Kashmir in drug net: The two friends who cure, not criminalise, addicts
In past five years, two college friends have helped 150 addicts to shun drugs and it is these people who now work with them as ground volunteers.
On the fringes of Kashmir’s famed old city, two boys in their twenties are on a mission to heal.
One of them is Arsalan-ul-Haq Bhat. Some four years ago, this boy-next-door didn’t notice his school friend Inam slipping away from their ‘circle’, till one day the news of his death unsettled him.
At the beginning of the last decade, Inam was amongst many young boys to passionately welcome the ‘hip-hop revolution’ in the strife zone.
“In the hindsight,” Arsalan recalls, “I realize that Inam had quickly taken to hip-hop lifestyle. He had transformed and drifted away from us, even though we were friends since childhood.”
Inam’s death certificate notes that he died of a cardiac arrest as he was hospitalised for a stomach surgery some weeks before his demise. “But I couldn’t accept his death for days,” Arsalan says, “and would spend time wondering about him.”
The wound started to heal as he began to probe his friend’s sudden death. The reason may not entirely be a certain lifestyle, he reckons, but also the company a person keeps.
“I found out that Inam had befriended some junkies,” Arsalan says, “and had started using cannabis and eventually heroin.”
Inam didn’t die of heart attack, the mournful friend says, “he died due to drug overdose.”
Struggling to cope up with his friend’s death, Arsalan befriended Moin Fayaz from his college and began to share his grief.
Sitting next to his friend and hearing him unravel the dreadful account of deadly drugs all over again, Moin interjects for the first time: “We met at a college debate and realised our thinking matched on many issues particularly drug abuse. We soon began exploring the root causes of the problem.”
A sense of disbelief and helplessness gripped the duo as they began to look carefully into their immediate surroundings.
“We soon found out that the abuse was going on at a massive scale,” Moin recalls. “It was rampant and raging.”
The year—2016—Inam died, the duo started surveying about drug abuse within their hometowns of Lal Bazar and Saida Kadal, to record the numbers of addicts.
The results were shocking and both decided to continue with their work. This was followed by informal counselling of the addicts and a year later, the duo took the pledge to stay away from drugs and motivate others to follow them.
“We started conducting awareness camps and events,” says Arsalan who lives in Lal Bazar locality of Srinagar city.
Their venture eventually took a formal shape when they formed a civil society group to counter drug menace.
“More people started coming to us, mostly parents of the addicts,” recounts Moin as he explains the challenges they faced to resurrect the “lost” self-esteem of the addicts.
“To get someone’s self-esteem back is the biggest challenge we faced in counselling,” he says. “Youngsters pursue drugs because they think it provides solace for their pain and grief. With one push of the syringe, all the worries seem to melt away for them.”
But while anyone can counsel addicts, Moin argues, the real test is to recover their ‘normal image’ in the society. “Drug users are not criminals, they’re patients,” the anti-drug campaigner asserts.
“They’re normal people, but not wired to make good choices about tragedies. The society portrays and humiliates them in a way that they lose their faith in the world. This should stop. They need cure, not criminalisation.”
And the best cure, Arsalan says, comes from self-motivation. But to instil confidence in addicts, the duo has created a chain of young people who help them reach the masses and work on ground level.
These young volunteers are assigned to check and take note of the addicts. They bring those willing to give up the drugs to the duo’s office, where they try to understand the genesis of their problem.
“Then,” Moin says, “we try to counsel them in our sessions and if it doesn’t work, they’re rehabilitated in the hospitals with the permission of their parents.”
In past five years, the two college friends have helped 150 addicts to shun drugs and it is these people who now work with them as ground volunteers.
“Our motive is clear,” Arsalan says. “The next generation shouldn’t suffer like the incumbent one.”
Arsalan dials a number from his phone and asks the recipient to come to his office in Khanyar. Inam was not his only friend who went on the path of drugs, his other friend Amin Dar, who had moved to Punjab for civil engineering after finishing school too had fallen prey to the deadly substance.
Amin makes a scared entry some 15 minutes later. Six months ago, he quit drugs and since then he has been working as a volunteer with the duo. Amin’s face is pale and eyes stony. He stammers and shakes a lot while talking.
While in school, Amin once went on a picnic riding pillion with his friend. The joyride changed his life forever.
“I was in 7th standard,” the 23-year-old engineering student recalls. “I had a bad day and went out for a walk. Travelling few miles in search of peace, I met my school friend who offered me ride to the mountains, 20 kilometres away. It was a bright sunny day. As we stepped down from the motorcycle, the nature nourished my eyes. The streams flowing from the mountains, spring flowers blooming in varieties and the silence in the atmosphere diminished my anxiety. For a moment, I felt lost in nature. As I tried to settle with nature, my friend offered me cannabis.”
Amin’s friend insisted on a puff. He gave in and soon cannabis became a source of escape for the teenage schoolboy.
“I wasn’t aware that my life would change so abruptly,” he says. “The enjoyment of that day, I had with my friend, continued for many more days.”
Years later, when the lone child of his parents went to Punjab to pursue engineering, he got introduced to heroin.
“I was in the second semester of my graduation when I heard the word chitta [heroin] from my friends,” Amin says with a sense of dejection and defeat. “Since I was far from my parents, I had no fear of getting caught. I decided to try heroin once even though I was aware that there was no exit. The addiction hijacks your brains. You just want to get high even at the risk of damaging friendships and family.”
After injecting for months, he started craving for more heroin. His body started showing the drawbacks. “Heroin was running in my veins rather than of blood,” he says to point out the severity of his drug abuse.
Back in Kashmir, heroin was scarce, but overdose in Punjab had taken a toll on his body. Amin started to lose weight. Vomiting and drowsiness became noticeable events in his life. He lost 24 kilograms of weight within no time.
Such noticeable changes in his body brought the attention of his parents, who eventually realised the problem.
Months of counselling with Arsalan and Moin saw Amin out of the menace.
“I had to choose life over death, so I quit drugs,” says Amin, a former addict now taking the addiction head-on.