The Yellow Tape
It was no ordinary felony, mind you, it was manslaughter or rather youth who were almost men, slaughtered. They ranged between the ages of fifteen to early twenties. The bodies writhed in agonising pain. The weapon used in the crime can usually be found at the scene of the crime or in its vicinity. The cause of death or the death of a cause to live is also known. All this goes unnoticed and hence I need the yellow tape.
It all started when we admitted a young boy from a family of dancing girls to a drug rehab center. He was the bargaining chip to get his little sister to come to the Learning Hub. The boy recovered and his family flew him to the Middle East to ensure he stayed drug free. He was weak and gaunt when he left the street to go for rehab and then we received the pictures of a robust, beaming young man from Dubai. His friends saw these images and thought, “We can be cured too.” So did their families.
Many kids in this area start from sniffing samad bond, a strong adhesive and a gradual gateway to hardcore drugs. One boy had money so his transition to injectables was fast. In him too, we saw an opportunity to lure his little daughter to the Learning Hub. We got him into rehab and his daughter into our Hub. All was well till we came to know that the boy was back, the reason being that he had tested HIV positive.
He was not alone, another two boys, both brothers whose nephew studied in our school, were also users of injectables and tested out to be HIV positive. That was not all, the husband of a young woman with a ten-month-old baby had a similar ailment. Hence started the spiraling saga of the impotence of our systems.
The philanthropic drug rehab center had a vertical mandate that it could cater to drug addicts but not drug addicts who were HIV positive. The Punjab AIDS Control Programme (PACP) too had a vertical mandate that it could cater to HIV cases but not HIV drug addicts. They referred us to an NGO which could round up HIV cases but did not have a residential facility.
Our patients were apparently horizontal. Even the UNAIDS programme had no answer and referred us back to PACP. Finally, the public hospitals came to our aid. They could look after drug addicts with HIV, but not without an attendant. An attendant? For young men from an area termed as a mini Heera Mandi, who are drug addicts, HIV, Hepatitis A, B and C positive, you’ve got to be kidding!
We called the government health services to no avail. A strange logic prevailed. It was not safe for the staff and patients of the health centers to keep these patients. What we could not understand was how could those who were a danger to others in a controlled health facility be safe for the community and society in which they moved freely.
In a private seminar on drug rehab that had politicians, medical professionals, representatives of law enforcement agencies and civil society, the issue of the four HIV drug users was pointed out. But there was no urgency from anyone. What if we had said that there is a man selling loaded weapons to minors under a bridge in broad daylight and that these trigger-happy lads are blowing their brains out and anyone else’s who comes within range. Would everyone sit back with the same level of complacency? Many would think that these are just street kids, some kind of plagued vermin that will wither and die. Probably, they will. But once in a while when their mom does not get a dance gig, the sister does not send money from a foreign land, when there is nothing in the house to steal and sell, they will prowl your streets and hound your dwellings. They will steel and plunder or become peddlers, reaching out for your children in the prestigious institutions you send them to.
If you think your children are safe, you need to think again. Remember that the injection they are handed out won’t just have narcotics in it, it would also have HIV, Hepatitis A, B and C. Just remember that our back alleys are breeding an army of drug users and peddlers and it is just a matter of time before they knock at our door. Better keep some yellow tape in stock.
Excerpt of my conversation with a young drug addict:
“You came to pick your daughter? That is so good.”
I get a full smile that crinkled his eyes. This is the first time I saw his eyes open.
“And you do look good,” I said.
“Yes madam I am trying to take less,” he replied.
I asked him if he could try to leave it altogether. I told him I know it is hard.
To this he said, “No madam, you do not know. You cannot know. When I don’t take it, the pain becomes unbearable.”
He had a point.
“But I was told one small packet that covers two doses costs Rs.500. That is Rs15,000 a month. You do not work. How do you afford it,” I wanted to figure it out.
“My mother and sister give me money. If I do not get it from them, I steal it, but only from home. Lately, it has become hard because I do not know where amma hides her purse,” he answered me.
“Then at least use sterilised syringes that come sealed and after you use them, throw them away. Don’t leave them for your daughter to find,” I advised him.
“Mostly I use it once, then I throw it. But sometimes I have two doses. Then, I wash it,” was his reply.
“But you have to make sure she does not find them, she knows now and tells Papa is using the Tiqa (needle) again,” I said.
“Madam I do not remember when I use it, but I am careful. Some use it all wrong. I am good at it. At the rehab center they could not find my veins but I took the syringe from them and drew my own blood. They said I was really good,” he said with a confident smirk.
His little daughter got on his lap, holding on to her new found friend, a teddy with a scarlet scarf.
“Hey little girl you love your Papa, don’t you?” I turned to the three-year-old.
A vehement nod of the head in the affirmative followed.
“How much?” I continued in my line of questioning.
“Panch (five),” she said but I think she meant ten as she held out all ten fingers.
A rare moment when we all laugh, a rare moment when a father and daughter bond, a rare moment which I wish could stretch.
Zerka Tahir is founder SID (Sustainable Intervention Drive)