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Development Means Nothing: If Drug Use Or Rather Abuse Is Free to Float

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By Ankur Sohanpal:

The idea of inclusive growth and prosperity is a relatively new one for me, and it is perhaps a couple of years or so that have seen me being involved in philanthropic acts/thoughts in a structured way. Before this, I would accept things the way I have seen them — so there is a beggar in my train with stubbed limbs? No problem — I’ve seen plenty like him before, it’s sad, but I think I won’t lose sleep tonight. Not so anymore. It is perhaps a combination of age-induced maturity, awareness, and upbringing that has sensitized me towards several issues in India, or the place I like to fondly call the Japan of developing nations. While I do pride myself on knowing a lot about developmental issues that my peers probably do not, I admit that knowing about drug use/abuse did not figure on my priority list of things that were important for India. How wrong was I?

The minute I went through the statistics, it was like a jolt of pure electricity. I figured that our country, with its traditional set of values would be comparatively less exposed and involved with drugs. Not true — there are some at least some 3 million people in India who are drug dependent, excluding alcohol users or abusers. It strikes me — the developmental programmes, aids, funds and everything that I normally concentrate upon — would be rendered useless if the recipients are growingly incapable of sustaining the benefits of it, due to a societal infrastructure hollowed in due to substance abuse. What is then, the point of working for development when it is being countered by practices such as these?

In India, there are two main segments of drug abusers — those that are dirt poor, and will use drugs such as ganja (cannabis), and cheaper intravenous injections of analgesics like dextropropoxphene, and those that are part of spoilt upper middle class or of the upper class, in terms of economic status, who use heroin, cannabis, and other more expensive forms of substances. In the middle of all this is the emerging middle class whose purchasing power increases every day, which I fear is vulnerable to drugs all the same due to the same factors that have historically induced people of all other economic categories to indulge in this self-destructive malpractice. At this point I would like to remind everyone of the typical, known socio-economic burden of drug-use — human capital is lost, economic opportunities are lost (sometimes families quit studies/other activities to sustain livelihoods that should have been earned by the head of the family who lies wasted with drugs, who borrows more and more for his habits, increasing the burden of his family further), users contract diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B & C, and much, much more.

Thus it was of great relief to me to find out about the number of facilities, both governments provided, non-profit bodies provided as well as those provided by private bodies. I have learned that there are two ways of combating drug-abuse adoption — supply side measures, and demand side measures. Supply side measures are understandably those that constrict supply. Demand side measures, in our country, are controlled by Ministries of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW), and Social Justice & Empowerment (MOSJE). The MOHFW de-addicts by way of provision of treatment — it has 122 drug de-addiction centres across the country, while a central nodal agency has been instated alongside AIIMS, with branches in Bombay, Bangalore, Chandigarh, and Ranchi. The MOSJE works progressively by involving NGOs and letting them manage the counselling and awareness centres with funds being backed by the MOSJE. MOSJE is currently assisting 361 voluntary organizations for maintaining 376 addiction-cum-rehabilitation centres, and 68 counselling and awareness centres, the average allocation budget for this being US$ 5 million. These measures were instated, beginning early 80s, while much of the innovative breakthroughs in terms of rehabilitation (like mobile rehabilitation centres, etc.) was done after 2005 — that’s a sufficiently long time to warrant a want of actual returns in terms of drug-use percentage reduction, in my opinion. In combination with these, a number of private and semi-private institutions are providing assistance. My query is — are these measures enough?

A survey conducted by MOSJE, UNDCP, and aligned NGOs on 1271 random individuals from cities across India brought back results to ponder over — alcohol was used by 74% (percentage usage during previous year standing at 43%), heroin stood at 48% (percentage usage during previous year being 38%), cannabis at 36% (percentage usage during previous year being 6%), sedatives and cough syrups at 15% and 12% (percentage usage during previous year being 3% and 1%), opium at 23% (percentage usage during previous year being 9%) and other opiates at 7% (percentage usage during previous year being 4%).

Obviously things are opposite of what we hoped for — there is a clear increase in drug-usage, if these measures are to proxy for the general Indian drug-usage. Rehabilitation methods are obviously not working. Perhaps that was putting it too bluntly. To say that rehabilitation efforts are yielding very low results as compared to projections and anticipated outcomes would be correct.

Clearly, bodies with individuals and intellectuals specifically equipped with expertise in this field have failed in their policies and methods to being about rehabilitation. This is where I believe the youth of India has the opportunity to intervene. No other group of population in our country is better placed to bring about real change, nor is more vulnerable to practices of drug-usage. This is where the movement is to begin, and I hope I did my part in trying to being this to the attention of my peers.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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