The Addiction Menace

To escape from the fostering stress and trauma, many people caught in a whirlpool of violence in Kashmir over the last two decades found drugs an easy refuge. While the menace has now reached alarming proportions, the government-run de-addiction centres find it hard to cure the sick, Shams Irfan reports.

Illustration by : Abdul Basit
Illustration by : Abdul Basit

Arshad Ahmad Wani, 19, who dropped out of school in Class 8, was a bright kid, not in academics, but in what he was doing to earn his living – repairing cars. Only a few months back, Arshad worked as a mechanic at a local car repairing workshop. Besides his monthly pay, he would earn around Rs 500 per day by working on his own. Money was not an issue for him.

During his free time, Arshad would visit a local tea stall owned by a young fellow villager of his age, where he and his friends would chat over a cup of tea for hours before heading back to work. There were many tea stalls in the vicinity but Arshad and his friends were hooked to this particular shop as tea tasted different here.

“It would relax you instantly,” said Arshad in broken syllables.

One day, when, as a routine, Arshad visited the tea stall, he found the tea quite ordinary. He instantly complained to the stall owner, “Why is tea so ordinary today?” The tea stall owner came close to Arshad and whispered in his ear: ‘Tea tastes good because of a secret medicine that I add.”

He assured Arshad that if he was interested, then something could be arranged for him too. “It is not bad and doesn’t cost much. Just Rs 20 for a strip of ten tablets,” the stall owner had said. Out of fun and to satiate his culinary desires, Arshad purchased one strip from him. That was the beginning of Arshad’s journey to a dark world of drugs, depression, anger and self-rejection.

Now, exactly four years after he took his first tablet, Arshad’s life is a complete mess. His once charming looks are gone. He looks exhausted. His hands would often shake while working on cars. Once a promising mechanic, Arshad now struggles to cope with the life without drugs.

Sitting on a shiny plastic chair at the newly inaugurated Drug De-addiction Centre (DDC), Islamabad, Arshad is lost in his thoughts. He is aware that he has been forced into drugs by the tea stall owner. But, by the time he realized this fact, it was already too late for him to turn back. “He first gave me those tablets for just Rs 20 a strip. But as my addiction grew, he raised his price too,” said Arshad.

Before coming to DDC, Arshad remembers the last time when he purchased the same strip for Rs 100. “He always changed prices at will. But I was helpless. I had to buy to survive,” said Arshad. After talking tablets for nearly two years Arshad started taking cannabis and alcohol too. “I never liked anything more than those tablets. I would take at least 30 tablets daily to stay calm,” Arshad claims.It was Arshad’s sister who, one day, noticed his fiery red eyes and told her father that something terrible was going on in her brother’s life. Next day, Ghulam Mohiddin Wani, a forest guard, took his son Arshad to the local police station and requested the station in-charge to put his son behind bars. “I was so furious that I begged the (police) officer to book him under Public Safety Act, and keep him behind bars for some years,” said Wani. “I wanted him to give up drugs.”

Instead, police directed Arshad to the nearby drug de addiction centre, an initiative of Jammu and Kashmir police to help addicts shun the habit. The centre which is run from a small building inside police lines in Islamabad became functional a month ago. So far, DDC has attended 20 cases including two females.

“Most of the cases we have received so far are from Arshad’s village,” said Mudassir Aziz, a clinical psychologist and in-charge of DDC Islamabad. Ironically, Arshad’s village, Baitung, is just a few kilometres away from DDC. “Almost entire young generation in our village is into drugs,” said Wani.

Three years back, Baitung village heads and elders of two local mosques vowed to get rid of the menace. They decided to punish any person found taking or selling drugs. In a highly charged atmosphere, people made long emotional speeches and promised to take this fight against drugs and drug mafia to its conclusive end. But it never worked. “We tried our best. But those who have made fortunes out of this [sale of drugs] business, sabotaged our efforts,” said Arshad’s father. —

“His detoxification phase is over now,” says Ms Aziz, the clinical psychologist. But Arshad has to undergo long-term therapy where he will be given medicine to help him cope with withdrawal symptoms. “The duration of therapy varies from patient to patient,” said Dr Manzoor Ahmad Dar, medical officer, DDC Islamabad.

Riyaz, who is in his early twenties, was brought to DDC by his elder brother. Riyaz lives in Sarnal, Islamabad, with his father and elder brother. He used takes care of a part of his father’s jewellery business. “My father wanted him to stand on his feet. So he gave him a part of his business,” said Riyaz’s brother.

Since last one year, Riyaz’s father noticed a huge deficit in accounts. That was the time when Riyaz had taken to drugs. “I first tried some medical syrup. That was given to me by a friend of mine,” said Riyaz.

Looking much older than his age, Riyaz wears a wasted look on his face. His eyes keep wandering while talking to Ms Aziz. Riyaz’s brother told Aziz that he caught him buying drugs from a local peddler who allegedly enjoys police patronage and works in the area openly.

Riyaz would take four bottles everyday which initially cost him Rs 100 each. When Riyaz was caught by his brother a few days ago, he was carrying four bottles which he has bought for Rs 2000. “The price of syrup increased with Riyaz’s addiction,” said his brother.

In the last one year, Riyaz confessed to have taken medicated pills, five every day, along with the syrup. His brother told the clinical psychologist that there were visible changes in Riyaz’s behaviour over the last one year. He would lie frequently, steal, make excuses to stay alone in his room for longer durations, get irritated over small issues and would even lose his temper on flimsy reasons.

