Kashmir’s ‘War on Drugs’ Sends Out a Clear Message: ‘No Hope in Dope’

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Representational Photo by Jason Benavides 

Efforts are being made behind the scenes in the valley today to save young and restless from becoming victims of the substance abuse. But even as the syndicate of Samaritans is working tirelessly, the deep influx of drugs is only making it a tough task at hand.

MOOD turned militant in the back and winding alleys of Downtown Srinagar’s Makhdoom Sahab locality last year when the community members doubled as street vigilantes. Armed with sticks, they fortified their lanes to keep the sneaky drug-peddlers at bay. The self-styled street patrolling was perhaps one of the first conspicuous community mobilization efforts in the recent years and a shot in the arm in Kashmir’s ‘war on drugs’ drive.

For years, the unruffled path passing through their residences would be frequented by unassuming addicts and ‘dope-men’. The alleged “drug cartel”— purportedly used as a votebank by some local unionists—nearby has remained a “pain in the neck” for locals and the civil society members.

The vigilantes acted on “credible reports” that felons come in luxurious vehicles after sundown to supply drugs like heroin, brown sugar, cannabis and recreational drugs like Diazepam, Alprax and among others.

“Some people living in Sheikh Colony have been identified who are part of the deep-rooted nexus,” Syed Basharat Andrabi, general secretary of Mohalla Makhdoom Sahab welfare committee—that decided to go for social boycott of these families—had alleged.

Surging drug menace in the area had enforced a new order. In nearby schools, the girl students were quietly dropping out. “Due to presence of drug addicts, movement of people especially females is hindered,” Andrabi said. “If some elderly persons try to stop youth from consuming drugs, it results in a scuffle.”

Streets to Surveys

The community campaign came when cops are everyday seizing contrabands and sending the peddlers behind the bar across the valley.

Reports say the number of addicts visiting Drug De-addiction Centre of Government Medical College in Srinagar has gone up to 5000, from earlier 500, patients annually.

According to a survey conducted by the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), around 70,000 people in Kashmir consume drugs.

Another survey done by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) in February 2019 found out that 600,000 people of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir use opioid drugs, while 80 percent of the drug addicts in Kashmir use heroin and morphine.

A study done by the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) found out that the number of drug addicts in Srinagar and Anantnag districts has increased to 17,000. Roughly, the study says, Rs 3.7 crore is spent every day on drugs by addicts in these two districts.

Of late, these growing numbers and cases have prompted the community response, to “separate the grain from the chaff”. This approach has already activated multiple counseling centres in the valley today.

Inside Counselling Centre

Mir Zubair could clearly tell an upsurge in dope cases in Kashmir when even 9-year-old Kashmiri child walks in for an emergency counseling session along with his distraught family members. He terms such cases as an ‘innocence gone wrong’.

As a counselor at Concerned About Universal Social Empowerment (CAUSE), the non-government organization “working for the betterment of society”, Zubair along with his welfare body has been organizing drug de-addiction awareness programs at Srinagar’s Central Jail for four years.

“When we started working around 2010, there was denial at the administration as well as ground level on drug de-addiction,” Zubair told Kashmir Observer. “But now the scenario has changed. There’s more awareness amongst people in Kashmir.”

The holistic reason for drug addiction in the valley is the social-political disturbance. “I usually receive patients in the age group of 12 and 25 years,” he continued. “But at times, when a nine-year-old walks in for counseling, it takes everybody by surprise.”

Why Do they Drug

For Arif, it all started with peer pressure. The trader taking trips to other cities would take heroin with his friends until one day his daughter saw him consuming it. She was shattered and started crying which triggered him to visit a drug de-addiction centre in Srinagar.

He was admitted for two months there, and started showing improvement, Aatira Ahad, who was interning at the centre that time, told Kashmir Observer. “We provided him medication and emotional therapy which motivated him to leave heroin.”

Like Arif, when Junaid, 23, started taking drugs, he didn’t know that it would be difficult to give it up. He resorted to drugs due to peer pressure, and when he thought of quitting, the withdrawal symptoms didn’t let him do it.

Unsuccessful in getting positive results from therapists in Kashmir, he went outside to seek help but there was no relief.

His parents lost hope and started suspecting him of finding reasons to use drugs, but the corporate employee was actually struggling with the withdrawal symptoms.

When Junaid finally visited Dr. Arif Maghribi, a Srinagar-based mental specialist, he first talked about his family’s ‘no drug history’.

Dr. Maghribi wasn’t surprised by his statement, since for many people it’s a stigma in the valley to talk about drug addiction. The mental specialist treated him and also talked to his family about the issue.

“He was quite reluctant to bring his family in the initial days,” Dr. Maghribi told Kashmir Observer. But after some days when the family realized that Junaid was working hard to give up his addiction, they accompanied him to the mental specialist.

Currently, Junaid is working with a multinational company (MNC) and is living outside India. “His case makes it clear that family counseling is very important in a drug abuse case,” Dr. Maghribi said.

But unfortunately, the mental specialist said, many parents lock their children in rooms with a religious book to de-addict them. The outcome of such steps, he warned, may adversely impact the addict and even result in his death.

“People may start drugs due to peer pressure, depression, loss of loved ones, but once they become addict it is very tough to get out of the cycle,” the doctor said.

“It’s like, first you consume drug, then the drug consumes you.”

Beyond Makhdoom Sahab

What started in Makhdoom Sahab last year hasn’t remained confined there only.

As awareness about drug and its destructive consequences is growing, many localities in Kashmir are acting as community watchmen.

“As a community, we can’t behave like ostriches that bury their heads in sand to avoid problems,” said Ghulam Hasan Khan, a resident of Galwanpora village in Budgam district.

A month before the abrogation of J&K’s special status, Khan along with others held a massive protest against the rampant “drug trafficking” in their village. The protestors alleged that the drugs are being cultivated on over twenty kanals of land and is being sold out to even minors.

“We can’t let drugs to devour our children,” Khan said. “We must come together to spread the message that there’s no hope in dope.”

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Swati Joshi

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