Mizoram on the eastern frontier of India, sharing borders with Myanmar is currently facing one of the worst illicit drug related crisis’ in its history.
Bang on the periphery of the notorious Golden Triangle, this border state has never been a stranger to the scourge of addiction ever since heroin started seeping into the state in the 1970s. But perhaps this proximity to the problem itself has brought about a certain complacency in the way the state government has been dealing with the problem which now threatens the very social stability of the state.
Over the years the State and families of chemical dependents have been locking away the addicts in a centre called the Tawngtai Bethel Camping Centre (TBCC) in Chawnpui locality of Aizawl, which has no sanction of the law nor the minimum facilities required in such centers. Now with the death of two inmates last week, this has come under public glare, with the future of 800 inmates at stake.
After the controversy erupted, about 130 inmates have been taken out of the centre.
The Mizoram Government is in a dilemma because, as it cannot legally allow such a centre to continue uncontrolled, while at the same time, it fears that the release of these inmates would cause law and order problems. Concerns have been expressed on local TV or social media that if allowed to go out of the centre some of the inmates who were HIV positive would ‘again’ be in a position to spread the virus.
But the fact that forced confinement without due legal process is a human rights violation, does not seem to register across the board.
Two deaths, one of them of a minor, closely following each other in TBCC last week has served to open this can of worms exposing the widespread nature of drug and alcohol addiction and the absence of a proper mechanism and facilities in the capital Aizawl to assist the chemical dependents and their families.
They were so cramped for space that the administrators themselves in interviews with local media in the aftermath of the youngster’s death,disclosed that a room which could house just about 60 persons was occupied by 130 persons, packed into it like sardines.
Heroin, ATS-Meth, opiods, and pharmaceutical drugs such as proxyvon etc are freely available in the state.
The 17 year old was forced into the TBCC by the ‘authorities’ of the locality he hailed from in the capital, as he was identified as a ‘nuisance’ in the locality. Neither he nor his family had a choice. Nor were there any legal proceedings with a court order to confine the person. But since the local village authorities said he needed to be confined and rehabilitated, it had to be obeyed.
“Rehabilitated” in the local parlance would translate into ‘being reborn or turning over a new leaf with the help of prayers and bibilical counseling”. Within a few days he was dead, on July 22 to be exact. His father, Lalhmachhuana has filed an FIR. Following this several families who had suffered similar losses over the years gathered to raise a collective front, but so far it does not seem to have materialized.
Locals say that there have been whispers of custodial deaths in the centre over the years since the centre was set up in 2005 but despite this the State Government has not seen it fit to institute any kind of probe to find out the truth. The only follow up on the rumours was that, a few years ago, the Child Protection Society of Aizawl District, had inspected the place and brought out dozens of minors who were illegally housed there.
The TBCC was apprised then of the rules governing the welfare of minors and the fact that it is illegal to accept underage persons into any centre which is not registered under the POCSO Act.
But in the aftermath of the 17 year old’s death and public anger at the centre, it could be gathered from media reports that, for lack of any other officially and legally run rehabs, TBCC is the only available place where the Police department can lock away drug addicted persons who come in conflict with the law.
It is also learnt that the powerful Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA), a community based organization which partners with the State Government in many fields, particularly in ridding’ society of the social evils of illicit drugs and acohol use, also deposits drug addicts in TBCC in what has become a drive to literally sweep the ‘nuisance’ under the carpet.
At the same time, there are several inmates who are brought in by their parents and relatives begging the Centre to keep them as they were ‘out of control’.
The ‘owner’ and head of TBCC, T T Zohmingthanga, told local electronic channels that his centre was set up after he got a ‘calling’ from god to help persons suffering from addictions of various kinds, with prayers and Biblical counselling. He had sought to register the centre but he did not qualify as per the provisions of the law.However, his being an act of “faith”, he simply pitched a tent atwhat is now the centre’s present location, in a makeshift camp with a few inmates.
As the number of addicts grew, sent by the localities, the CYMAs, the police departments and even the various churches, the centre is bursting at the seams with about 800 persons. Various branches of the YMA have helped to build the rough structures over time, while various groups keep the camp going with funds and donations. The inmates are asked to order their requirements for food, toiletries etc from their families, with several inmates claiming they had never received these while at the centre.
The TBCC has the support of a powerful ‘advisory group’ made up of local big-wigs including a former chief secretary, a former moderator of the powerful Presbyterian Synod, popular Biblical preachers and faith healers called Speakers to name a few. The owner is also said to be a close kin of a ruling Congress party legislator, which makes the situation all the more surreal.
However, even as this problem has been flagged as being massive with estimates of more than 25000-30000 chemically dependent population, the fact is yet to seep into the people into the leaders of the Mizo State and Society as the debate is confined in the details of the TBCC and not on the larger issue of addiction that is sweeping the state.
This problem is not just a localized problem but one which needs to be seen in the light of national security as two of India’s frontier states are visibly starting to crumble under the onslaught of illicit drugs trade, Udta Punjab in the west is compounded by the rising Udta Mizoram in the east. With a very poor revenue base, the state needs support to help fight the growing menace in all fronts, said local activists.
Local social activists in Mizoram say that despite the huge drug hauls by the anti-narcotics teams there is no sense of urgency insofar the decision makers are concerned. They point out that hundreds of cases have been filed over the years but low rate of convictions and easy punishment for those convicted shows that the law and the judiciary barely serve as a deterrent for the drug kingpins.
Especially lucrative is the smuggling of pharmaceutical drugs with pseudoephedrine content o Mynnmar which is re-smuggled into the state as ATS-Meths. Sources point out that while stringent extra-judicial action is taken by the society and state against the drug addicts, these same powers-that-be dare not touch the peddlars and kingpins who use the hard drugs to ensnare the young in the streets of Mizoram.