At least 9 homeless deaths are reported across Delhi every day. Most die of drug addiction.
Life by the Milliliter
They die, unidentified across Delhi every year, and the numbers mount.
In 2005, the number of unidentified bodies in Delhi was 2,202. In 2015, this figure rose to 3,285.
In areas surrounding Kashmeri Gate, Old Delhi and Yamuna Bazar -- areas with most homeless -- the Delhi Police find at least five unidentified bodies every day. In Kashmeri Gate alone, this year the police have found 330 bodies.
Not many constables want a beat posting in these areas because their jobs include picking up bodies eaten by rats and strays.
“Most times the bodies are beyond recognition,” a constable told HT. “Their eyes are sunk in and they have no cheeks. It is a depressing sight.”
Almost 80-90% of the bodies are of homeless drug addicts, police say. Over the last one year, the state government’s Delhi Aids Control Society (DACS) found 9,801 homeless injection drug users willing to take the HIV test. 540 men tested HIV positive.
A coordinator at an NGO that manages shelters in Delhi said the homeless addicts get HIV by sharing syringes.
“Thrice a month, doctors come and give medicines as part of the de-addiction programme,” he said. “How can it be a success when they have no facility to admit the homeless there?”
The Delhi government has six de-addiction centres but only the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Science (IBHAS) admit patients. But the homeless cannot be admitted here because patients must have an attendant.
Another similar facility is in Ghaziabad. The others are only referral centres at city hospitals.
MISUSE OF DEADDICTION SCHEME
Outside a shelter home near Loha Pul (Yamuna Bridge) in ISBT, homeless men and women inject in public. “The government’s de-addiction programme is an eye wash,” says Abdul Mohammed,30, an injection user.
Tested HIV positive two years ago, Abdul looks forward to the de-addiction programme volunteers arriving at the shelters. He knows he gets his monthly quota that day.
“We get Addnok tablets to control our urge. Each of us is prescribed a tablet or two a day. These medicines are not sold over the counter but we manage to get them in bulk,” Abdul said.
“We buy Amvil solution (a watery solvent) and mix the Addnok tablets, which we then injected into our body. All the city’s homeless are addicted to this. We take around 10-15 tablets a day,” he said.
A caretaker at Yamuna Bazar shelter blamed the government for the increasing homeless drug addicts. “The government organizes camps and gives Addnok tablets but there is no check if the medicines are taken correctly,” he explained. “Anyone can pose as an addict and take that medicine. Many steal strips of Addnok.”
Dr Mrinalini Darswal, project director at the Delhi Aids Control Society, said there are over 20,000 homeless drug users and the de-addiction camps keep a strict check on patients taking the medicines.
“Doctors know these medicines can be misused so they put the tablets in the patient’s mouth. Medicines are not handed to them. No one is allowed to take the medicine home. Registers are maintained,” she said.
“We keep check on chemists who sell medicines that are potential sedatives. Their sale is strictly monitored. Shopkeepers are asked to maintain registers with names of patients but there is definitely a leakage somewhere, which makes the drug easily accessible.”
Dr. Nimesh G Desai, former IBHAS Director said that the substitution of drug is useful but has to be very well coordinated and under strict supervision. “In most cases, the addict misuses the medicine as there is no proper check. A proper line of treatment and mechanism is required. Merely giving them a substitution never works. Patients requite acute medical care. Oral medicine does not work,” he said.
Desai also said that unless there is a proper mechanism to treat the homeless in a rehab, the problem cannot be solved.
“No addict will ever benefit from just a substitute medicine given to him thrice a month. This problem will only grow in the coming time.”
Police say there is little they can do to prevent the use of this drug. "Injecting a medicine is not a crime. Law does not give us the provision to arrest a person caught injecting medicines because he/she is not taking any psychotropic substance under the NDPS Act,” DCP (North) Madhur Verma said.
“We can arrest someone who is using smack (brown sugar) but their number is very less. Most of the homeless use injections,” Verma said.
Another officer said many homeless are addicted to what the locals call Sulochen -– an adhesive-based solution used to fix tyre punctures.
“Sulochen is available in most markets,” he said. “Under the law, there is no provision to arrest a person buying it. But we know this problem is rampant so we warn shopkeepers not to sell them in bulk. We now take action under 107 (abetment of a thing) Indian Penal Code, if they sell in bulk.”
According to police, Sulochen is most common among children because they cannot afford sedatives or brown sugar, Smack, a narcotic substance.
It is common to find syringes or cloth pieces soaked in Sulochen beside most homeless bodies on the road.
A beat constable at the Yamuna Bazar area said he often turns a blind eye on homeless men injecting or using brown sugar.
