The Azadpur area in the Capital hosts thousands of migrant labourers, who descend on the 76 acre sprawl every day to upload tonnes of farm produce, which begin arriving around 2:30 am from far-stretches across the country. The wholesale market here which has been Asia's largest fruit and vegetable market for about 40 years now, is inhabited by nearly 2,000 wholesalers and 2,500 commission agents.
Slumped against drugs
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of making the country drug-free; ironically, Millennium Post's investigation has revealed the abundant sale and purchase of hard drugs across several areas in the Capital – Jehangirpuri, Yamuna Bazar, Azadpur, Adarsh Nagar and Sadar Bazar. These colonies are largely inhabited by labourers who toil at the wholesale markets in Azadpur and Sadar Bazar, and then seek refuge in unprescribed drugs.
The four blocks of Azadpur market build up of concrete and metal-roofed structures tend to sneakily make news for another opaque reason – a sprawling drug trade which transcends its not-so-modest boundaries. It's a natural match; considering the market's life of hard knocks, hard-working labourers require some relief and distraction to evade the every day physical and mental exhaustion.
Close to the Mutiny Memorial, near the Adarsh Nagar Metro station, is the Mahindra Park colony in Jehangirpuri which is home to a number of medicine shops where hard drugs like 'Avil' can be bought over the counter, without any prescription.
A walk from the mandi to Mahindra Park cracks its well-kept secrets wide open. The smell of hashish (opium) – an earthy combination of sweetness and wet mud – engulfs the metro rail, bus stops, and even subdues the stench of an open sewer nearby. A litany of small chemists line the dingy streets, including the ones where you might catch a glimpse of the owner lighting up a beedi while selling cough medicines to an elderly woman.
Next to the park in the locality, many have unintentionally spotted Faizal Khan (name changed), a 55-year-old rag-picker who confessed to being a long-term narcotic user. He said that he had been taking drugs, and injecting chemicals since adolescence. He also said that he had attempted to quit by admitting himself into rehabilitation centres, but, he never succeeded.
On digging through the dingy lanes of the locality, a panwaadi named Rahiba is stationed near the entry lane of K Block, one of the most populated areas in Mahindra Park. The lane's entrance leaves nothing to the imagination: A grubby, seemingly lonely track, dripping with the dread of worn-down kirana stores.
This fellow is not deterred though, and informs others to just walk up to the chemists and ask for a sheeshi, worth Rs 50. A man about 60-years-old, with frazzled hair, clad in a tattered shirt walks up to Rahiba and asks him for some tobacco. Receiving the tobacco, he places the wrapper in his pocket, takes out a syringe and a sheeshi, loads it from the vial and injects it into his forearm, later he closes his eyes for a short while and then ambles away into the dingy lanes...
The pan kiosk owner informed, such sights pervade the area. The deeper one goes into the lanes of Mahindra Park, the cannabis-loving labourers are replaced by Avil-injecting (pheniramine maleate) residents, a readily available drug in their neighbourhood. The entire street appears something like this: masses of human bodies slumped against concrete walls, leaning against shop shutters, or sitting on the pavements; each in their private version of hell or heaven.
Another drug user and uploader, in anonymity, gave a reason for injecting the deadly liquid. Crouched near the park, with a recently used needle still in his fingers, he said, "After toiling all day, my body joints become numb. One shot of this, lubricates the muscles and only then can I relax." He said that he earlier inhaled smack (cannabis) from the aluminium foil but it gradually became expensive. He had also tried to quit, "I requested a policeman to put me in jail so that I could leave the habit. I stayed clean for two months and eight days. I also suffered terrible withdrawal pangs – chronic cough and cold, fever, lack of bowel movements and abdomen cramps. Finally, I just could not take it anymore as my head was ready to explode. I asked another prisoner to help me get some drugs. Only then, did I feel better," he said.
At Sharan, a small three-room centre near Mangal Bazaar road in the area, Alokji (name changed), the in-charge, said that their focus has been on containing the spread of HIV in the area, which is severely aggravated due to the rampant, unsafe use of needles and syringes. "We give them a pill, which is taken orally, so the risk of contracting HIV can be avoided. The drug is also given in a way that its dosage can be gradually reduced, helping contain the addiction," said Alokji. He said that the centre also provides counselling services, along with its de-addiction programme. "We are able to help around 500 to 700 patients every month. While some of them come on their own, others are brought here by our outreach workers," he added.
