Usually seen dabbling with his football in the alleys, his friends saw less of him each passing day.
Danish Rafiq leaves his home every Friday afternoon and paces his steps uphill on one of the largest graveyards located on the foothills of Zabarwan mountain range.
The elevated cemetery at Malteng hosts the dead from all over the city. Danish dodges the tombstone as he treks to a desolate epitaph, inscribed in Urdu: “In the loving memory of Faizan Bhat, son of Waleed Bhat, 12 November 2019.”
Danish ignites incense sticks and places them around the grave. He then starts to pray for Faizan as tears roll down his eyes.
“More than my best friend,” says Danish as he finishes his prayer, “Faizan was my brother.”
They both grew up together as neighbours with two different personalities. Faizan was a stubborn child but Danish was a calm character. “We usually had fights and discussions on various things of life but it was football that glued us,” Danish says as he paces down from the graveyard.
If Danish was Messi, then Faizan was Ronaldo. They earned the nicknames due to their footfall feats.
“We used to play in separate teams and there was tough competition between us,” Danish says. “We were just living our dream before abrogation came as a nightmare.”
On August 5, 2019, New Delhi stripped semiautonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir and pushed the region into communication crisis.
After being locked in home for months, Faizan’s mental state derailed and he began spending times with junkies.
“When I came to know about his addiction, I warned him about the consequences,” Danish says. “He was soon found dead in his room and the autopsy report declared his death due to drug overdose. He left me with an unsaid notice but there is no single day, I regret his death and send mercy to his soul.”
There’s hardly a day the Jammu and Kashmir police don’t arrest drug peddlers in Kashmir. A scan through their press releases shows arrests along with contraband from almost all the districts of the valley. Given the pervasiveness of the drug menace, the police last year in May constituted a special wing of 50-members tasked to fight the menace on the ground.
Called the Anti-Narcotics Task Force or ANTF, a member of this special unit told Free Press Kashmir that the drug network is spread all over the valley where the heads and peddlers produce and illicitly transport the drugs in huge quantities in and outside the Kashmir.
“In Kashmir,” the officer said, “it’s a known fact that areas such as Bijbehara, Pulwama and Sumbal are hubs of cannabis cultivation. These areas spread from south to north Kashmir and constant raids and destruction of the crop seems to create no impact on the ground. It’s a large area to track and the peddlers keep creating new networks.”
The cannabis and other medical prescribed drugs are present in every locality and are easily available, the officer said. “Heroin is the only drug that is been transported from outside Kashmir,” the officer said.
If not generated locally, then how does heroin reach Kashmir?
There’re some Kashmir districts, the officer informed, where opium plants are cultivated and its plants need a chemical transformation to turn in to heroin. But most of the dealers, he said, smuggle opium from neighbouring countries and states.
“The drug enters Kashmir through two types of routes: big nexus type – one-to-many, and the smaller nexus type, wherein a dealer is peddling to a handful of addicts,” the officer said.
To counter this menace, the ANTF has already filed many FIRs and produced peddlers before courts and seized heroin worth tens of thousands crores.
“Though we are still far away from the roots of the problem, we try to implement as many policies as possible to stop the menace but it will take time,” the officer said.
“The parents come to us with heart-wrenching tales of their children involved in drugs and the complaints are only growing. These scenarios are challenging for the society, and even for the police, but till the common people don’t understand the gravity of the situation and come forward about a drug user or peddler in their locality, things will remain bleak.”
From the graveyard, Messi returns home in a heartbroken state. He enters his room and locks himself from the outer world. He doesn’t bother to speak to his parents who are clearly worried about his mental health. He spends most the hours in wondering about life and death.
“Can you count the days of sufferings a human being can resist?” Danish asks. “When it comes from struggle of living and losing someone you have known for years, the loss is immeasurable.”
Messi remembers Ronaldo as a terrific sportsperson with a terrified student life. He recalls his friend’s fears and worries about his future.
“Article 370 revocation led to his death in a way,” Danish says with a straight face.
“Faizan had prepared himself for the National Aptitude Test for the third consecutive time as he had been dropped with few points before. The lockdown made a severe effect on his mental health and he got depressed. He began spending more time at foothills in the company of druggies.”
Many social workers believe that the cases of drug abuses increased in the valley after revocation of Article 370. “Idle mind is the home of devil,” says Danish, whose room is dark, with curtains unmoved for months. The only thing moving in the room is a time-piece.
He opens his wardrobe and begins to throw the clothes and other belongings. This continues for about 10 minutes before he shouts, “It’s here!”
There’re medals, certificates, photographs, and some toys. Apart from this stuff, he picks a photo-frame and kisses it. He stares at the picture for a long time as it’s helping him to recall the memory.
“This is the photograph we took half-naked,” Danish continues. “You can see a boy crying and the other laughing in it. This was taken when we went for swimming in the Dal Lake.”
This was the first time the football friends had gone for swimming and Faizan didn’t know how to do it.
“So the time he jumped,” Danish recalls, “he started crying for help like a small baby. It became the best memory and we photographed the moment.”
Suddenly, the excitement overwhelms his face with grief. “He died and I couldn’t save him,” he speaks as he cries. “I’ve seen him in stages lying unconsciousness. The lockdown’s impact and the peer-pressure drove him to drugs.”