New Internationalist

Nowhere to turn

With an estimated 50,000 police in the Valley, the state has outsourced several tasks to them, including running a drug de-addiction centre. Drug addiction is an epidemic in Kashmir, say doctors.

‘We would like to expand the de-addiction facilities and take drug de-addiction centres to other areas outside Srinagar,’ says Inspector General of Police SM Sahai. Considering the fact that Kashmir has only two drug rehabilitation facilities, people have no choice but to avail themselves of what the police have to offer, despite the social stigma of being associated with the police.

On 7 May, a drug de-addiction counselling-cum-treatment camp, organized by the Police Control Room (PCR) in Srinagar, treated over 300 patients and distributed free medicines. Experts provided free counselling and treatment for patients with sleep problems, tension, anger outbursts and depression, and for substance abusers of codine phosphate, spasmo-proxyvon (opiod-based), cannabis and alcohol.

Nearly 700 patients have been treated in similar de-addiction camps. But Yasir Zahgeer, a counsellor from PCR who has worked with addicts in Kashmir for nine years, feels that this is only the tip of the iceberg. ‘The number of addicts is massive. We just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with them. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances.’

Unfortunately, there is no facility for female addicts in Kashmir. Here, cultural factors come into play. ‘There are limitations when dealing with women. It’s a delicate issue. We have to maintain some discretion with their identities. There are social taboos… not many will be willing to come out, openly. It is only possible to deal with it if they admit that they have a problem,’ says Sahai.

On the other hand, the recently opened Stress Management Centre in the same PCR has had several women callers who are suicidal. Doctors have also found a correlation between drug abuse and suicides or para-suicides.

No Raahat (‘relief’) here!

Raahat, the only other de-addiction centre in Srinagar, is run by a non-government organization but has a bad reputation. Patients have alleged that they were picked up from their homes, taken to the centre and chained, tortured and beaten. The facility is located next to Khanyar police station in Downtown.

In order to gain access to the closely guarded place, I pretended to be a representative of a non-government organization willing to donate money. The staff were more than happy to show off their CCTVs and the chains on the beds. One staff member spoke freely about how effective their ‘methods’ were in ‘curing addicts’, and were far from shy about the use of violence.

I also met a patient who had been admitted to the PCR de-addiction centre. The victim revealed what he had previously undergone at Raahat. ‘I spent 41 days at Raahat. I went there on my own. They would bind me with chains, cane me, for 20 days – I had no telephone, no meeting with anyone from my family.’

Patients have to pay anywhere between Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 ($110-$335), depending on the duration of their stay. Families can choose between a 20-day or a 40-day course for their loved one, the staff member eagerly explained.

When the psychiatrist who had accompanied me questioned the employee about the technicalities of the withdrawal symptoms and the methods used by the resident- or visiting doctors to deal with the patients, he changed the topic very quickly.

The patient, who wished to remain anonymous, added, ‘My family would come to see me, but the staff would tell them that I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms and didn’t wish to see them.’ 

The patient also recalled how he was chained and beaten with batons by cops hired from the police station next door. ‘Even when we had to go to the toilet, they would chain us. At times, they would admit more than eight patients, even though there weren’t enough beds.’

When the inmates protested, the staff threatened to double the length of their stay. By the end of the ‘treatment’, the victim was so heartbroken that his family did not believe that he had been tortured that he decided to seek revenge by graduating to harder drugs.

Another patient, who spent 41 days in Raahat, said: ‘I was chained for the first 10 days – day and night. They made me stay on the bed without clothes and underpants for four days as punishment after I “misbehaved”.’

Days later, he was falsely accused by the staff of attempting suicide when his family enquired about him. ‘They lied to our parents and told them that we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms. They also threatened to put a pistol in our hands and tell the police that we were militants.’

Despite complaints to the top brass in the police department and the state’s Health Department by the psychiatrist and myself, no action has been taken.

In the meantime, the patient who had gone on record and had signed a legal document testifying against Raahat later withdrew his statement. A source revealed that he was ‘under pressure’.

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