Substance abuse among street children in India

A drugged reality


November 10, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

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Dario Mitidieri from 'Children of Bombay' Series

Dario Mitidieri from ‘Children of Bombay’ Series

As the nation finds yet another fodder for dank memes, drug abuse continues to claim lives in the streets of India.

Mummy se barker hai yeah?” (Does this mean more than your mother?) Ha (Yes).

Duniya meh sabse pyaari cheez kya hai?” (What is the most loved thing in your life?) Yeh, soluchan (This, solution)

This happens to be an excerpt out of a conversation between a man and young boy named Kamlesh. Now, the latter has become a household name, owing to social media and the consequent memes. The video that surfaced on Facebook and went viral showed a young Kamlesh, who ran away from his house in Bhopal to Delhi; he is a solution addict and says that he has tried his hands on everything from smack to glue to weed. At the face of such deep layers of humour behind the video content, yet another meme fodder saw the light of day.


Kamlesh, just a boy from yet another viral video

Kamlesh, just a boy from yet another viral video

The video, which is originally a clipping out of a documentary named Nashebaaz – The Dying People of Delhi was made by amateur filmmaker and paramedic Dheeraj Sharma. Screened and applauded at 2016 London Film Festival, the documentary was aimed at raising awareness against substance abuse amongst the street children of Delhi. The national capital, which also happens to be a capital for increasing drug abuse amongst children especially amongst street children, sees numerous deaths every day owing to volatile substance abuse.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine defines volatile substance abuse (VSA) as the deliberate inhalation of volatile substances in order to achieve intoxication. This includes glue sniffing, inhalant abuse and solvent abuse.  The effects of VSA, when taken in small doses, can rapidly lead to euphoria and cause delusions and hallucinations, similar to those caused by alcohol. Higher doses may produce life-threatening effects such as seizures and coma which eventually leads to early death from cardiac arrest or central nervous system toxicity. Chronic abuse of volatile substances can produce severe organ damage, especially in the liver, kidneys, and brain.

When Dheeraj asks Kamlesh about his withdrawal symptoms, he replies, ek do din nahi piya tha to khoon ki ulti ho raha tha (When I did not have it for two-three days, I started vomiting blood).

Social Conditioning?

Even though, volatile substance abuse is not limited to children and adolescents of a particular social group, “it is only fair to assume that street children, being one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, would be at a considerably higher risk,“ states a 2016 research paper by Vidhi Centre For Legal Policy that studied drug abuse among street children in Delhi.

The study states, “The condition of street children is compounded by an exploitative socio-economic structure within and outside the family, lack of access to education and healthcare, rapid urbanisation, rural to urban migration, rapid population growth, and extreme poverty.” Does this make them more prone to substance abuse?

Nandini Dey, a Calcutta based counsellor, answers, “It is only easy to assume that street children have more access to such substances that make them more prone to abuse and thus be addicts. However, young adults in the cities are the ones with easier access and money. However, street children grow up seeing their parents, siblings or neighbours indulging in abuse, and naturally, imbibe that behaviour and walk along the same path. They learn by observation, which is the case for any child who has seen a parent as an alcoholic, or drug abuser. But, street children are easier prey also because it was these above factors that predisposed them to this situation in the first place. So, it is a vicious cycle.”

Despite the rising awareness and improved government policies, the situation has worsened. A recent government survey in Delhi has found that children as young as nine are getting trapped in the vicious circle of drug abuse in Delhi, after studying 70,000 street kids dwelling in the slums and streets.Experts say health and welfare programmes don’t reach millions of such children in the Capital and other parts of the country because they don’t have documents and are invisible to the system.

Dr Mrinalini Darswal, project director of Delhi State AIDS Control Society, told Mail Today, “This is a first and a major government survey of Delhi’s street children. About 70,000 street children are in the habit of consuming drugs in any form, out of which 20,000 intake tobacco. Alcohol consumption is prevalent among 9,450 children, inhalants in 7,910, cannabis in 5,600, heroin in 840 and pharmaceutical opioids and sedatives among 210 children each.” To estimate the prevalence of drug use among street children in the city, Delhi government’s women and child development department conducted the survey in collaboration with the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) at AIIMS.

A survey conducted in Mumbai also showed a high number of substance abuse among street children. While. Delhi and Mumbai seem to be the worst-affected, Kolkata is not far behind.

Calcutta Samaritans, an NGO based in Kolkata caters to the problem of drug abuse among slum and street children.  Volunteer Utpal Dutta states, “We have seen kids as young as 14 years old sniffing Dendrite and other such substances. We have conducted camps for street children living near Sealdah station. Other areas such as Tiljala and Ekbalpur are infested with drug addicts which expose these kids to rampant substance abuse.”

Although aware of the scenario, the police say they face extreme difficulty in monitoring the use. “It is not possible to control the abuse of such substances as they are easily available in the shops. We cannot stop the sale of such daily-use products,” said a senior official in Kolkata Police.

Ringo, a kid we found near Maidan area in Kolkata openly asked for a cigarette puff upon seeing us buying a packet. When asked, if he smokes, he readily replies, ” Shob fuki! Ganja, charas, solution, gum.” (I smoke everything, weed, hash, whitener solutions, gum).

Maa baba kichu bolena?” (Your parents don’t object?), to which he coyly smiled and replied, “Maa baba o khay.” (Even they have it).

While Udta Punjab, a Bollywood film released early this year, grabbed eyeballs with its war against drugs peddling, the ground reality continues to haunt of what seems to be a sedated nation.

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