Alok said that he was a former drug-addict himself, who injected drugs for 24 years. He was able to wean himself off the drugs after several failed attempts. Originally from Lucknow, he came to Delhi in his youth, as it became impossible to sustain his habit there as family members and neighbours became aware. "I got a good job after I came here but I lost everything due to my addiction. I lived on the streets for a few years before I decided to finally kick the habit," he said. He also added that the addiction has spread its tentacles across the entire population dwelling in Mahendra Park and the surrounding localities, occupied mostly by labourers working in the Azadpur wholesale market.
Deepak Kumar, who works as an ORW (outreach worker) at Sharan, said that he used to be a goods-loader at Azadpur Mandi when he first started using drugs: "First, it was just charas. Later, I smoked smack filled in a cigarette for the first time. It was available at cheaper prices, and I became hooked."
Soon, he started to inject too and took to the habit full-time, wrecking havoc on his health and family life before learning about Sharan. "I still take my dosage but it is much less now," he added.
However, his problems are far from solved. Sharan has not been receiving funds from the Delhi Government for the last eight months, the salaries of Kumar and the other staff have not been paid, making it difficult for them to continue their operations.
"We received one installment some time back but it was hardly enough," Alokji said. He also said that there was no government-run rehabilitation centre in the area which would provide food and lodging to the recovering addicts. "However, some are being run privately but they charge a substantial amount," he added.
Alokji said that addicts do not die of drug use as much as they do suffering from a weak immune system. Most of these drug abusers are more likely to die due to minor ailments like tuberculosis and diarrhea because of their damaged immunity.
"We tell them to avoid injecting in the neck and advice them against sharing their shooting gear. On a whole, alcohol is more dangerous than these drugs. But many of them live on the streets and die due to simple cold too, apart from other diseases," he said.
According to an NGO official, "Last year it was noted that the entire sheeshi apparatus, excluding the syringes, can be procured from chemists for just a petty amount of Rs 150-200. The vegetable and fruit truckers are the main carriers in the channel of the drug trade, and are sometimes paid close to Rs 40, 000 for one consignment. The long hours on road, force many to also turn into users of hashish and opium. Hash and opium are procured from dhabas and hotels along the highway. Avil, meanwhile, transcends the truck trade and infuses itself in the blood and toil of the Mahindra Park dwellers.
Mahindra Park, understands the problem on its streets, and has more de-addiction centres than hospitals. One of them in K-Block is called Aayan, located right next to the chemist selling sheeshis; but has the appearance of a kirana(general) store. Aayan is run by Ashok Kumar, 46, who is a former addict of "everything" from the area. His centre, now eight years old, has only two rooms: a 6×8 feet reception where four of his assistants are sleeping, and another at the back guarded by a tall steel door. This 150-square windowless space houses 43 people, packed like sardines, lying crammed on the beds and the floor. A CCTV camera keeps a close check on their movements.
"We have addicts from all age groups, hooked to hashish, smack, Avil, and even alcohol," says Ashok. He has no professional education or background in rehabilitation, but he has what many others do not: He understands the lie of the land as he is the one that got away. For the no-hopers of Mahindra Park, Kumar is an example of what life without addiction could possibly be like.
Aayan is doing better than Sharan, the only government-run de-addiction centre in the area, which is on the verge of closing down due to the lack of funds. The centre was primarily dedicated to the HIV epidemic in the area, which was in turn caused by the rampant use of contaminated syringes; a vicious cycle that ends only with painful death.
As one ventures further in, the houses keep getting smaller, and the bodies with black veins lying by the side of the roads start increasing in number. There are people walking past them without a care in the world. Aayan, then, might be a small beacon of hope in a neighbourhood which has broken bad. But the hundreds who can't get past their steel doors are walking aimlessly outside, with one foot in a casket and the other outside a pharmacy, losing their life force with each hit of the sheeshi.