“It is impossible to deal with them. They know they are HIV positive and threaten to throw the syringe at us,” he said. “If we arrest them and put them in a lock-up, they get violent and bang their heads against the walls and iron grills. What if they die in custody? The press will be after us. Why take the risk?”
ADDICTED TO DEATH
Delhi continues to be what it was 17 years ago for Pinku when he arrived from Bihar — strange, hostile and without familiar faces. His friends are dead. All he now recognises is a bottle of Amwil solution and a strip of white tablets — two things that control his life.
Pinku is one of the 20,000 homeless using drugs.
Pinku, 38, was diagnosed HIV positive. But it does not bother him. All day he sits in the shelter at Loha Pul (Yamuna bridge), wearing a greasy ganji (under shirt) and gazing at the ceiling. He does not go to work, neither does he care about food. His nerves are green and swollen with needle holes.
“When I am not high, I behave like an animal. The moment the kick goes down; there is this piercing, insufferable pain. I throw up and get loose motion,” he says.
Pinku has been injecting for over 10 years. “Once I take the injection, I feel relieved. I can do without food but not this. I need at least 10 shots a day,” he says, pulling out the white tablets from hus pocket. Pinku is afraid of returning to his senses. “It pains,” he says.
It is time for his next dose.
This corner of Loha Pul is forbidden for ‘outsiders’. Even the police do not go there. Used syringes, empty bottles of Amwil and empty strips of Addnok are strewn around.
In one corner, teenagers are injecting drugs with used syringes. Nearby, two men have passed out, syringes hanging from their veins. A few metres ahead, a woman uncoils a sheet of foil, preparing to smoke smack (brown sugar). A man joins her. They crouch, cover their heads with her dupatta and light the brown sugar, not caring if they are being photographed.
Among homeless addicts, the most common drugs are brown sugar and injections. Addnok tablets mixed with Amwil solution is the most common serum used in injections.
Addnok is not available at chemist shops. This medicine to treat addicts is provided at government de-addiction. Men such as Pinku enroll for the camps, pretending to be treated and steal the medicines for future use.
Pinku’s neighbour Vicky, 37 is a pickpocket. Because of his stealing skills, he is the guy, many depend for their dose. “I go to the camps. At times, they give me two tablets and ask me to consume it there. I trick them and slip the tablets in my pocket. I use them later with the solution,” he says.
A bottle of Amwil cost Rs 20 and the tablets are free.
FROM A STUDENT TO A DRUG-DEALER TO A VAGABOND
“I was not a born an addict. I was a bright student. Delhi and its people did this to me,” says Pinku.
He was 12 years old when he fled to Delhi after a fight with his classmate. On his first day he was looking for food near Old Delhi when a rickshaw-puller spotted him. He offered a meal and a place to stay.
“He was generous initially.” For four months, the rickshaw-puller fed Pinku and introduced him to smack, which he started to enjoy. One night, the rickshaw-puller came home drunk and sexually assaulted Pinku.
“When I tried to resist, he gagged me and told me to keep shut. He threatened to throw me out of the house. To save myself, I stabbed him to death and fled,” he says.
Pinku, who was addicted to smack, went back to his village. But he returned to Delhi. At the age of 14, Pinku stole whatever he could lay his hands on to arrange his daily dose of smack. He boarded buses on different routes to pick pocket, stole scrap, pulled out taps and even gutter covers.
“There is a woman who deals in smack in Old Delhi. He was 15 when she spotted me and offered me money if I sold smack. I was promised a daily dose and a place to stay. I sold smack worth Rs 80,000 everyday and gave the cash to the woman,” he says.
The woman had a huge network from Yamuna Bazar to Bawana and contacts in police, he said. “Whenever I was caught, she used to pay Rs 50,000 to the cops. They booked me for consuming smack and not smuggling,” he said.
Under the Indian Penal Code, a person one can be imprisoned for over 10 years for smuggling drugs. “I stayed with her for over 15 years till I became very weak and she kicked me out. I landed here at the shelter. Now I collect scrap and sometimes steal to arrange money for my drug. The injection is cheaper than smack,” he says.
DEATH DOES NOT BOTHER THEM
Pinku is not bothered seeing his friends die. His close friend Ajay died a few months ago while injecting next to him. “I don’t know anybody here in the shelter. Those who came here with me are dead. Some had HIV, some died of drug overdose and some just disappeared. They must have died too,” he says.
A caretaker at a shelter in Yamuna Bazar said if any homeless is not seen for more than two days, it is assumed he is dead.
In one corner, outside the shelter, Abdul is gearing to inject. His veins are ruptured with constant piercing. He cannot inject into his arms, legs and hands because they are blocked. He spots the us, smiles, and starts injecting into his genitals.
“This is still functional,” he says.
(names have been changed to protect identity)