Kate Moss is a very suitable role model for the young. She’s like one anorexic, coke-head walking down the ramp. I don’t think she is a suitable role model at all. Talking of Indian celebrities, I think it is important for them to project the right image. But that’s not a responsibility they asked for. I think at the end of it we all have to exercise our own judgment and not be swayed by the glamour that’s associated with the world of drugs,” said Seema Goswami.

Legal View on Drug Abuse

Possession of less than three grams of cocaine in India is liable for up to one-year imprisonment. More than 3 grams classifies a person as a peddler. Punishment for personal consumption is 6 months to one-year jail term. However the onus lies on the accused to prove it was for personal consumption.

International Laws

  • UK: Distinctions are there between possession and peddling
  • US: Possession of 5 to 50 gms; Minimum 5 years jail
  • US: Possession of 5 kg of drugs can lead to 10 years jail term or life imprisonment
  • In Colombia, personal use of cocaine is allowed

“In India the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act clearly prohibits consumption or trade or even possession of the listed drugs. People should be educated about the ill effects of drugs rather than glorifying it as something elite,” said DCP Manish Agarwal.

There is an ongoing debate in UK that cocaine consumption should be legalized. In India the entire Sadhu Samaj (monks community) takes Ganja, which is again a form of drug. Alcohol and tobacco are equally bad however these are legalized. Is there a need for us to talk about drugs in a little more practical manner—accepting the ground reality that it is used at a much larger scale and commonly than it is perceived?

“The Sadhus are out of the society. Their consuming ganja does not influence the youth. But the celebrities, when they consume alcohol, tobacco or cinfees to taking drugs, the young minds start seeing it as something acceptable, fashionable and elite,” said Seema Goswami.

Drugs are psychotropic substances, which leave an irrevocable effect on the mind. “We can’t compare drug consumption with alcohol or tobacco. There cannot be a relaxed approach towards drug abuse,” Seema added.

In India, street kids—pushed into drugs at a very early age by drug peddlers—often retort to crimes to finance their crack habits. These kids once addicted get down to criminals activities and often land up in juvenile prisons.

“Behind every crime, there is a socio-economic phenomena. Cocaine addiction is slowly and gradually becoming attractive and acceptable," said DCP Manish Agarwal.

The police commissioner concluded the discussion saying, "People are getting into it, to be a part of a particular kind of social circle. Some also do it to break away from norms, to break a certain image about themselves and to get into a more glamorous mould into the high social circle.”

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