Leading lawyers and civil activists in the country have slammed the violation of human rights of people addicted to drugs and narcotic substances in India
"The war against drugs has created so many problems for so many people. This war against drugs is itself a crime," said Anand Grover, director, Lawyers Collective.
"People seem to forget that drug users are human beings first. By using drugs, a person does not cease to be human," said Luke Samson, president of the Indian Harm Reduction Network (IHRN).
The two were speaking at a public hearing to highlight the plight of drug users in India on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day. The event was organised jointly by the Indian Drug Users Forum, IHRN and the Lawyers Collective.
"As a society and a state, we have still not internalised drug use as an illness. Instead, we consider it as a social ill and a crime," said Atul Ambekar, psychiatrist at the All India Institute of medical Sciences (AIIMS).
During the public hearing, former drug addicts related harrowing incidents they experienced while undergoing rehabilitation, mostly at private, NGO-run centres.
"The rehabilitation centres in Delhi are themselves hubs of crime and vice. The people who run them tie drug addicts and beat them mercilessly. No doctor comes to visit. Addicts are kept in a state of de facto slavery. The addicts' families are exploited monetarily in the name of treatment," alleged Suresh Kumar Jain, a former drug addict.
"I was chained for 15 days to a bed. I was strictly forbidden to communicate with my family. I was not given a proper, healthy diet and no medication. I was beaten and tortured. We were 130 people kept in an area less than 50 square metres," related Lalboi, a former addict from Churachandpur in Manipur.
"Drug users are usually brought to rehab centres without their consent with the excuse that they are mentally ill, which is not true. There is a difference between drug addicts and sufferers of psychotic illnesses. Drug users are capable of judging right from wrong and hence their consent must be sought before treatment," said Ambekar.
Grover also delved into the loopholes surrounding the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act which penalises possession and use of drugs.
"It was enacted in 1985 and amended twice in 1989 and 2001. But it still penalises drug possession and use which is wrong. Countries such as Portugal have decriminalised drug possession and have no problems. It is about everybody getting access to the right to health," he said.