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International Day against Drug Abuse: A glimpse into the lives of drug addicts

With the single authority to oversee their welfare, the drug addicts occupy a crack in society and governance and continue to waste away.

drug480 International Day against Drug Abuse is observed on June 26. (Source: Express photo by Rituparna Banerjee)

Yamuna Bazaar, bound by the arterial and overhead roads that traverse to and from the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT, Kashmere Gate), the Ring road and the Grand Post Office, is a hamlet of dense single and double storied dwellings tucked inside the thriving and bustling metropolis.

A walk through the lanes of Yamuna Bazaar brings us to Samarth – The Professionals’ homeless shelter. A modest portion of one floor, with two dormitories and a back office, this is the only available shelter for the homeless in this area. When asked about the very low occupancy immediately observed here, Nitin Baliyan, a Community Mobilizer for the organization says, “This is the case in summer, with a maximum footfall of about 10 people daily. There is much higher occupancy in winter.”

(All pictures by Rituparna Banerjee)

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A significant proportion of the homeless in this two square mile area are chronic drug users, who number close to two thousand. A walk into the open parks abutting the main roads, guided by volunteers from Samarth, reveals a grim reality. Vials of familiar anti-allergic medication, syringes and needles that lie littered about in the dirt; huddles of small groups of men, women and children with their backs to you; their decaying bodies and reddened eyes, are a clear giveaway. If you are an undiscerning visitor, you will come across scores of people sitting and lying around in the community parks alongside these major roads.

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“I have been using drugs since I was 12, its been over 14 years now. My wife left me, but I can live without her; I can’t live without my drugs”, says an addict, Siddharth, with undisguised candour. When asked how he can afford it, he narrates with interest how begging and picking pockets are popular sources of income. Sidharth is just one example who came to Delhi with his parents as a barely teenaged youth from Bihar, and is now prey to the deadly addiction of chemicals.

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Ashok Kumar, Project head of Samarth, says that each packet of crack costs about Rs 50-60, and it keeps an addict high for about two hours. He stated tht hey take at least two to three doses a day. On Tuesdays, the addicts gather in front of the nearby Hanuman Mandir, collecting their drug money by begging or picking pockets, he added.

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Deputy Director General of Narcotics Control Bureau, B.B Mishra confirmed that drugs like Amphetamines, Cocaine, Heroin and Ketamine are abused by the addicts. Along with these pharmaceuticals are also abused by these addicts. The pharmaceuticals generally abused are Codeine based cough syrups and sedatives such as lorazepam, temazepam, spasmo-proxyvon etc.

In the National Capital Region, NGOs like Samarth, Sharan, Aman Viradri and Indo-Global Social Service Society work in and around Yamuna Bazaar for the improvement of conditions of the homeless addicts. They are funded by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, and as per their official source, there are a total of 150 temporary and 66 permanent shelters.

About half the addicts encountered here are children. Their days are spent in the nearby railway area of the Wazirabad cargo depot. Moreover, their addiction continues well into adulthood, as testified by Siddharth.  The children often turn to violence in desperation to get their hands on chemicals to cause intoxication. Chintan, a minor barely thirteen, shows the slash marks of a razor blade on his friend’s chest. They are both from Darbhanga in Bihar. “Don’t put the tube on the ground, someone will steal it!” he exclaims, referring to the tube of rubber solution used by cobblers and packers as glue.

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According to the 2011 report of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Delhi hosts the largest number of immigrants annually, about three lakh from U.P. and Bihar alone. Significant proportions of the Delhi migrants are unemployed, or fall below the poverty line, or are both. This makes them easy prey to intoxicants that are initially consumed perhaps to divert their disillusionment with the big city; but they swiftly turn into chemical prisoners, who dwell in the crack between urban space, society and development.

The problem of substance abuse has been reported on many instances to reach uncontrollable proportions, and these images essay the same. While the shelter itself is a basic necessity, with the exception of some NGOs which are deployed to ensure proper channeling of government funds, the much needed counseling and de-addiction seem to be absent. Their peculiar situation makes them unqualified for any government benefits and the societal life applicable to other ‘normal’ citizens. With the single authority to oversee their welfare, the addicts occupy a crack in society and governance and continue to waste away.

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