The phensedyl affair

The phensedyl affair

Or how I spent my Eid in Jessore

Someone once told me that phensedyl was being smuggled as commonly as cows from India. I was intrigued, because of the cow comparison. A little digging revealed that it wasn’t as common as cows. Cows WERE the ones smuggling the phensedyl into Bangladesh.

So this June, I paid a visit to Jessore, to figure out exactly how cows had become the new phensedyl mules in a village where phensedyl was life.

Holy cow! Is that phensedyl?

The days of sneaking in phensedyl on cargo trucks are not over entirely, but they are definitely not preferred because of the higher risks. Now, what with the illegal cattle trade between Bangladesh and India flourishing, the phensedyl now ride with cows which swim across the Ichhamati River.

The village of Putkhali, which perhaps sees as much phensedyl as the rest of Bangladesh combined, is a major hub of phensedyl distribution and smuggling. A number of smugglers and dealers based in the village had no qualms talking to me after I asked around, expressing my curiosity to know how this has been possible under the nose of the border patrol agencies.

According to their proud testimonies, the phensedyl syndicate has arranged for 30-minute periods of lapse in patrols on both sides of the border. These windows sometimes open for 2-3 times a day. Each window allows for dozens of cows to swim across the Ichhamati into Bangladesh.

These two Indian cows were used to smuggle in a shipment of phensedyl only a few days before my arrival

The cows are made to wear makeshift harnesses of cork sheets or sola plants. About 500 bottles of phensedyl are hitched to each harness. The sola plant stem helps the bottles stay afloat, thereby easing the load on the cow. All the bovine has to do is swim ashore where smugglers swiftly disassemble the harness. The cows and the phensedyl part ways with different smugglers.

The sola plant method is an improvement on an earlier technique. Early applications of this method saw the cows carry sacks draped across their backs laden with bottles. The load was too heavy for the cows and it was not safe enough.

I was sipping tea at a stall next to the BGB camp in the village. The tea vendor and the people around me laughed as they discussed how successful the smuggling scheme was. Putkhali and Benapole were just two names in a long list of channels to inject thousands of litres of phensedyl into Bangladesh.

Sola plants like these are used to build the harness to make the cows carry the phensedyl shipments

Put your money in Putkhali, the village of phensedyl

Bangladesh and India may share 4,096km of border, but the traffic in Benapole land port alone is overwhelming.

Although Benapole, Barapota, Daulatpur and Gatipara are among the major hubs, Putkhali – despite being a village – is on a whole other level. I have never seen so many bottles of phensedyl in my entire life as I have during my brief stay in the village.

Putkhali, in Sharsha upazila, is the village closest to Benapole and the Indian border. Every day, I saw thousands of people ride into the village on bikes and cars to buy their daily dose of phensedyl.

The most common profession in Putkhali would be the involvement with smuggling, given the extent to which they were aware of smuggling and anti-smuggling operations.

The Department of Narcotics Control may have been able to eradicate the phensedyl trade with the help of police and BGB from Bhoberber, Kagojpur and Sadipur in Benapole, but Putkhali remains a hotbed of phensedyl, yaba, cow and arms smuggling.

The wasteland

People come to Putkhali not only to get wasted, but also dump their empty bottles of phensedyl. One can barely take a casual stroll without spotting discarded bottles. Even the BGB camp perimeter is littered with bottles.

Parts of the village look like it is out of a wasteland, with dozens and sometimes hundreds of bottles lying scattered. Even the camp perimeter of the 21 BGB posted in Putkhali is not free from the unabashed littering of phensedyl bottles. Maybe it is an act of defiance, saying: “Look, this is how much we care about your enforcement of laws and regulations” or maybe it is far worse – the involvement of the BGB camp with phensedyl could go beyond merely looking the other way.

There is a joke among the locals – if anyone started a business in Putkhali selling empty bottles, they would be rich overnight.

It makes me wonder, is it a joke or a humorous delivery of a stark fact of life.

Fishing for phensedyl

In your childhood, you may have read fantasy stories about fishermen who caught treasures in their fishing nets. Near the Ichhamati River, if anyone fishes with nets, the catch is always bottles of phensedyl.

BGB patrol teams routinely raid local hotspots for phensedyl. But they rarely find any despite extensive searching. Had they taken a fishing net and thrown it into the river, they would have been surprised at the cough-alleviating fish that can be caught.

For the dealers, it is the most popular method of hiding the stash if a raid is impending.

On several evenings, I saw a man go to the river with a fishing net slung over his shoulders. It is not uncommon for people to fish in the dark, but something about the way he walked to the river, the way he smiled on his way back, it gnawed at me.

