The agony of the homeless drug users

For representation purpose only
For representation purpose only

“The figure of the addict walks silently through the corridors of his (M. Foucault’s writings’) hospitals, asylums and prisons,” writes Sadie Plant in her book Culture and Power: Challenging Discourses. For such is the nature of the addicts’, haunts, dark and in the backgrounds; neglected and criminally ostracised. If this is not enough, the minute their dependence is discovered by the society, they become automatically invisible, invisible still if they cannot hold a roof over their heads. This indeed is the story of Delhi’s homeless, who are also identified as drug addicts. Many of them are introduced to narcotic and psychoactive substances at a very young age (between 10-15 years) and are unable to resist the dependence that comes along with it.

Vijay Gurung was a boy of ten, when he was introduced to smack (a crude form of brown sugar), by his peers. “I had come to Delhi from Nepal to look for work. Gradually, because of my addiction, I lost everything that I held dear to me; my friends, my family, my job as a waiter and even the place where I lived,” says Vijay Gurung, who is now 24 years old. His case cannot be seen in isolation, as many of the socially weaker sections migrate to larger cities hoping for better prospects. Little do they know that instead of a solution, they will be met with larger problems.  The city’s poverty struck population is met with displacement, in the name of development, as during the Commonwealth Games, and estimated 2,00,000 people were evicted from their makeshift houses (jhuggi jhopri). According to a report compiled by students of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (MIT DUSP), 50 per cent of the evicted people are not rehabilitated. Adding to this number are the migrants coming into the capital, who then, join the city’s homeless.

Biir Singh, orphaned at a young age, came to Delhi having run away from his relatives and the pressure of school. Singh tells TEHELKA, “Once in Delhi, I lost the life of comfort that was provided to me by my relatives and became a gangman at the age of 12. I was introduced to drugs (in this case ganja) through my peers. Gradually, I started to consume harder drugs like smack, under the pretext of it being ‘high profile’, which would lead me to rise in the social ladder within my circle.”

Improper parenting instilling fear in children, also leads them to take drastic measures, such as running away from home. Ramaswami (name changed) ran away from Mumbai, where he was working with his brother, for fear of being beaten. “I was playing a video game when there was a robbery in the house. Sure of the fact that I would be badly beaten when my elder brother would find out about it, I ran away to Delhi,” says Ramaswami. From earning a respectable living, his means to make ends meet, shifted to begging for alms in trains. His social circle came to comprise of those people who lived on the railway platforms and was introduced to drugs through them. His dependence goes a step further, in the sense that, he became a multi-user i.e. he became dependent on smack, marijuana, hashish and alcohol.

Besides the drugs already mentioned, morphine, opium, codein, pentazocine and prescription drugs like ephedrine, ketamine, mephedrone, etc. are the most commonly abused substances among the homeless. Once addicted, the users can resort to any means to lay their hands on money that can buy them their supply of drugsm hence, doubling up as rag pickers, pocket pickers, thieves and even peddlers.

The only measure that can be taken to bring such people into the mainstream society is, rehab, which has its own complications. Shailendra Thakur, a social worker, says, “Having lost all contact with their family members, these children become homeless. As a result they become easy targets of drug abuse. Some children also get caught by the police but no severe action is taken as there are no rehabilitation centres for juveniles,” explains Thakur. However, sources in the Crime Branch tell TEHELKA, “It is not that the juveniles will not be entertained if they go in for rehab. The problem is that they have to be accompanied by an elder and only their family members can do this for them.” The sad reality is that family members do not take the initiative.

A basic rule of psychology states that for any kind of therapy to bear fruit, the will to change (in this case give up drugs) has to come from the patient, otherwise the entire therapeutic programme will be in vain. Therefore, the adults are left with no choice, but to realise this will to change, by themselves.

Another method of de-addiction is, Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST), in which, medicinal drugs bearing a similar effect are administered to the user orally. Should a drug user choose to rehabilitate, they are kept at the centre for a minimum period of 90 days. Albeit this issue is such, that relapse of substance abuse is a common scenario. It is not the identification of the addicts which is difficult, but the follow up, as it requires the presence of the family members of the clients. The situation is sorrowful, as many of them cannot remember the last time that they spoke to their families.

Even though the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has legislated the non-profit organisations to carry out rehabilitation, they are at a loss for ways to help these people progress. While on ground, TEHELKA observed that those drug addicts who inject drugs were being provided with clean syringes twice a day, by such an organisation. When asked why the NGO was subjecting to such measures, they justified it on grounds of prevention of HIV AIDS.

According to a report by United Nations Office, on Drugs and Crime, (UNODC) in 2014, 12.7 million people inject drugs, out of which 13.1 per cent are living with HIV. With resignation, Dilip Yadav (name changed), a field worker of the NGO, reinforces this saying, “We cannot force them (the addicts) to come for rehabilitation but the least that we can do for them is to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV among them.”

Adding to this, there is no exact census of the number of people who are victims of homelessness and substance abuse. According to a census conducted in 2008, done by the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) there were 88,410 homeless people in the capital. IGSSS stated along with their census, that, since the homeless were difficult to track, they considered that for each one counted, one had been missed.

In 2011, a census carried out by the Supreme Court’s Commissioner’s Office, the number had reached a staggering 2, 46,800. Despite their sheer numbers and a decree by the apex court in January 2012, which stated that the right to dignified shelter , makes up an important part of the Right to Life provision of the Indian Constitution, the homeless in Delhi have been alarmingly neglected.

Along with this neglect, comes criminalisation, as possession of narcotic and psychoactive substances is illegal. Due to this, they are bereaved of the opportunity to assert themselves and their subsequent ‘invisibility’.

This becomes even more evident when the police overlook the consumers or transfer the responsibility to the NGO’s. Shailendra Thakur says, “The police are hesitant to take charge of these people because in case a user dies while under their custody, the death will be blamed on them, until the post mortem report is cleared. This is a hassle which they do not what to engage in.” He continues, “The police have been told numerous times to take the drug users to rehab centres despite which they do not take the trouble of doing so.” Sources in the Crime Branch counter said, “It is not logistically possible for us to round up the criminals and then to send them for rehabilitation. Besides that, taking them under custody is of no avail as they have very little amount of drugs on them, which makes it possible for them to be let out on police bail itself.”

As for the addict, this dependence becomes a substitute for food, as to them, drugs  are more freely available. Smack, a drug that kills hunger, can be easily bought in areas like Nizamuddin, Chandni Chowk, Naraina, Usmanpur, Maharani Bagh, Janakpuri and Sangli Mesh. “Separate colonies and jhuggis are set up where these drugs are available in Purani Dilli, New Delhi, Bawana and Seelampur,” says Vijay Gurung, who was a smack addict till the past five months. The best quality of smack can be bought at Rs 500 a bit (term used for one portion of smack) and the crudest form at Rs 50.

Pappu, a homeless prescription drug addict, sitting under the burning Delhi sun, says, he has nothing to complain about. “Smack for us is equivalent to food. It is what is equivalent to our bread and butter,” he explains.

For these wanderers, comfort and familiarity lie on the streets or in jail. Crime, threats and fear are what constitute their life of eerie silence.


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