“Initially Riyaz would not open up about his addiction. He would make stories to mislead us,” said Ms Aziz. Now, after visiting DDC regularly, Riyaz found Ms Aziz a patient listener and slowly started to share his inner feeling with her. “She is my best friend,” said Riyaz shyly.

Riyaz told her that his parents separated when he was still a kid. He spent most of his childhood with his mother at his maternal uncle’s house. “Our family was literally divided into two. While I stayed with my father, Riyaz was taken care of by my mother,” said Riyaz’s brother.

Since the last few years, on his brother’s request, Riyaz joined his father and helped him with the family business. As Riyaz started to show progress in business, his father trusted him with accounts and also helped him in establishing his own small unit. “But Riyaz always missed him mother. He wanted to see our parents together again,” said his brother.

After his mother left them, Riyaz spent most of his free time either outside the house with his friends, or he locked himself inside his room. He would rarely sit with his brother or father. “He took refuge in drugs to forget the harsh realities of life, rather than facing them bravely,” said Ms Aziz.

As soon as Riyaz and his brother left DDC with a promise of returning next day, a handsome youth from Baitung entered. Before attending Bilal, Mz Aziz told me that Riyaz has to come back and get admitted at the centre for sometime before he starts to react to the detoxification therapy. “It is important that a drug addict’s family understands and supports him. Only then we can cure him,” said Ms Aziz.

Thirty-two-year old Bilal, who works as a car mechanic in Islamabad, also hails from Baitung. He claims to know Arshad professionally. “He was a bright kid. The best young hand in our profession,” said Bilal.

Bilal is married since the last six years and he has two kids. “I started with Codine (a cough syrup), and in order to kick it, I turned to alcohol,” he said in a matter-of-fact manner.

Bilal earns around Rs 6000 a day. “Most of what I earn is spent on alcohol,” he rues. At the first meeting, he looks like any other normal guy. He claims to have never fought with his wife or shouted at his kids. “People usually think an alcoholic is always high. I just want to get rid of it because of health issues,” said Bilal.

During 2008 and 2010 agitations, when the entire valley was virtually under curfew, Bilal would visit Jammu or a nearby Beacon camp to get alcohol. “There are places in Islamabad where alcohol is freely available. One just has to look at the right place,” Bilal claims.

He is happy that he came to DDC. “I have not touched it (alcohol) since I came here,” said Bilal who has been visiting DDC since the last two weeks. DDC is planning to engage locals from Baitung, including those have been detoxified, to promote awareness about substance abuse and its perils. “Unless people don’t help eradicate drug menace and accept addicts back into society, we cannot succeed,” said Ms Aziz. But people like Arshad who have been forced into drugs unknowingly take longer than usual to get their lives back on track. “I now want to live a normal life,” said Arshad.

During his first visit to DDC Arshad told the clinical psychologist that he wanted to quit and get back to his normal life. But despite efforts, he still struggles to keep aside his mental carvings. “His confidence level is at its lowest,” said Ms Azis. During the conversation, Arshad hardly made any eye contacts with Ms Aziz. He fixed his gaze to the ground, constantly checking his feet, and would talk only when a question was asked repeatedly.

Since the last one month, DDC has seen huge response from adjoining villages where drug abuse is quite high among youngsters. In the last two decades of conflict, a large number of people have turned to drugs to cope up with the everyday stress and trauma. Despite their limited knowledge, soothsayers, clerics and faith healers have always been there to counsel drug addicts in Kashmir.

The Mehman Mohallah in Islamabad town is one such example where a local cleric, with dedication and religious knowledge, has rid the entire area of drugs and drug abusers. Mubarak Ahmad Sheikh, 39, who leads prayers at famous Rahet Ded mosque from the last 17 years, has cured and detoxified around 300 people in his decade-old campaign against drugs.

Mubarak Sahab, as he is known locally, has been instrumental in counselling numerous people especially youngsters from Islamabad town, who were deep into drugs. He claims to have no special powers; all he does is to make them (drug addicts) aware about their religion. “We try to bring them near to God though counselling,” said Mubarak Ahmad.

Mubarak believes that if you teach a person about religion and show him the righteous path, he will never get astray. “The fear of God is there in every Muslim. All I do is to activate that fear,” he claims. Does it work? “It works. Thank God, I have never failed so far in convincing an addict to give up.”

Because of his social welfare works, Mubarak Sahab is a known face in the area. Hailing from an affluent family in district Kulgam, Mubarak left everything behind and made Rahet Ded mosque his home. He runs a small Dar-ul-Uloom (religious school) from this mosque and spends most of his free time interacting with students. But ask him about what his happening in the world, he seems to know almost everything. “Following religion doesn’t mean that I am detached from the world. I know what is happening around,” he said in a sarcastic tone.

Mubarak claims that most of the cases he has cured so far were somehow related to failed relationships. “Mostly there are young guys with broken hearts who take to drugs,” he says. He remembers visiting a young addict in a nearby village in Islamabad who was ditched by his girlfriends and had turned to drugs. “When I saw him, he was completely wasted. He later told me that he had taken around 60 tablets that day,” he recalls. “But with careful counselling and right dose of religion, that guy is now a respected citizen.”

With a social stigma attached with such people, a large number of cases fail to find any professional help. “In 90 per cent cases, families are non-supportive; they are not sure about the problem and hence blame everything but drugs,” says Ms Aziz.


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