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Fighting Religious, Chemical Addiction

INDIA


I met Sahil along with Dr. Muzaffer Khan, who heads the rehab center, and a young woman who works at the center as a social worker and counselor. Sahil sat down in front of us, anxious and wary. With a nervous and slightly shaky voice, Sahil explained that the disconnect with his family started quite innocently when he got interested in rap music. Eminem was his favorite artist. Once a brilliant student in class, suddenly all he wanted to do was "be cool," wear loose denims and hoodies, hang out with the boys from neighborhood, listen to music, and rap with his friends. His parents were at a complete loss. They considered his activities un-Islamic, which riled up the teenager. According to Sahil's parents, their religion did not permit him to wear those clothes or to listen to that music. While he admits that he wasn’t very good at rapping, Sahil also now agrees with his parents’ argument, “Hamare religion mein yeh allowed nahi hai (This isn’t allowed in our religion).” He reached a point today where he had no interest in music anymore.

At the time, however, things got worse. Like any other teenager, Sahil was rebelling against his parents, their beliefs, and what he felt were the conservative and rigid norms set by the society. He was around 14 years old when a friend handed him a couple of tablets of Spasmo Proxyvon “for fun,” and it did not take Sahil long to get hooked. He explained that the medicine kicks in a lot of energy and fills one with euphoria.

This turned out to be a bonding moment for Sahil and me as I shared my experience of taking that same medicine some years ago. I explained I had to ask my doctor to prescribe something else because Spasmo Proxyvon was putting me to sleep. Sahil lit up at the mention (for the only time during the conversation) and quite excitedly asked me the color of the tablets I had. Dr Khan explained that after initial few drowsy spells, Spasmo Proxyvon starts giving a rush, since it is an opioid-based medicine. The conversation with Sahil flowed smoothly from there.

Most people with addictive personalities find it difficult to fit in, and so tend toward antisocial behaviors. Sahil’s first tryst with rebellion was stone pelting (Kashmir has a long history of throwing stones in protest) with the neighborhood kids when he was only about ten years old. He explained, with a rare look of pride, that he did so because of his jazba (fire) for azadi (freedom). A reporter came to their colony, and the kids happily posed for him with stones in hands, without covering their faces. So did Sahil. The next thing his family knew, Sahil had been slapped with charges under the Public Safety Act (PSA).

Although children under 18 years of age may not in fact be charged under the law, doing so is routine in Kashmir, and numerous kids have spent time in jail as a result. Sahil’s father bribed the local policeman to get rid of the case, a practice that is again routine in Kashmir. The incident did scare Sahil, and he stayed away from violence after that. Once the addiction kicked in, Sahil said there was no energy or mental space for anything else anyway. Members of civil society in Kashmir allege that the armed forces have a hand in the supply of alcohol and illegal drugs in the state to ruin the youth and to crack the backbone of the society.

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