The Dean of Arts and Dean of Science of a well-known college in Kolkata, one of the top institutes in the city, took a bunch of students idling in one of the favourite road corners outside college when they hurriedly passed by them for a surveillance stroll. The day after witnessed a CCTV camera installed at the roadside corner. The reason was no secret. The roadside corner had been a favourite hub for students to ‘smoke up'( the modern millennial parlance for inhaling ‘weed’ or marijuana). This anecdote is shared by a student from mangled memory as she recounts how there had been two smoking corners in the vicinity of the college, one being in very close quarters to a roadside tea stall. The menace became a well known one following which the college authorities installed surveillance cameras outside the premises.
Narcotic usage and addiction is a very popular phenomenon of Kolkata schools and colleges, often almost seen by students as a vital part of student life and college culture. In fact, the tragic part remains that habits developed in college days last as long as life for many having serious ramifications in their personal and professional lives. Many a substance abusers in their late forties or fifties, got hooked to intoxicants in their late or early twenties, mostly in their student careers.
A very popular university in South Kolkata, often regarded as one of the city’s most prominent intellectual hubs is quite familiar with the problem of substance abuse among students. Several students we spoke to from Jadavpur University spoke of how they saw their friends bright with potential lost to narcotic abuse. There lies an ideological compendium to the problem of substance abuse in a lot of Kolkata colleges and universities. Institutions of higher education in the city are considered democratic spaces for bubbling of the iconoclastic spirits of society. They enjoy a certain freedom of thought and action for students within premises. This has been culturally handed down to students over decades since realms of education are also seen as spaces of dissent towards dominant social norms and questioning social institutions. Narcotics are seen in a certain degree, as symbolic of social freedom and liberation, pretty much a concept borrowed from western intellectualism and icons of such movement. The piece of cigarette and revolution often go quite hand in hand as iconic of modern revolutionism. Marijuana and weed as easy drugs have been popularized by the 60s hippie culture that had it’s influence felt in the east with students aspiring to a bohemian style of life discarding the sense of sophistication associated with embracing norms of social decency. A large attraction of wanting to be the weed peddler of college or frequenting joint -corners turned hubs of social assimilation is in order to be labelled ‘cool’. A miniscule reflection in your student career of the ideological life you ought to embrace in the world outside after college.
Smoking, or smoking up is also often seen as a statement of resistance against gender binaries. Embracing narcotic addiction is considered a move against social stigmatization and social privilege of one gender against the other in accessing cultural liberties. Hence the act of intoxication is often culturally normalized, assuming if one might say, an exalted and celebratory status in some minor pockets of the student demography.
A student of Jadavpur University from the department of Economics, whose identity we keep guarded, claimed, ” Very often in our GD meets or political sessions we light up a cigarette as habit or ritual and pass it on to others, quite often not heeding the discomfort of juniors or batch mates not comfortable with the act.” He also talked about a dear friend of his, a political activist with a bright potential who lost a good part of health, time and opportunity to cannabis psychosis and had to stay hospitalized for about a month or so. Another student from the department of Engineering talked about a senior of his who had to be sent for rehabilitation due to a severely enhanced problem of substance abuse. Such cases of assorting to institutionalization are common at quite an early age.
Media and culture too, often attach an extra glamour quotient to frames with individuals smoking, despite disclaimers to the contrary. Social meetups seem incomplete or bonding sessions don’t seem to go so well for millennials without a joint being passed around. Cigarette or cannabis are a big part of youth culture today. Substance abuse therefore has become a slippery line to tread.
We talk more about this issue in our following series on the issue.