As drugs ruin teenagers’ lives, slum-dwellers feel helpless

Bengaluru City Crime Health Slums

You find drug consumers, cops tell residents

“My beautiful daughter has become a living skeleton, she does not even look like a woman now,” said Shakina Begum (name changed), a slum-dweller in Hombegowda Nagar. 

Shakina Begum, in her sixties, has lived in the slum since her birth. Tragedy struck after her husband died a few years ago. Her teenage daughter has become a drug addict. Begum, who sometimes eats food at a nearby anganwadi, finds it difficult to get her daughter treated for the addiction.

This is the story of many in the slum. 

Valli, a social worker in Koramangala, says police do not go into the dark corners of the slums where most teenagers consume drugs. “Many youngsters have even died, but nobody, not even the police, is able to trace where the drugs are coming from.”

Jennifer, a slum-dweller in Koramangala, has a brother who became a drug addict when he was 20. He hits her. Sometimes he even assaults their parents under the influence of drugs.

“He studied till class eight. He was pretty average, but never would he harm us or himself. After getting influenced by his peers, he started taking drugs. Since then, he has cut his hand and even hit our parents several times. He has completely changed,” Jennifer said.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, prohibits a person from the production/manufacture /cultivation, possession, sale, purchasing, transport, storage, and/ or consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. 

B.S. Ashok, police inspector, Anti-Narcotics Wing, Central Crime Branch (CCB), said the CCB has caught 100 Africans with drugs in Bengaluru.

Asked about drug addiction in slums, the inspector said there are no drug addicts there.. “They do not have money to spend on food. How will they spend on drugs?” Drugs like MDMA and LSD cost thousands of rupees.

But the social worker Valli said drug addicts steal from their neighbours to buy drugs. They also indulge in stabbing, fighting and eve-teasing.

Ashok did not deny that there is some addiction among slum-dwellers. Ganja or weed is the most prominent drug consumed by them. “Ganja relieves the mind.”

He said drugs either come from African countries or north India. “At the time of Covid, everybody went back to their native places. As Covid decreased, they came back to Bengaluru, and drug cases increased.” He did not deny the possibility of the rich selling drugs to the poor and getting them so addicted that they even steal to buy them.

Shakina Begum said a teenager in the Hombegowda Nagar slum died because of drug injections. Nobody, not even MLAs, are able to help her daughter, who now dresses as a boy and sometimes runs away from home.

A similar problem has been observed by Valli, who constantly raises the issue at the Adugodi police station. Residents of slums are unable to inform the police who sells drugs. “How do we know who the culprit is? This is the work of the police, isn’t it?” she said.

Since Shakina’s daughter was in an initial stage of drug consumption, her recovery was possible, a police inspector informed Shakina. When she was caught taking drugs, she was taken to a police station and kept there without her mother’s permission. She was harassed and her blood sample was taken. It was only then that Shakina got to know her daughter was an addict.

The girl was even taken to Nimhans, from where she ran away. 

Asked what drugs she takes, and where she gets them, Shakina said she takes “MD” (possibly MDMA) and smokes weed. She used to hang around with girls older than her. She got the drugs from them. She even used to steal from their home to pay for the drugs.

For now, Shakina said, her daughter has reduced the company of girls who gave her drugs. Children below 14 consume drugs in the slum, which is breeding crimes and relationships that lead to unwanted pregnancies. When they approach police, they ask the parents to keep their daughters inside their homes.

“I can share my problems with anganwadi workers, but I do not trust them as they might spread the word which will affect our family’s reputation,” Shakina said.

Erick, who was an addict for nearly seven years, has been sober for the past three years. He helps people, especially teenagers in slums, to quit drug consumption. But it is tough. 

From his experience in helping addicts in Srirampura and Halasuru, Bengaluru, as well as Goa, he said that during the process of “12 AA”, only 3 per cent of addicts are able to get out of their addiction; the rest 97 per cent leave in between. “It’s been three years since I left drugs, but I still feel the craving.”

The 12-step programme used by Alcoholics Anonymous is used by most rehabilitation centres. Addicts are made to believe in a superpower or God. Through this belief, they are able to forget the past and move on. 

Erick also shared information about a world community platform called “No Matter What Club”, which gives addicts an opportunity to speak for themselves. The meeting starts with prayers. Every addict is given a minute to speak up. 

Shakina does not know about the 12 AA programme. The only solution she knew was to take her daughter to the nearby Arogya Kendra, where she was prescribed tablets and chewing gum to eliminate addiction. Neither helped her daughter get better.

Yukta Mudgal
Trainee Journalist at IIJNM.

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