When Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized heroin worth Rs. 10 crore in Srinagar this past September, it inadvertently highlighted the quantum of the substance abuse in the valley. As an accessible dope meant to trigger an escapist trip, heroin is now apparently being consumed in Kashmir like never before.
On a bright autumn day in Srinagar, two friends—a boy and a girl—move to their secret spot, called Zilla, soon after their classes are over. The space is sheltered from wind and weather, with low chances of coming on the cop radar. The duo finds it as an adequate place, where they come with their inebriated equipments, without caring about intrusions, interruptions or unwanted observers. Shortly, they get ready to inject the ‘illicit’ drug to get high.
“We use this secret place for the fear of being rejected or judged by people while getting high on heroin,” says Amaan, 22, a college student from Srinagar.
As they pull off their clothes to inject the drugs, Hina, 22, Amaan’s mate says, “It has become a routine for us.” Even before one could dismiss them as some deviants on a wild trip, they share the method behind their madness.
“We both have faced childhood abuse which affected our thought process and pushed us to take salvation in drugs,” Hina adds.
Hina was a school-going kid when a domestic servant at her house started abusing her on a daily basis. As she would come back home after her day at school, she says, the servant would undress her and sexually abuse her till her parents would be home.
Once she was old enough to make sense of things, she felt ‘disgusted and dirty’. And to overcome the depression, she started taking refuge in drugs.
“I was only 16 when I made sense of things and started taking drugs,” she says. “The servant eventually moved on with his life, but left me with tormenting memories. I could not share the trauma with my parents and kept it to myself.”
Her parents are doctors while Amaan’s father is an engineer and his mother a teacher. The duo met at a friend’s place, where they came to know about each other’s common ache, and the addiction.
As both of them dissolve the “Heroin-powder” on a spoon filled with water, they draw their drug solution from the spoon into a syringe through a piece of cotton.
“I was a kid when my father’s driver would come to pick me from my school,” Amaan takes on the conversation. “While driving home, he used to touch my private parts. He would first drop me home and then go back to get my father. Sometimes my mother would come home after me and the driver used to take advantage. He used to get over me and sexually abuse me.”
Unlike Hina, Amaan’s parents came to know about his addiction lately, and are mulling a course-correction for their son. But as of now, the duo regularly meets at Zilla to take their shot, and temporarily forget about their troubling past.
Inside SMHS’ Drug De-addiction centre in Srinagar, 18-year-old Ryan is battling with withdrawals. Being the youngest child in the family, he used to sleep with his elder brother. For four consecutive years, Ryan’s elder brother would rape him during night.
It took him time to make sense of his repeated abuse. And once Ryan made sense of it, the ensuring bad blood between him and his elder sibling further took a toll on his mental health. In desperation he approached his friend, who pushed him to drugs—Heroin.
“My friend who himself is a sexual abuse victim used to sniff heroin powder to get high and feel nothingness for a certain time,” Ryan says. “I approached him and took some heroin to get over the abusive nights my brother put me through. This is how I got into this.”
As Ryan hopes to overcome drug addiction sooner or later, another drug victim Fiza is grappling with the menace at the moment in the de-addiction centre.
Hailing from a remote village in Kashmir, she has been injecting heroin since she was 15. Behind her addiction too was her childhood abuse.
After her mother died when she was a child, Fiza’s father would keep her under a neighbour’s watch while going for work. “But my next-door neighbor would come to my house and sexually abuse me,” she says. “I suffered that abuse for 5 years and then I started taking drugs to overcome the trauma.”
Like Fiza, there’re many drug addicts who want to overcome the addiction, but because of the societal fear, they don’t open up to their associates and keep feeding on the habit.
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Most of these drug addicts take heroin, says Dr. Yasir Rather, at IMHANS, a Drug De-addiction centre in Srinagar. “The heroin was not on the scene in Kashmir two years age. But we cater to more and more heroin-addicted patients now. The illegal supply of heroin is increasing rapidly.”
Heroin has the tendency to make one an addict in just the first few shorts. And its addicts are afraid to tell their stories because they fear the police, and this keeps them from reaching out for the desperately needed help.
“But one shouldn’t wrap these addicts in prison chains,” believes Dr. Rather. “It’s an old concept to confine the patient in the four walls. Punishment is not an approach. An addict is not a criminal, he’s a patient.”
But the fear of social boycott is still running high among the heroin addicts, like Saleem.
As he comes for his check-up to SMHS, his father takes me aside and tells me, “Mere bete ki kahani suno, ismai nasha be hai, love be hai, aur bhi buhut kuch hai.” (Listen to my son’s story which is about dope, love and many more things.)
Saleem was in Chandigarh pursuing B-Tech, where he ended up injecting heroin in his veins. “My college friends would come to my room and take heroin during the night,” he says. “That’s how I got addicted to the illicit drug.”
He and his friends once overdosed, which resulted in the death of his friend. “We were shocked and shouted, but he didn’t respond,” Saleem says. “We immediately took him to a hospital where he was declared brought dead.”
He managed to escape from the hospital along with his friends, before he was caught at a check post in Chandigarh with packets of heroin, and was put behind bars for a month. He eventually returned home, where he’s grappling with withdrawals.
“I first took drugs to overcome my childhood heartbreak,” he says. “My girlfriend at school left me and I went into emotional trauma.”
To begin with, he started smoking cannabis and left in a year. When he went to Chandigarh for studies, he started taking heroin.
“It would help me overcome the childhood trauma and make me feel like some romantic hero nursing heartbreak,” he says. “But I was wrong! I ruined my life. Heroin devastated me and now, I want to overcome it.”
But the larger tragedy with heroin remains its easy availability, which is now pushing more and more ‘troubled’ youngsters towards imaginary Nirvana trips, and ends up tormenting them further by leaving them high and dry.
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