Aethe roti kath mildi hai, chitta sare aam milda hai [Here, food is scarce, but heroin is easily available].”

Harvans Kaur’s only son is a drug addict. “We try to stop him, but he still fights his way, takes all the money, and spends it on drugs,” says the hapless mother of the 25-year-old who is also a new father. She says drugs in the form of chitta (heroin), injections and capsules of psychotropic substances, are easily available in their village.

“If the government wants, they can stop drug abuse. If not, more of our children will die.” Harvans Kaur is a daily wage labourer who works at a potato storage unit in Raoke Kalan village. She earns Rs. 15 for each bag she packs, and she manages to pack around 12, making roughly Rs. 180 in a day. Her husband, Sukhdev Singh, 45, does daily wage work at a warehouse in Nihal Singh Wala, over four kilometres from their village Nangal. He also packs bags of wheat or rice, earning Rs. 300 a day when work is available. It is their earnings that the family must rely upon.

Coming right to the point, Kiran Kaur, her neighbour in this village in Punjab’s Moga district, says, “anyone who promises to eradicate drugs from our village will get our vote.”

Kiran’s clarity is no doubt tied to the fact that her husband is also a drug addict. The mother of two children, a three-year-old daughter and a six-month-old son, she says, “my husband works as a casual labourer and is a drug addict. He has been so for the last three years. Whatever he earns, he spends on drugs.”

Looking up at the large cracks in the walls of her eight-member family’s home she says, “where will the money to repair the rooms come from?”

PHOTO • Sanskriti Talwar

Harvans Kaur and her husband Sukhdev Singh in Nangal village of Punjab's Moga district are struggling to get their only son off drugs

The village Nangal of Moga district comes in the Faridkot parliamentary constituency that will be voting on June 1.

Six months ago, a 24-year-old man in Nangal died from a drug overdose. The passing of a young man in his prime is still fresh in the memory of the villagers. “There is berozgari [unemployment] and most young men sit idle and they fall into bad company,” said Paramjit Kaur who has been working as an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) in Nangal village since 2008.

She adds, “only the government can control this [drug] situation.”  In 2022, 144 people in Punjab (all male) died of drug overdoses (National Crime Records Bureau).

During the 2022 Assembly election campaign, Aam Aadmi Party national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal vowed to make Punjab drug-free within three months if his party came to power. In a subsequent promise, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann declared in an Independence Day speech in Patiala on August 15, 2023 that the state would be free of drugs within a year.

State governments, through the excise departments, control the sale, use, consumption, and movement of certain narcotic drugs. But locals say the sale and trade of drugs is a well-organised mafia. “People from outside our village, who have links in Moga, Ludhiana, Barnala and other places bring these drugs into our village,” says Butta Nangal, a member of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee in Nangal.

PHOTO • Sanskriti Talwar
PHOTO • Sanskriti Talwar

State governments control the sale, use, consumption, and movement of certain narcotic drugs, but locals say the trade of drugs is a well-organised mafia. Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee member Butta Nangal (in blue kurta) with his family (left). Nangal village (right), the home of Amandeep and Kiran

As per the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act , 1985, consumption and possession of drugs in India is a criminal offence. “But even the cops are under dabav [pressure] to not take any action,” points out Sukhchain Singh, also a committee member. He adds, “if the MLA [member of Legislative Assembly] wants they can stop the drugs from coming into our village.” Former sarpanch (headman), Lakhveer Singh now with the Congress party also agrees, saying, “ piche toh sarkar roke tey rukuga [If the government intervenes only then will it stop].”

But politicians are not addressing the issue, says Nangal resident, Kamaljit Kaur. She says the AAP candidate for Faridkot, Karamjit Anmol, did not speak in his rally about drug abuse. “He just asked us to vote, promising benefits for the women voters,” says the 40-year-old, who belongs to the Dalit Mazhabi Sikh community. “Unfortunately, none of the [political] parties have spoken about it,” she adds as she walks towards the open meeting called by the Congress party workers in May in her village.


With her husband’s addiction showing no signs of abating, the burden of managing family expenses falls on Kiran, who labours in the fields of landowners. The last time the 23-year-old earned any wage was in February 2024 when she picked potatoes, her newborn lying in the field on a plastic sack beside her, in the shade of a tree. The work lasted for about 20 days. She was offered Rs. 400 a day but was finally paid Rs. 300.

Her friend and neighbour, Amandeep Kaur worked alongside her and points out that while [upper caste] farmers take them to protests, farm labourers like them don’t get a fair wage. “Who stands with us? No one. They ask us to stay behind because we belong to the scheduled caste, yet we labour more than anyone.”

PHOTO • Sanskriti Talwar
PHOTO • Sanskriti Talwar

Amandeep Kaur and Kiran Kaur (in pink) cooking for the relatives coming to see off Sarabjit Kaur who is leaving for the United Kingdom in search of a job. Kiran's mother-in-law, Baljit Kaur (in yellow) in their village in Nangal, Punjab

Dalits like Kiran and Amandeep make up 31.94 per cent of Punjab’s population – the highest for any state in the country (Census 2011). An increase in the daily wage to a minimum of Rs. 700 - Rs. 1,000 was a major demand of the Dalit labourers at the protest site.

The next work opportunity for women farm labourers, Amandeep says, will come with the onset of the kharif season in June, when they will be hired for transplanting paddy at Rs. 4,000 for an acre that works out to each labourer earning Rs. 400 a day. “After that, we will remain without work for the entire winter,” she adds.

The other option is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) programme, which guarantees each family 100 days of work a year. However, Kiran’s mother-in-law, Baljit Kaur, 50, says they get no more than 10 days of work under this scheme in their village.

To help with daily expenses, Baljit works in an upper-caste household for Rs. 200 a day. Amandeep earns Rs. 20 for each textbook she covers with plastic. The women say that the additional income of Rs. 1,000 a month promised by the Aam Aadmi Party government during the 2022 assembly elections, would really help. “We worked hard and paid Rs. 200 to fill out that form, but to no avail,” says Baljit.

PHOTO • Sanskriti Talwar
PHOTO • Sanskriti Talwar

Baljit and Kiran’s home (left) in Nangal village of Moga district. 'There is no point in wasting our time here in Punjab since there are no jobs. There is only drug abuse [nashe], ' says Sarabjit who is leaving

Now a distressed Baljit is readying to send her youngest daughter, Sarabjit Kaur, 24, to the United Kingdom in search of a job. A dream that has cost the family Rs. 13 lakhs, borrowed from moneylenders after selling their car and motorcycle.

Sarabjit graduated with a Bachelor's in Education two years ago but has been without a job since then. “There is no point in wasting our time here in Punjab since there are no jobs. There is only drug abuse [ nashe ],” she says.

The 24-year-old will stay with friends till she gets a job: “It was my childhood dream to go abroad. Now, that dream has become a necessity.” The family supply milk twice a day to surrounding villages and are able to earn roughly Rs. 1,000 a day which goes towards repaying the loan and managing household expenses.

“As parents, we had to send her away eventually by marrying her, but now we are sending her abroad. At least she will become something and then marry a man of her choice,” says Baljit.
Sanskriti Talwar

Sanskriti Talwar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, and a PARI MMF Fellow for 2023.

Other stories by Sanskriti Talwar
Editor : Priti David

Priti David is the Executive Editor of PARI. She writes on forests, Adivasis and livelihoods. Priti also leads the Education section of PARI and works with schools and colleges to bring rural issues into the classroom and curriculum.

Other stories by Priti David