By Sanjoo Thangjam
It is a good sign to learn that the Department of Social Welfare, Government of Manipur had conducted mass testing of COVID-19 for “Street-based drug users” with an aim to contain or prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 among the drug users in particular and masses in general since 24 May last.
The department in association with FINGODAP- Manipur Chapter and Drug Users’ Federation for Human Rights & Justice conducted mass testing of COVID-19 for street-based drug users on Monday at the premises of the Directorate of Social Welfare, Government of Manipur, Near 2nd MR Gate, Imphal for a target of 50 number of drug users. However, 29 men and four women turn up for the camp, according to a release by the director (Social Welfare) Ngangon Uttam Singh.
However, as things stand, the incident that had occurred on Friday (May 28, 2019) at Sullap (toilet) adjacent to Imphal Hotel which is also in fact, very near to the Social Welfare Department area has become a haven for drug users where a number of them were rounded up and beaten up black and blue.
Worst is that after a video clip of the incident was taken by a citizen journalist which had gone viral, one of the leaders of the perpetrators of the crime had claimed responsibility of it with pride in his Facebook post with the photo of a car of the citizen journalist taken which is completely irrelevant with the subject or uncalled for. It is akin to an armed underground group claiming responsibility for a bomb blast or an assassination.
The question is here the Social Welfare Department handed over the responsibility to this Vigilante group to eradicate the drug menace and will the Manipur Police remain a silent spectator to a group of self-styled do-gooders taking the law into their hands.
The beating up of current suffering drug users on Friday by the same vigilante group under the garb of “Rights of Drug Users “, is yet another point to be noted as the situation is getting out of hand and soon you might see pitched battles between or amongst people claiming to cleanse the society of the menace.
There is a concept called Citizens’ Journalist and thus under it, the video footage taken was the prime witness to the crime which is required or warranted for.
Manipur had become the HIV/AIDS capital of India. There’s is no denying fact about it. Thanks to Intravenous Drug Users (IDUs). But the coming in of the Manipur Aids Control Society (MACS) had helped stemmed the AIDS tide and with the introduction of ART tablets which has now become a manageable disease. But the number of drug users has increased many folds over time. This is evident from the mushrooming growth of Rehabilitation Centres across the State and most of these are managed by former drug users or rather former users without proper management committees, sort of proprietary establishments.
And while earlier mostly children of affluent families took to drugs but these days with the coming in of local drug refineries, the prices have dropped considerably. What used to cost over Rs.2000/- per dose of No.4 Heroin is now available for a mere Rs.400-500. Hence the incidence of drug addiction has started affecting the lower-middle or working-class as children of Rickshaw pullers and masons have started taking to it. And also the age bar has also dropped considerably with children as young as 14-15 who have become drug users or should I say ‘Drug Addicts’.
However, there is no control mechanism over these Private Rehabilitation Centres. Recently, the Social Welfare Department has announced a Drugs policy asking Rehabilitation Centres to come and register themselves. But over four months have passed and no private Rehab centres have come forward to get themselves enrolled. And Social Welfare continues to stand as a Mute spectator.
What needs to be done by the Social Welfare Department is to put its foot down and come with a rule to the extent that sans registration with it where no one can open or run and manage Rehab Centres same as in the case with private hospitals and clinics which needs registration with the competent medical authority of the State. For without registration it can have no say in the manner these Centres are running.
The recent incident whereby a Federation of the rights of drug addicts storming a Rehabilitation Centre and beating up its Manager and indulging arson over the reported case of a staff member of the Centre “strip-searching” a former drug addicts or People who use drugs (PUDs) or on the road is a pointer as to how enthusiasts quickly become Vigilantes and begin to take the law in their hands.
Of course, the leaders were later hauled up by the Police and things were amicably settled between both the parties. This brings society to the larger picture of rehabilitating drug users. It is almost a known fact that no current drug users will come on his or her accord to be rehabilitated.
They were used to be brought by their parents and guardians. Later as the problem became more acute Meira Paibis and local youth clubs used to nab them and hand over them to the Rehab Centres who in turn would contact their family members to complete the formalities. But the recent raid on the Rehab centres has dampened the spirit of these Meira Paibis and Local Youth Clubs as they have also been reportedly told in a Meeting by these “Do-Gooders” that Meira Paibs have no right to apprehend drug users and hand them over to a Rehab Centre for treatment.
This has given an uplift to the buoyancy of the spirit of the drug users and today one can see them injecting No.4 openly in the North BOC areas which is a haven of drug peddlers and addicts. As the addicts began exercising their right to getting their daily fix. This is going to turn into a nightmarish situation and may soon face an explosion of drug addiction.
It is high time for the State Government to pull up its socks and direct the Social Welfare Department to come with a tough stand on the question of registration to be a sine qua non for opening up and running of Rehab centres on one hand.
On the other, it is required for the stakeholders meaning those running Rehab Centres to pool their heads together and arrive at an acceptable mechanism whereby drug addicts can be rehabilitated soon before they start getting second-generation drug addicts or substance users or whatever name you might call them.
The writer is a Social Activist for People Who Use Drugs (PUDs)