Something is eating away India’s most robust state. Vijay Simha in Tehelka:
The 25 crore man stepped in like a thief, eyes wary, searching for a sign that he must run. Jagbeer Singh. Farmer. Bus conductor. Father. Heroin smuggler. Jailbird. Nobody. After months of being a recluse, Jagbeer, one-time shining hope for friends and family, emerged into a Punjab he didn’t like. When he was caught with 25 kilos of heroin in 1997, worth Rs. 25 crore in the international market, Jagbeer became an instant celeb: his was the biggest heroin haul then. “They used to come to see what a Rs. 25 crore man looked like,” he says. Now, when he’s out after 12 years, only two kinds are interested. The sleuths, who come every fortnight to see if Jagbeer has anything to snitch on, and the peddlers, waiting to see if he is game for another shot. “I stay in and wonder how it happened to me. When I went into jail, there were a dozen drug offenders. When I was released, there were 65. There are a thousand peddlers in Punjab today,” he says. He doesn’t know it yet, but experts have begun to put an expiry date on Punjab, once the sentinel state of India. And it’s not just drugs that’s doing it.
I am too scared,” says Jagbeer. He has a high pitched voice, a curiously feminine touch. He is about six feet tall, and sports a beard and short hair, both of which he colours black. We are in a resort on the outskirts of Amritsar where a marriage party is on, loud and expensive. No one knows him there. It’s the only place he’ll talk. “My father died when I was two. He didn’t wake up one day after he drank too much the previous night. When I was 16, I began to farm. My brother-in-law used to drive a mini bus. I joined him as conductor. Slowly, I began to drive as well. I used to take the bus to Jithaul, a village near Amritsar. There were smugglers in that village who used to travel in my vehicle. I became friends with one of them. For five years we were good friends. Then, in 1995, he asked me to go with him to pick up gold.
“We carried dollars worth 2 crore and went to Samba in Jammu. Our Pakistani counterparts were to give us the gold there. We reached the spot and the lights went on. The Border Security Force (BSF) had trapped us. There was an informer among us who didn’t want me getting close to the boss. I had to help my friend with money for bail. I sold my bus and got him the money. He said he would repay me. One day in 1997, he asked me to go with a vehicle. He said just go and take your share of the money. It was a Tata Sierra and there were 25 kilos of heroin in it. I got greedy. I needed money and I thought I’ll get my due. When a Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) team stopped me at Ajmer, I was shocked. They knew who I was and what I was carrying. I was sentenced to 12 years. I lost respect. Even an addict is pardoned but not a peddler. When they released me, I didn’t know what to do. When I returned home, I found my daughter had got married in my absence. I am now caught between the police and the drug runners. My past is my present and my future. I can’t be anyone else,” says Singh. He leaves the room, a man with no esteem. More: