Field Notes: Emotionally Overcome At A Rehab Facility In Kashmir 


It was a hot summer afternoon when we arrived at the drug de-addiction centre operated by the Government Medical College, Srinagar, to report on the exploding heroin addiction in Kashmir, wracked by violence and unemployment. We first noticed the long line of patients waiting to get in, some patiently while others quarrelled over the queue. Most were needle users and battling relapses in the ward where chronic heroin patients were admitted.

This was our second visit to Kashmir’s main rehabilitation facility in a month. Although we had read about the growing number of heroin addicts in Kashmir, the magnitude of the problem hit us when we saw first-hand the despair of young Kashmiris whose lives have been destroyed.

We met a 27-year-old addict who had lost two of his three closest friends to a heroin overdose in the past three years, while he had lost his job as a truck driver and the affection of his loved ones.

With only his wife helping him in this darkest period of his life, the young man rued the day when his friends made him take heroin. It happened not long after the ruling BJP government abolished the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and demoted India’s only Muslim majority state to a union territory, plunging the region into a period of fear and uncertainty.  

Another heartbreaking story was of a 24-year-old who broke down as he told us that his family believed he showed so much “promise” growing up, but he had only brought ruin on himself and his family. The young man told us about his friend who went to Delhi to find work so that he could pay for his heroin addiction, and he ended up selling the scooter his company gave him to commute to buy heroin.

All the people we talked to were either battling or had overcome Hepatitis C due to sharing needles. The 24-year-old man told us he knew the dangers of sharing needles but still did it. It was chilling to hear him say: “I even knew the person with whom I shared a needle was a Hepatitis C patient, but I couldn’t control the urge.”

Hearing the two men open up about their past and present struggles, sharing stories of relapsing so frankly and matter-of-factly, made our eyes well up with tears. At one point, we were so emotionally overcome that we contemplated leaving and returning another day. 

As we were leaving, a young Kashmiri we spoke with blamed the drug peddlers.

“Nobody can touch them because they are connected with powerful people," he said. "When these peddlers get patronage, how can this menace be eradicated? It’s impossible.”

You can read Minhaj Masoodi & Zakia Qurashi’s full story here.

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