Life In The Drug Den Of Mumbai: A Walk Into The By-Lanes Of Cheeta Camp, Trombay

Posted on April 6, 2015 in Specials, Staff Picks

By Atharva Pandit:

“Are you here to bring my son back?” the question took us by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. As we made our way through the small, dark lanes of Cheeta Camp, Trombay, it was soon to be repeated and peppered along with requests and pleas. “I am ready to offer money if you bring him back,” Mrs. Gupta, who lived in a run-down shanty, added, looking at us with eyes that betrayed hope and expectation. Unfortunately for her, we were not the people she was looking for. Her son, Mukesh (30), runs a pani-puri stall and he explained the situation, in what we thought, was an almost apologetic tone. His brother had left home about three years ago and never returned. He was under the influence of Mephedrone, a.k.a. drug MD. His mother had been asking help from the police ever since, but to no avail. “The police should act swiftly,” Mukesh added, albeit in a tone that betrayed irony.

Photo used for representation only
Photo used for representation only

Two other students from my college and I had made our way through the exceptionally hot day in early March to investigate what we were told was a drug phenomenon. The two friends were a part of our college’s slum study cell, and I had tagged along in hopes of finding something interesting. What we found, however, was sadness and anger, mixed in large parts with anecdotes of corruption and apathy on the part of the police. “The police doesn’t do anything,” our guide, Allah Baksh, said. He then related a story that was functioned in proving his point.

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Baksh is an Aam Aadmi Party volunteer, a teacher, and head of the NGO, My Cheeta Camp, which identifies those who have been affected by drugs and tries to bring before the law those who have been selling it. He, along with his men had approached a senior police officer, who told them that they shouldn’t have taken matters in their own hands. Baksh reasoned with the senior officer, telling him that complaints were lodged and matters were reported to the police three months back, but the police had failed to take any stringent action. According to Baksh, the senior got upset, and he immediately called his juniors and told them to secure an arrest warrant against any peddler – even a suspect. “He asked his juniors to keep us updated.” With that purpose in mind, Baksh, his boys and the police officials created a group on WhatsApp that sought to communicate between the police and the boys.

With police apparently backing him, Baksh’s next move was to trap an old lady peddler- the oldest seller, according to him, and “very bold” – by undertaking a sting operation and catching her red handed. “One of the boys doing drugs agreed to be the bait. He would go to the lady, ask for drugs, buy them and be caught. That was the plan, at least.” But it didn’t turn out to be so.

“Unfortunately for us, the officer leading this operation was a part of the racket,” here Baksh shifts, visibly excited and irritated at the same time, “Obviously, we didn’t know that. We thought that he was with us,” but the officer- whose name Baksh did not reveal even after repeated attempts- provided backhand information to the dealers, secretly alerting them and ruining raids and potential detentions. This he did with the lady, as well, and she refused to hand the drug over to the boy. Even so, Baksh says, he called in the senior and told him to raid her house. The senior officer did come, but, according to Baksh, he only acted as if he was raiding the house, asking her where to check and where not to. Predictably, no drug was found.

Then, one of Baksh’s boys informed him that more packets could be found in the godown. Consequently, Baksh asked the senior to raid the godown. The senior officer grew agitated at the aspect and flatly refused. “He tried to convince me that this was all crowd psychology, that I shouldn’t be believing in it. I was angry, so I told him to do his duty and conduct a raid.” The officer, however, told Baksh that it would need another compliant to be lodged for him to conduct a raid. The officer left and within days, the lady disappeared. “But she still sells the packets secretly to old customers, I have been told,” Baksh says, half-smiling.

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Have the police been helpful by acting against the drug sellers?” went one question in the questionnaire that we prepared soon after returning. Unsurprisingly, more than half ticked ‘no.’ The purpose of this questionnaire was to gauge the social situation that persisted within the area, and we soon realized that the racket had spread beyond the camp, into several slums across the city.

One of the advantages of the drug- or disadvantages, depending on the way one looks at it- is that, apart from the euphoria that it instils within the consumer, it also comes at a cheaper rate than most of the other drugs inducing the same kind of result. At rupees 150-200 per gram, it’s not much, and nothing if one goes on to compare it with hashish or cocaine, costlier but having similar kind of an effect. It also has its offshoots, such as depression, anxiety and sporadic violence.

The spread of this addiction has been reported in mainstream media as well, with dailies such as Hindustan Times and Mid-Day reporting about the rapid spread of the drug and the danger it has caused to communities across the city. To make matters worse, Mephedrone is not banned, which coupled with the incompetence of the police force in taking any action, has helped it grow and spread even further.

Things are changing however, and hopefully for the better. Baksh says that the addicts are pretty scared now. “They don’t consume in open, at least,” he says, telling us that initially the addicts used to consume out in the open, on the ground. He told us of the youngsters of the camp, not associated with his NGO but acting on their own accord, encouraging local policing and thus instilling fear and raising awareness. “The coming generation will steer clear of this,” Baksh added, proudly. Baksh knows that the fight is long and hard, but he is ready to go on. “Our camp was the only area in Mumbai which had both Hindus and Muslims living together and reported not one violent incident,” Baksh says, referring to the 1992 riots, “We believe in social harmony. We will never let any random white powder break that.”

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