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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Cocaine 'status symbol' for Indian elite
Rahul Mahajan
Rahul Mahajan was initially believed to have suffered food poisoning
The case of the son of a murdered politician who has been charged in India with drug-taking has highlighted the growth in cocaine use amongst the country's urban elite.

Rahul Mahajan, the son of BJP leader Pramod Mahajan who was killed last month, faces numerous charges of drugs consumption after he fell ill after allegedly taking drugs. Tests showed cocaine in his urine, although he has protested his innocence.

Mahajan's friend Vivek Moitra, who was with him at the time, died - with the cause of death found to be an overdose of cocaine and heroin.

The high-profile case - which happened only metres away from the prime minister's residence - has focused attention on what appears to be a growing consumption of cocaine amongst what KC Verma, director-general of India's Narcotics Control Bureau, described as India's "thin upper crust".

"Unfortunately, cocaine has become a status symbol in some circles," he told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"It is for a certain spectrum of the urban elite."

'Most common thing'

Cocaine use is infrequent in India, as its price is high - making it unavailable to the vast majority of the country's population.

But this high cost gives it an air of exclusivity which makes it attractive, especially to young people, Mr Verma said.

He explained that for some with a high income, it is a "status symbol".

Cocaine smoker
Go to any college - drugs are the most common thing right now
Cocaine user, Pune University

"We have a fair degree of domestic use of opium and cannabis, and we are a transit country for heroin from west and south-east Asia," he said.

"But in terms of someone having a drug habit, they would need to spend much more if they were to go in for cocaine."

However, he added that in the main, cocaine was almost a "non-issue" for the Narcotics Control Bureau, because there are so few users.

"We have a fair degree of conventional use of other opiates - especially opium - and cannabis," he said.

"These two have been the major drugs. In July last year there was a seizure in Bombay of 200 kilograms of cocaine... but this did not fit the pattern of drug seizures, and we are working on the assumption that it was not destined for India."

One former cocaine user - who did not wish to give his name - said he had not considered himself an addict when he was taking the drug

"I thought I was fine. But after only one or two days without it I had to do it again," he told Outlook.

"Me and my friends didn't realise we were 'in' cocaine. We wanted it all the time. Even if we didn't get food, we had to spend money on cocaine.

"For a year I didn't pay my college fees - around 55,000 rupees - and I said, 'let's do cocaine for the whole year'. But then, slowly, things started getting messy."

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