About three weeks ago, passing through an alley near Nilkhet late at night, I came across an unnerving scene. On one side of the road, a rickety piece of shade made of long uneven pieces of wood was slanted against the wall to create a covered space. A man was huddled within the small cozy space, a candle alight in front of him and a sweet smell, similar to talcum powder permeating the immediate vicinity.
From the small openings, one could see that man holding a piece of paper, cigarette between his lips, inhaling hard -- “chasing the cherry,” is probably the common term. It was a bit shocking because the action was going on right on the road, with a certain degree of nonchalance.
In another incident, I was present during the election of a working-class organisation and while verbal requests for votes were clandestinely consolidated by cash handouts, support was also being ensured by providing money to voters for their “high” of choice. In the past, it used to be a “foreign bottle” for most; now, against one bottle, five requests are for yaba.
Obviously, the candidate seeking votes did not want to directly deal with such issues and handed out the money.
Yaba, once the drug of choice of the affluent, is now the high of the masses. But in our swiftness to dismiss this as just another passing social scourge, we are allowing a drug capable of subduing all sense of right and wrong to become pervasive.
The death of a six-month-old child
The death of a six-month-old baby who fell on the road during a violent snatching job in the city, triggered the law to prioritise operations to curb the actions of what is known in Bengali as the “taana party
Later, the police reportedly told journalists that, after arresting several people involved in road snatching, it was discovered that almost all of them were drug addicts.
This revelation opens up the need for more in-depth sociological assessment, because under the influence of yaba, the ability to differentiate between right and wrong dissipates, creating a sense of invincibility in the user, which eventually leads to brutal acts.
Savage crimes such as brutal manslaughter have featured in our media frequently last year and if there is a study done on the criminals plus their habits, yaba will feature somewhere as a major provider of ruthless inspiration.
What is most disconcerting is the way yaba has spread to all layers of society, breaking away from the initial “high for the high class” tag.
Ten years ago, one tablet cost near Tk1,000, which has come down to a mere Tk50 per pill, bringing the lure of yaba within the buying capacity of the low and mid income sections.
Addiction is one side of the problem, the other more sinister harm is the steady corrosion of social mores where making quick money is becoming an obsession with many
The road to fast riches
Leaving the addiction aside, 10 years into yaba’s presence in our societies, what stands out is how this drug has insidiously triggered a mercenary social creed where making money, irrespective of the method followed, stands unassailable.
There was a news report in a widely-read Bengali paper about a young scavenger in Mohammadpur, who has, in the last seven years, become the owner of astonishing wealth, controlling a yaba syndicate with supposed international links.
Reportedly, he has CCTV cameras at home which help him evade arrest and to move incognito. But these are hardly impediments in the face of a genuine desire to nab him. According to the people of his area, unscrupulous members of the law are aware of his operation and are complicit, often tipping him before a raid.
This tale is just one of many
Just a few weeks ago, we read about two sisters who were running a lucrative yaba trade behind the façade of bathroom fittings business. Two members of the armed forces were apprehended with yaba tablets while clandestine factories making the pill being busted by the police are regular news.
Strangely, yaba turning people into multimillionaires fast seems to work as ghoulish inspiration because we are living in a time when the provenance of wealth is never questioned with the rising perception that all possible hindrances are cleared with the right amount given to the right places.
Addiction is just one side of the problem, whereas the longer damage is that, slowly but inexorably we are being proselytised into accepting that making money, even if it’s by drug trade, should be the ultimate goal; ethics and morality may exist as a charade.
The ‘women’ factor in yaba
There are two dimensions to the involvement of women in yaba. The first is about women who work in major cities as escorts and sex workers. They were the initial sellers and carriers because, 10 years ago, the idea of women engaged in drug peddling was something of a novelty.
Using the gender-associated impunity, they began selling the drug at parties and late night DJ shows. It’s highly possible that many of these women later on gave up escorting to become full blown yaba dealers, often investing their own earnings in the business.
The second facet to this is the entry of the drug into the entertainment industry with reports of many models, actors, and artistes becoming hooked on the drug. Through this circle, yaba spreads deep within the heart of society.
How about arresting a few of the kingpins?
The truth is, regular arrest of street sellers and buyers and apprehension of shipments see small time crooks detained with the kingpins remaining untouched. If this happens, yaba cannot be tackled. We lost one battle against Phensidyl, the codeine-based cough syrup which decimated a whole generation, and now, this is another challenge staring at us, at point blank. The main masterminds have to be caught with networks completely shattered.
At least some infamous drug traders mentioned in regular media reports can be caught as a sign of a resolute attempt.
Like I said earlier, addiction is one side of the problem, the other more sinister harm is the steady corrosion of social mores where making quick money is becoming an obsession with many.
Link this to the relentless glorification of the underworld mafia culture in contemporary movies, providing a platform for a predatory credo to gain ground with young minds.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.