Rishiraj Singh, IPS, is every inch a police officer — tall, strong, moustached, tough and gritty. But he is admired more for the soft side of his personality — he is a connoisseur of art and music, cultured, compassionate, and gentle.
Kerala has had many IAS and IPS officers from other states who have served the state with dedication and risen to the highest levels, but no other officer has adopted Kerala as his own as he has done and received the abundant affection of the people of the state. His total immersion in Kerala has given him a rare command of Malayalam and proficiency in the classical and popular music of the state. His recent Malayalam book, “Before it is too Late” is evidence of how he has turned his first-hand experience of fighting the frightening drug scene in educational institutions in Kerala into a valuable study of the drug menace, which should guide parents, teachers and students to avert the grave threat to the young generation.
The traditional role of the Excise Department is to regulate the use of controlled substances, prevent their misuse, punish the guilty and, of course, earn revenue for the government. But as the Excise Commissioner, he discovered how drug abuse is eating into the vitals of the youth in Kerala, thus endangering the education system, employability and the very ethos of the society. He approached the issue more as a “rishi” than a “raj” by delving deep into its underlying causes by conversing with the students of 984 schools and colleges in five years and decided to suggest preventive and treatment measures in a handbook, primarily for teachers and parents. His suggestions extend to the evils of the education system, family life, evil influence of technology and the crime and punishment methods.
The most shocking revelation in the book is that drug abuse is so prevalent in our schools and colleges that it has come to be accepted as the new norm. Most people try to hide addiction among their children in the hope that they will get over it as they grow up. Rishiraj has noticed a strange phenomenon that only mothers have approached him with this problem and not fathers, indicating that it is not a serious enough problem for the head of the family to worry about!
The good old days
The author recalls his own school days in Rajasthan when children simply had to focus on what was taught in class and revise the same lessons at home. Homework was given only when there were long holidays and that too not very heavy. The rest of the time was free to play with friends except to hurriedly go home for meals. Life was carefree without tension about home tuition and parental interference.
He regrets the present state of affairs when children are overburdened with studies and games are played only on computers. The pressure for getting A+ in all subjects for the students and 100% success for the schools keeps everyone tense, making their life miserable. This system forces children to seek an escape route in smoking, alcohol and drugs. He is also critical of children who go to Sainik School for prestige and not opting for the army as an example of wrong planning.
Rishiraj lists curiosity, peer pressure, stress and depression as the reasons for children using drugs in various forms, with the encouragement of anti-social elements who frequent schools and colleges. The student-teacher-parent relationship also has deteriorated because of lack of trust. Teachers are most affected by this situation as there have been cases of children committing suicide, leaving notes naming teachers as cruel and callous. This tendency keeps the teachers distant from the students. He quotes Yuval Harari, considered the greatest thinker of the 21st century, as having said that communications are essential for the survival and growth of the society. Communications are lacking among students, teachers and parents in Kerala. Members of the family are busy communicating with people miles away without talking to each other. He also points out that “sports is the best antidote to the use of drugs” and sports are becoming less important in school activities.
Role of parents
According to the author, parents are of different categories: permissive parents, uninvolved parents, authoritarian parents, watchful, but uninvolved parents, authoritative parents etc and all of them are not particularly helpful. He believes that for children between 10 and 15 years, friends are needed more than parents. Excessive control of mobile phones drives children to secret locations. His advice is that children should be allowed to use their phones in the presence of the parents. He reveals that girls are equally affected by drugs, particularly because they have less freedom to move around among friends, but they too have access to drugs. In the Indian society, girls suffer more than boys on account of most evils. Therefore, mothers have an important responsibility to ensure that the girl children get enough attention in every way.
Opportunities galore, but...
During his deep study of the drug problem, Rishiraj could also understand the education system in some detail. He discovered that most parents are unaware of the many opportunities that the young people have outside medical and engineering streams. Because of my experience with regard to reforms in higher education, which I have narrated in my book, ‘Education of an Ambassador’ (Konark Publishers), Rishiraj asked me about some of such opportunities. I gave him a long list of the courses available for youngsters to pursue and to get decent jobs with higher remuneration than doctors, engineers and civil servants. I am grateful that he has included a part of the list as the last chapter of his book for the guidance of parents. If only there was dignity of labour, our youngsters would earn much more than the so-called high-level jobs. I often say in my speeches that anyone can get a meeting with me within a day, while my plumber and electrician must have at least a week’s notice for an appointment!
Grim situation in US
The author recalled a conversation with a high-ranking American official, who told him that the US had totally failed to deal with the drug menace. He said that 50% of all the drugs consumed in the world is consumed in America. Kerala has done better than other states in its fight against the drug menace through creation of awareness, early detection of addiction and treatment by experts and the cooperation of parents and others brought about by the Excise Department. But it is frightening to think that our situation is still abysmal and the other parts of India are worse than us.
What needs to be done
A better education system based on choice of subjects by the students, without overburdening them, diversion of students to vocational courses, better parental involvement in education as partners with a personal touch, early detection and treatment of addiction, better communication within the family, more sports activities and enforcement of law against drug dealers and other anti-social elements are some of the measures that Rishiraj recommend after his deep study of the subject through direct conversations with students, teachers, parents, voluntary workers and medical personnel.
One remarkable feature of the book is that it was written in Malayalam that the author has mastered during his life in Kerala. Of all the contributions he has made to Kerala for more than three decades as a police officer, the book will be considered the most significant. The book may initiate a revolution in fighting the drug menace if it reaches every student, teacher and parent. It will be a good investment if the Government distributes it free of charge to them and include it as a text book in high schools.