It was difficult to suppress my curiosity. I ran out and introduced myself to him on a cool July evening. He said his name was Bocha, and boasted he possessed tremendous fishing skills. He grinned, as he said: “Brother, as good as I am at catching fish, it does not make enough money, the money is in fishing for phensedyl!”

An empty bottle of phensedyl litters the perimeter of the BGB camp in the background

Syndicate distribution

What the smugglers do to ensure their daily operations are run smoothly is nothing short of ingenious. They have formed an incredibly larges syndicate with the dealers. Every half kilometre on the Benapole-Putkhali road, they have posted spotters. These spotters know the face of every member of every law enforcement agency from Benapole to Jessore city. From the lowest constable to the undercover members of the Detective Branch are known to these spotters. The spotters alert the dealers if they see any law enforcement agency teams are on the move.

Known, would be an understatement. A sub-inspector at a police station in Jessore admitted that the police are at a terrible disadvantage.

“These people, not only do they know our faces, they also know our habits. They know the minutest details about us, about our families, even the birthmarks on our bodies! That, is how well-informed they are.”

I tried talking to Lt Col Tarikul Islam, commander of the local BGB camp. I wanted to ask him what he had to say about this widespread network. Unfortunately, he did not receive any of my calls.

Sex, drugs, no rock ‘n roll

The phensedyl trade, just like every other narcotic business, exploits women. There are about 50-60 young women, who are educated, come from affluent families, who visit Putkhali and Koneda for phensedyl and yaba.

When people hear about women offering their bodies in exchange for narcotics, it is generally assumed to be in urban areas. At least, I thought as much. Until on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, I came across a woman in her late 20s who called one of my companions nearly 50 times within a span of two hours, all for a bottle of phensedyl.

The woman, who was quite attractive in my opinion, pleaded for her daily dose of addiction. When my companion persisted in denying having any in stock, she offered to have sex with him all day.

My phensedyl-dealing companion smirked at me and said: “This is not the only one. There are many other women who come here for phensedyl and spend the night with the dealers and the smugglers to get wasted for free.”

A pond in the heart of Putkhali is a popular dumping ground for discarded bottles

In the rule of law we trust

A sub-inspector at Sharsha police station had told me the police have rooted out 80% of the drug trade from the area. Apurbo Hasan, officer-in-charge of Benapole Port Police Station and Moniruzzaman, officer-in-charge of Sharsha police station told me the police loathe drug dealers.

“We file nearly 50 cases per month against these drug dealers. We are going to eradicate them from Sharsha no matter what,” OC Moniruzzaman told me.

My drug contacts said otherwise. Benapole Port Police and Sharsha police were taking bribes from the smugglers on a monthly basis. A police source, refusing to be named, said the Sharsha police station sells off 90% of its seized phensedyl to a person called Joinuddin and 90% of the marijuana to another person called Nannu.

When I asked OC Apurbo about hearing “rumours” of Sharsha police associating with drug smugglers, he vehemently denied and responded that these were nothing but hearsay spread around by the smugglers who are suffering due to the success of the police.

Although I would have loved to take their words at face value, it did not come as a shock to me when I met a member of the Jessore DB police at a safehouse. The DB official was consuming phensedyl and yaba when I found him at a yaba den belonging to a prominent local don by the name of Jordin Hossain.

Another anonymous police source confided to me that this DB official used to sell yaba to Jordin at Tk200 per piece. In exchange, he purchased phensedyl at Tk400 per bottle. The DB official gone astray was also involved in smuggling the phensedyl to Dhaka afterwards as well.

At least eight people in Jessore have filed written complaints to the superintendent of police in Jessore accusing DB officials of taking huge bribes from the smugglers to provide them with safe passages.

The codeine-laced bane of millions of Bangladeshis

The head that runs the trade

Jordin Hossain is among the biggest dealers of phensedyl and yaba in Sharsha. He is the brother of Aynal Haque, chairman of Ulshi union. He has safe houses in several villages, including one in Koneda which I visited and found Mizan from the DB police indulging himself.

There are rumours of Jordin catering to members of law enforcement agencies, political leaders and activists, as well as anyone young who serves his agenda.

The Sharsha-Navaron-Koneda road remains under the tight scrutiny of his men. He has a platoon of armed guards to maintain his safe houses and operation whose hours are 4pm-4am.

Jordin is the local kingpin, operating out of Koneda. He buys phensedyl from Badha Mallik from Raghunathpur and Shaheen from Putkhali.

