A world of highs, and terrible lows

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In the national capital, children as young as 11 are turning to cheap and easily available drugs, while some parents are getting infants high to help with begging. DNA takes a closer look at the underbelly of the drug menace

Aye maalik tere bande hum,
aise ho hamaare karam,
neki par chalein, aur badee se tale,
taaki hanste hue nikale dam”

The plaintive notes echo in the winter night as Hasina sings softly. Dressed in nothing but a torn kurta and salwar in Delhi’s Kashmere Gate, she sniffs a rag soaked in ‘solution’, a substance that drives her life and leaves her doubled up in painful abdominal cramps when she doesn’t get it.

Hasina, one of thousands of homeless drug addicts in the national capital, is only 15. Her story ­is a tragic pointer to the alarming fact that 20 per cent of addicts in India are under 21, according to government estimates, and that urgent interventions are needed to help them save their lives.

Originally from Bawana district in Uttar Pradesh, Hasina is the third of six siblings, all of whom still live in the village with her mother. Four years ago, when she was only 11, Hasina boarded a train with her ‘best friend’ and came to Delhi. Both lived on the streets for a couple of days before her friend disappeared.

Her companion these days is her husband Vishnu, a labourer with wedding contractors who she had confided in when she found herself alone. The couple wants to have children but Hasina, still a child herself, knows that she has a drug problem and that it’s just not possible.

She says she can go without food, but not without her daily dose of ‘solution’. She was introduced to drugs by her friends on the streets and has been sniffing ever since she found the ‘magical’ (‘jadui’ as she puts it) world of high.

‘Solution’ is a chemical vulcanising fluid used to repair tyre-tube patches. The tube declares clearly, “avoid prolonged or repeated contact with skin or breathing of vapour”, and warns that it should be sold in bulk. But it is readily available and is much in demand amongst children who cannot afford more serious drugs. A tube costs Rs 50 and a cloth piece soaked in ‘solution’ from another kid costs only Rs 10 — just what we give them when they beg at red-lights.

Many stories

“Ismein itna dum hai, poora tent jalaa sakta hai (This stuff is so powerful that it can burn the entire tent),” pipes in another child at Loha Pul, Kashmere Gate, as he breathes into a cloth in his hand. Of the estimated 4,500 addicts in the area, 100 are children.

Seven-year-old Hajikul can’t remember the last time he was sober. He ran away from his home in Delhi’s JJ Colony. “Gham hai to pee raha hun,” (I take drugs because I’m depressed),” he says with the philosophical air of someone thrice his age. He has been sent to a drug-rehabilitation centre twice, but the pain and nightmares of the withdrawal process make him leave the place every time.

Nightmares are common among drug users. In Freud’s theory of dreams, dreams/nightmares are the fulfilment of unacceptable wish. Thus, it can be that these nightmares are hints which may prompt an increased desire to drugs. Kids are more prone to these nightmares and scared, they go back to using drugs.

Hajikul and his partner, Salman, go home every time they feel the need to stay away from drugs. But the crippling stomach pains, loose-motions, dizziness and vomiting bring them back to the life they have now come to terms with.

Cold turkey

Cold turkey is the abrupt termination of substance dependence and the resulting painful experience. In his book Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts, impressively describes ‘cold turkey’, a process Hajikul, Salman and a few have tried, but failed.

Injectable too

If some like Hasina and Hajikul sniff their way into oblivion, others like 12-year-old Mohammad Qasim inject themselves. Wearing a jacket double his size, he sits stroking his hand to inject a needle in his veins. He was introduced to Amvil injection by a fellow addict to ease the pain after he developed painful sores on his legs. He has been injecting himself since he was seven. Both his arms have needle marks.

Qasim has seen people his age and older die here in the streets. “Mera dost Akash mar gaya injection lagate hue. Maine uske syringe se injection lagaya (My friend Akash died while putting an injection. I have used his syringe for an injection)”, says Qasim, who does not mind stealing injections from or near dead-bodies who die of overdose. Drug overdose is common and one or two unidentified bodies are found in the area each day.

Not surprisingly, several people have acquired HIV. ‘Addnok’ tablets, distributed by NGOs to stop the urge to get high, are crushed and mixed with the Amvil ‘solution’ and taken as a strong intravenous drug. The used syringes have led to an increased risk of HIV among adults as well as children. For better effect, some of them have started to inject needles in their genitals.

We manage to send children to rehab centres after a lot of effort but they run away from there. The problem is not making them leave drugs for a few days, the problem is what to do afterwards? Their families don’t accept them and their life on the streets makes them go back to drugs,” said Gurfran who works with the NGO Aman Biradri.

“We receive HIV cases too. These are passed on to the NACO (National Aids Control Organisation). I’ve seen kids as young as four years addicted to ‘solution’ and injections. In most cases, their parents make them sniff ‘solution’ in order to use them for begging (so they can carry the high/sleeping child in their laps)”

Cops in the area do not go near these addicts, an official admitted. “They are in huge numbers and we know about their diseases. Sometimes, they use syringes as their weapons.”

 

In his child rights petition filed in 2014, Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi asked the government to act on the issue of child drug abuse. Moving on the petition, the Supreme Court on December 14 ordered the Central government to come up with a national action plan to control drug abuse among people under 21 in the next six months. While the government thinks of a plan to deal with the problem, the young minds of India are busy finding ways to get high.

“Ye andhera ghanaa cha raha, tera insaan ghabara raha.” Hasina’s singing haunts. But are the authorities listening?

 

Published by

Cheena Kapoor

An Engineer turned photojournalist, Cheena Kapoor hails from Delhi, India and recently completed her Diploma in Photojournalism from the Ateneo De Manila University, Philippines. She is dedicated to visual storytelling and left her lucrative job as an IT Engineer, to pursue Photojournalism. Currently working with a National Daily, she focuses on women and child issues in Delhi.