...Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves... Surah Ar-Rad 13:11 The Holy Quraan
Most of them go to wealthy private schools and come from a very privileged background. What prompted these students to flirt with LSD? Marri Ramu reports on the drug trail that has shocked the Telangana capital
Of late, he was behaving rather strangely. His eyes glittered and were not focussed. The once healthy teenager looked gaunt and had a haunted air about him. Senthil’s friends and classmates too noticed the change but they took it for some temporary health issue. Srivani (name changed), his mother, repeatedly questioned him but Senthil would shrug it off with a “Leave me alone mom, I am great. Nothing to get worked up about.”
A noted television artiste, Srivani was well-connected. She approached one of the best physicians in the city. “His eyes are just not normal. They are always wide open. His pupils are dilated,” she told the doctor. After a battery of tests, the doctor pronounced his verdict: Looks like he is on drugs; don’t shout at him but find out what drug he has been consuming.
For a few seconds, Srivani didn’t know how to react to this revelation about her only child. The busy mother was used to her teenager’s cheerful demeanour. A bright student, he kept to himself.
As she connected the dots, her son’s dilated pupils, strange gazes, evasive replies and changes in behaviour, she realised that the doctor’s diagnosis was probably right. Senthil was on LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), a potent psychedelic drug.
Within 10 days of treatment and counselling, the teenager showed signs of improvement. Around the time Senthil’s parents thought they had managed to wean off their son from the drug’s clutches without close relatives getting wind of it, they realised they weren’t the only ones confronting such a situation. Telangana Prohibition and Excise (P&E) Department officials announced on July 5 that close to 200 schoolchildren were among the customers of three drug peddlers they had arrested a couple of days ago.
All these youngsters were purchasing LSD blots from the arrested trio directly or through their peers, the officials divulged. “Students of 26 reputed schools got sucked into the quagmire of drugs,” says Akun Sabharwal, Director (Enforcement), P&E, Hyderabad.
How the trap was laid
Telugu film industry notables, employees of blue-chip IT companies, people frequenting star hotels and students of 19 colleges too were among the nearly 1,200 customers of the gang busted on July 3. What disturbed Hyderabadis and law enforcement agencies the most was the involvement of schoolchildren in this murky net.
The secret P&E operation began when a young officer approached Sabharwal with a tip-off. Children from some of the elite schools were using drugs. “Let us catch the drug suppliers instead of drug users,” was the young officer’s request. They needed some students to reach peddlers. So five recently recruited young constables — including a woman — posed as students.
Wearing fashionable clothes and flashing snazzy smartphones, the quintet started visiting popular hang-outs such as hookah parlours, bars, pubs and restaurants in the city. They had information that the drug suppliers would turn up there. The undercover constables then came in contact with an event manager. They finally managed to get hold of the peddlers’ mobile numbers. For the next 21 days, they did everything to lead the peddlers to believe that they were genuinely interested in drugs — even as another team in the P&E office began analysing call patterns and tracking their movements. WhatsApp messages with codes were sent; they had to spend at least ₹50,000 to purchase drugs.
Finally on July 2, raids were conducted in three places. Calvin Mascarenhas and two siblings, Md. Abdul Quddos and Md. Abdul Waheb, were taken for interrogation. Quddos was a mid-level employee in an international bank; Waheb had finished college and used to do odd jobs to get by. But it was Calvin who was the big catch and it was through him that subsequent arrests were made. Seven hundred LSD-laced blotter papers and 35 grams of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) — also known as Ecstasy — were seized from them.
Hooked to drugs in school and college: Hyderabad’s young on a high
Calvin’s name had first cropped up in the police registers back in 2013 when he spent three months in jail for possession and sale of ganja (cannabis). Initially, he refused to part with any details. Then he muttered something about his ‘high connections’. Sabharwal was not impressed. But even he was unprepared for what followed. As Calvin started singing during sustained interrogation, the first big name to tumble out was of a Telugu film director known for his blockbuster action movies.
One of the clients’ WhatsApp messages to Calvin read: “Uncle, last time the drug gave me real high. Can I have one more.” Unless a minor, why would a person refer to 29-year-old Calvin as uncle? The investigators discovered the disturbing fact that it was a schoolgirl who had sent the message.
“Interrogation of the other two accused and analysis of their mobile phone contacts and WhatsApp messages confirmed that close to 200 schoolchildren were procuring LSD blots from the trio,” Sabharwal says.
Parenting today’s teens
Srivani’s story was the story of parents of most schoolchildren caught in the dragnet — people from modest backgrounds who worked their way up and could now afford to send their children to ‘world-class’ schools. She herself grew up in a lower-middle-class locality of Secunderabad; she and her husband, a businessman, now live in upscale Gachibowli, the new IT hub of Hyderabad. They admitted Senthil to one of the city’s reputed schools.