Badsha and Shaheen reportedly pay off local DB officials. According to them, these DB officials also take bribes from Mukul, an arms smuggler and Gautam, the Indian who supplies phensedyl to this part of Bangladesh.

When I was preparing to leave, word of Badsha and Shaheen fleeing into India reached me. The news that that they had spoken to me had gone public, and it alarmed them.

When I was preparing to leave, word of Badsha and Shaheen fleeing into India reached me. It had become known that they had spoken to me, and it alarmed them.

While they are gone, Asadul Islam Asa and Jahangir continue ruling Raghunathpur, Robiul Islam runs Bhoberber, Murad runs South Buruzbagan and Riazul Islam works Baripota.

Counting profits

In India, a bottle of phensedyl (100ml) costs only RS100. But Bangladeshi smugglers sell a 100ml at Tk200-210 and they are responsible for smuggling the consignment into Bangladesh.  There are two levels of buffers to the dealers. Each phensedyl mule charges TK5 per bottle. Afterwards, dealers can sell 100 bottles at TK28,000-29,000.

However, Putkhali villagers operate on a smaller scale. They sell bottles on an individual scale, charging Tk400 per bottle and increasing prices during Eid.

On the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, I saw several junkies buy bottles at Tk450 in the morning and Tk500 in the afternoon through the evening.

Cases and recovery

According to the DNC, over 700 litres of phensedyl was seized across Bangladesh between 2010 and 2015, with 384 litres being seized in 2015 alone. Jessore DB claimed they had filed a total 246 cases against smugglers and peddlers in 2016 and 2017 so far.

No fear for the wicked

Though smuggling and selling phensedyl is a punishable offence with life imprisonment in Bangladesh, hundreds of Bangladeshis from Benapole and Sharsha involved with the phensedyl trade because of the lucrative profits. The gangs which are operating in the area are fiercely cunning in their methods of smuggling.

Although the border agencies of both countries have a strict policy to prevent the smuggling of phensedyl into Bangladesh, the tide of the addictive cough syrup remains undeterred.

The Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Border Security Force (BSF) of India, despite their ramped up security measures and frequent patrols, are not infallible.

According to surveys by rights activists and organisations, over two million of Bangladeshis are addicted to drugs, mostly phensedyl and yaba. A large portion of the youth in Benapole and Sharsha is a harsh representation of this statistic. Jessore-based activists and several organisations claimed that thousands of people in the district are involved in consuming and selling the cough syrup.

The two variants

There are two kinds of phensedyl smuggled into. One is the MK variant and the other is SP. MK takes longer to be effective, but the buzz can last for days. SP on the other hand works quickly, but the buzz wears off after a few hours.

Although there is more demand for MK, the price of both variants remains the same.

No juice for the noobs

As widely available as phensedyl may be, newcomers will have a hard time finding a dealer who will sell to them. On June 25, the day before Eid, every single dealer in Putkhali said they were out of stock. On the morning of Eid on June 26, I visited the same dealers, and they were loaded.

One of them, Jashim, told me he had no phensedyl whatsoever. After 10 minutes of persuasion, he went into his barn and brought back four bottles which were hidden inside a haystack. He asked us to leave immediately. We hid the bottles on our person, but before we could leave, a teenager came over and asked for a bottle.

Jashim appeared to be upset and shouted at the boy, telling him he had gotten out of the phensedyl trade.

The other dealers in Putkhali were not as reluctant as Jashim. They happily took out the bottles the moment they saw us approaching. I watched my companions kick back and gulp down the codeine-laced cough syrup as the BGB camp next door bustled with activity.

Story & photos: Fazlur Rahman Raju
Edit & development: Niloy Alam

Source: Dhaka Tribune

One Response to The phensedyl affair

  1. Let’s try see the brighter side of the issue. Several hundred thousand people including girls & boys, men & women, dealers & pushers, govt & security agencies are involved in this issue; some making money by selling, some collecting business commission, some by providing protection, some by consuming the product.

    No body is complaining & everybody involved are happy. So why rock the boat ?. Govt is not concerned except some in the media & few old-fashioned back-dated (!) guardians of the society.

    So, laugh & be merry, its only one life to live. Enjoy my good hearted friends !!. You may not get this supply in haven even. So make the best of it while it lasts. Govt Ministers have bigger things to do than try save/refrain phensedyl/ yaaba/ drug users from addiction.

    Besides, to prove that we are a good neighbour, we have a moral duty to support & save the manufacturers of Phensedyl in India & Yaaba in Burma, to help their economy grow & flourish(??).

    Since phensedyl the supply can not be stopped,

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