This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Atharva Pandit. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

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

More from Atharva Pandit

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.

*

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.

*

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.”

You must be to comment.

More from Atharva Pandit

Similar Posts

By Ananya Bhuyan

By Shabeena Anjum

By Arya Jha

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below