In the backdrop of the government’s failure to curb drugs menace in Manipur and the prevailing obstacles in tackling the challenges such as social stigma, discrimination, harassment and torture meted out to drug users, social media has now become another platform where these issues are aggravated.
In the past few years, there has been an alarming increase in the trend of circulating video clips showing drug users in a poor or negative light such as injecting drugs, lying along the roadsides and sharing of narcotic substance among them through different social media platforms.
As drug addicts are mostly looked down upon and face taboo from the society which often ignores the fact that drug users hope to return to normal lives, their identities, names and addresses become a matter of biggest concern and importance. However, with the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, drug addicts are losing their confidentiality which they struggle to maintain.
There have been instances where some group of people came out to extend help by providing food items and conducting COVID-19 tests free of cost to street-based or drug users who are disowned by their families. In this regard, experts have pointed out that though the intentions of these groups might be well and meant for extending help to the drug users, revealing their identities by using discriminatory languages while sharing their noble deeds on social media is completely against the law.
Speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free Press, Community Network for Empowerment (CoNE) president RK Nalinikanta said, it is very unfortunate to see many videos showing drug users going viral on social media. Encroaching upon the right to privacy of any individual is against the law, he asserted.
The state has already witnessed how discrimination, social stigma, torture and harassment of drug abusers have been a hindrance in preventing the drugs menace in the state, Nalinikanta noted. He said that circulating of videos, showing drug users is also a new phenomenon of harassment and discrimination. As such, the authority concerned should take legal action against those uploading and circulating videos, he added.
Speaking to the Imphal Free Press, Thoinuhenbi (name changed) a drug user whose video clip became viral on social media, expressed that drug users are also human beings and they also have feelings and ambitions like any other people. People should not look down or underestimate drug users as it does not help the drugs issue, she said.
“Yes, I agree that using drugs is the worst thing to do in life and it gives many unwanted impacts in the society. However, there is no such thing that a drug user will always be a drug user. No one can claim with absolute guarantee that any particular drug users cannot give up their addiction. There are so many people who want to jump out of the world of drug addiction. For this, a better understanding of the situation they are in and an ethical support from the society are the utmost need,” she shared.
Concerning the incident in which a video clip showing her taking drugs went viral, she said that it was about more than a month ago when a group of people secretly took a video recording of her while she was fixing her morning dose. The video was taken by four unknown people from a car.
When she noticed that she was being recorded, she followed them just to request them to remove the video. However, they fled away with high speed, she said, adding that the video went viral after some days.
“I really wanted to know what their intentions are and the purpose of taking that video. Where will they use that video? It is ok for the society to hate me for using drugs but at least think about my family and relatives,” she lamented.
Another drug abuser, who is in her 50s, said that social stigma, harassment and torture are some of the main factors that make many drug users unable to come out from the cocoon of drug addiction. A video clip of her also went viral on social media.
She continued that circumstances in life have led her to become a drug user. “It would be wrong to ostracise us for being drug users”.
While lamenting about the video recording that went viral, she said she was not aware when and how those culprits recorded her. Through a friend, she came to know that a video of her was being circulated through Facebook.
The video showed her handing over psychedelic drugs to one of her friends, she further said, adding that she was shocked and really hurt to see the video.
While appealing to people of the state not to record and spread such videos, she said that all drug users should not be categorised and labelled as one and the same. There are many drug abusers who really want to quit from using such substances. “Considering those who are struggling to give up, please stop doing such mischievous activities,” she appealed.
Strongly objecting to the breaking of confidentiality of drug users by some people, Rk Nilkanta said, it is good to hear that at least some group of people came out to help street-based drug users during the pandemic. “But is it very necessary to showcase everything on social media by revealing all their identities?” he questioned. The authority concerned should not take such cases very lightly as revealing the identities of drug users are totally unlawful.
Nalinikanta said that various policies and programmes are being implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Programmes on Aids and HIV and United Nation office on Drugs and Crime from time to time with an objective to uproot the drug problem through right approach and strategies.
The CONE president continued that even in the state, the Manipur State Drug Policy is on the verge of being implemented after waiting for many years. In the early period i.e. during the 1990s, underground groups played an important role in controlling the drug issue in the state. Nowadays, local clubs and community are intervening on the matter.
However, efforts to solve the problem have been a failure till date and the issue is lingering on in the state for almost four decades, he further said while adding that the state government should identify the causes of the failure. Targeting only the drug users would not help in removing the drugs problem, he said.
Appealing to people of the state to stop discriminating against drug users, he said that the government alone could not tackle such a big issue. A collective responsibility from every section of society with the right strategy is highly required, he said.
The problem of drugs in Manipur is growing day by day. There is an urgent need to solve the issue seriously and practically; otherwise, the state may probably be swallowed up by this decades old issue, he added.