Bhagwant Mann Government Faces Defiance: Protests Erupt in Mansa for Jhota’s Release

by Rajinder Singh Taggar

An uprising against drugs in Punjab pitches general public against police

The people of drug-affected Punjab are now not only raising their voices against drug trafficking but also taking direct action against smugglers and peddlers after the state machinery, under successive governments, utterly failed to curb the menace.

On the other hand, the police are opposing direct action by the people and registering FIRs to crush the uprising of sorts. The ambivalent attitude of the Bhagwant Mann government on the emerging police versus people situation is fast alienating it from the general public, especially in the Malwa belt.

With the arrest of social activist Parvinder Singh Jhota on Saturday, July 15, by Mansa police, the drug issue in Punjab has once again come into sharp focus with the general public, rather than the government and politicians, coming in support of Jhota’s anti-drug brigade. The police are hounding the other 6 members of the brigade. They could not be arrested along with Jhota, their leader.

The Mansa police took suo-motu action on the basis of a viral video showing Jhota and the members of his team entering a chemist shop in Mansa that is known for selling banned drugs. After recovering a large quantity of banned intoxicating capsules popularly called ‘signature capsules,’ the anti-drug brigade put a garland of chappals around the neck of chemist Ashwini Kumar and paraded him in the market.

However, the Mansa police claim that the FIR was registered under non-bailable provisions of criminal law after the chemist recorded his statement from his hospital bed where he was being treated for minor injuries. Jhota is in 14-day judicial custody. On the other hand, the chemist was also booked on the complaint of Jhota but was bailed out as the sale of a banned drug – not covered by Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Prevention) Act – was a bailable offense.

Independent inquiries revealed that the entire people living in Mansa district were happy over Jhota’s action against the chemist as the police and the drug administration of Punjab failed to check the activities of this particular chemist, Ashwini Kumar infamous, over the years in the area, for selling contraband drugs. On the other hand, the masses are critical of police action that is being seen as providing tacit support to those selling contraband drugs. Evidently, the police got into a proactive mode to arrest Jhota when there was no written complaint against him from the chemist.

It is with the efforts of the Jhota anti-drug brigade that a large number of panchayats have formed anti-drug committees to keep a vigil on the possible sale of high-priced ‘Chita’ and the ‘signature capsules’ etc in their respective villages. The Ghumar Wala village has not only come out in full support of Jhota and his men opposing registration of an FIR but even exposed the police connivance by naming a particular family in the village that has been selling heroin for a long time and the policemen visiting it frequently allegedly to collect “hafta.”

A vernacular media journalist-turned-activist Ranjit Singh Gill, resident of a village near the Gidderbaha Tehsil of Muktsar district, disclosed in a web TV interview that in the Malwa belt of the state village-level anti-drug committees have been formed by the panchayats. “The police, ideally should support this self-help enterprise of the people, but the opposite is happening. The members of these committees in many villages are being booked for taking the law into their hands,” Gill said.

Politically speaking, the village-level anti-drug committees are a direct challenge to all the political parties as they seem to be wresting the initiative from them and are earning accolades from people who want to see an end to the rampant sale of drugs, ‘Chita’ and pharmaceuticals intoxicants included.

In a separate FIR registered at Maur Mandi police station of Bathinda district, a woman widely known as a ‘Chita’ supplier of Ghumar Kalan village accused Jhota and the village-level committee of molesting her when they raided her residence. Almost all of the village, in one voice, termed the allegations false and accused the woman and her family of ruining the lives of many young people.

A senior police officer at the state headquarters said that the people need to report the matter to the nearest police station and not take the law into their hands. Raiding shops and residences of chemists and alleged smugglers and paddlers directly will invite penal action as anti-drug brigades are not authorized to step into the shoes of the police and do ‘policing’ themselves.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Rajinder Singh Taggar

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