Even the so-called “professional” engineering or medical colleges cannot compete with this school’s infrastructure. It has air-conditioned classrooms even for kindergarten kids. A good number of the children come in chauffer-driven high-end cars. There are branded blazers and dress codes for different occasions on school campus. The fee is out of reach for most middle-class families let alone the poor — around ₹2 lakh a year for a Class I student.
Four Hyderabad schoolchildren procure LSD from Dark Web
Life for the kids here is lavish and king-size. Birthdays are an occasion to display their status. From the venue to food items served during the party, everything is five-star.
“For a teenager whose parents throw a party at a seven-star hotel for his birthday, it doesn’t matter paying ₹3,000-₹3,500 for a single blot of LSD,” says an investigator.
Keeping in mind their future and the schools’ prestige, the police handled the cases in secrecy in consultation with parents. “Call it the arrogance of wealth, changing culture, imitating adults or what you will,” a police officer working on special tasks says by way of explanation for this shocking discovery.
From experiment to addiction
The interrogation revealed that there is no uniform modus operandi the drug peddlers adopt to reach out to minors or schoolchildren. All they need is just one person who can spread the word or convince his or her peers that there is a unique ‘medicine’ that gives a greater ‘high’ than liquor.
Daivik, a Class XII student, has everything boys of his age desire. He gets birthday gifts of his choice from his father, who heads a key State government department, and his mother, a doctor. All this makes for an idyll, but the reality is much starker — Daivik’s parents have a broken relationship. When a friend suggested that one blot of LSD would transport him to a different world, he grabbed the opportunity. And what started as an attempt at liberation from depression ended up becoming a dangerous habit for Daivik. “What kind of a situation have you landed me in,” his doctor-mother cried when investigators met her after learning of his LSD use.
There are incidents of the not-so-rich falling into the drug trap but they are very few. A girl, all of 13 years, had clicked and sent her semi-nude picture to Calvin. Her request: to upload the picture on a website in exchange for money to procure drugs. “Apparently, she wanted to make money with her private pictures only to pay them for the drugs,” says an investigator.
Drug abuse reports has parents worried
Sainik was provoked many a time by his classmates to smoke a cigarette. One of them even had a bet that Sainik was not macho enough to do it. The Class XI student started smoking secretly, tried weed next and couldn’t refuse when an LSD blot came his way.
For many of the schoolchildren, home was the safest place to experiment with LSD. “Sleepover is the ruse school students deploy,” says Sabharwal. A student invites one or more of his friends to stay at his home for the night in the guise of studying for examinations or spending time together on the weekend. Parents never know what their children are doing once they get inside their bedrooms and shut the door. Even girls have their version of sleepovers christened ‘pajama party’, says an investigator who spoke to the minors caught consuming LSD.
Money was never a problem for most of these schoolgoing children. Son of a noted doctor, Class XII student Natwardhan wants to follow in his father’s footsteps professionally. He attends classes at a premier institute in Banjara Hills in a bid to secure admission in the degree course of an American college. Calvin revealed during interrogation that Natwardhan used to order LSD blots online through the Dark Web — networks that use encryption and specific softwares to protect online activity from being tracked — to contact some websites and get ‘medicines’ home-delivered.
For law enforcement agencies in the State who had believed all along that narcotics are smuggled into Hyderabad physically, this was news.
Four boys and the Web
Investigators also stumbled upon four friends, all Class XII students at a prestigious school in the city. One of them learnt about securing LSD online after watching his elder brother’s friend doing so. He tried his hand at it and received the LSD in a sealed cover at home. He used the drug four times and proceeded to share his online experience with the three other friends, who too emerged ‘successful’ in their online quest. The parents of the students are a top bureaucrat, a doctor and two senior-level managers of a private company building airports in India and elsewhere.
Fortunately, everything is not yet lost for the quartet and the 200-odd schoolchildren at large. The government took a decision not to register cases against drug users, especially the minors. More importantly, those frequently using LSD don’t become completely physically dependent on it. It is not like cocaine addiction, which requires treatment at a rehabilitation centre. If the drug user is counselled and mentally firm not to use it anymore, things can return to normalcy soon, say experts.
The biggest challenge is for the law enforcement agencies. When the first module of a trio supplying drugs was busted, they thought it was just a routine gang. Sustained efforts of P&E sleuths — whose core function is not curbing drugs — resulted in the arrest of 10 more persons, confirming that drugs supply in the capital was rampant. Noted director Puri Jagannadh, known for his action movies, was quizzed for nearly eight hours by P&E officials after his name was apparently mentioned by one of the accused. Samples of his blood, hair and nails were collected by officials. Cinematographer Shyam K. Naidu too was interrogated. Actress Mumaith Khan is also going to be questioned by them. The list is by no means complete.
There are no common threads to the narrative. While easy availability of cash may have helped the kids secure drugs, it is still unclear what propelled them to jump over to the dark side. The question staring at law enforcement officers now is the monitoring of drugs purchased on the Web. The next narcotics battle is online.
Names of the students have been changed to protect their identity.