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India: This Sugar is Bitter - Digital version of 1992 citizens report by ABVA on chemical dependency & HIV infection

3 March 2017

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1992 report by AIDS BHEDBHAV VIRODHI ANDOLAN (AIDS Anti-Discrimination Movement): "It is surprising that very few people consider drug-dependency as a disease. No illness in any society is purely medical. The social and political dimension of the illness will determine the reaction of society to the illness, both socially and legally. ABVA therefore, has tried to document the politics of the problem of drugs and drug users. . . ."

Press Release

Dated: 03 March, 2017

ABVA releases digitized version of its 1992 citizens report on the status of chemical dependents in India titled “This Sugar is Bitter”

“Drug abuse on the rise among youth in Kashmir.” - The Tribune, 13 June, 2015

“Why has India’s Punjab fallen into the grip of drug abuse?”
It is astonishing how widespread the problem is. One estimate says that more than two-thirds of Punjab’s households have at least one addict in the family.

Across the state, from villages in the lush green countryside to bustling towns and cities, young men huddle together in cemeteries, abandoned buildings or plain fields, smoking, snorting or shooting up.” - BBC News, 2 February, 2017

Twenty five years after the report was released in 1992 ABVA is releasing digitized version of the report “This Sugar is Bitter” on the status of chemical dependents and HIV infection in India. The report (word count 36,124) was prepared by a nine member team of ABVA; while two members had done a fact finding on the plight of intravenous drug users and HIV positive persons in Manipur, North East India. The report is as relevant today as it was when the print version was first brought out. The above two quotes bear testimony to this.

The first part of the report documents in detail the role of culture, heritage, religion and the drug users; the role of law, police and judiciary; the report has a full length chapter on the nature and treatment of chemical dependency; it documents real life case histories of drug users. Another chapter details the societal attitude towards drug users; a section of the report deals with AIDS and the IV drug users.

Part two of the report deals with the actual findings of the fact finding team which visited Manipur, a state in North East India. The team left for Manipur on 29.02.1992 and returned back to Delhi on 15.03.1992 visiting Dimapur (Nagaland), Guwahati (Assam) and Calcutta (West-Bengal). The report details the geographical and political context; and the armed insurgency in the North East; the role of PLA and the NSCN; the role of paramilitary and military forces and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Part three of the report details a twenty point charter of demands made on the Government of India which is enlisted below:

“ABVA urges the Government of India to take cognizance of the following demands and take urgent steps towards their implementation.

1. Repeal all discriminatory legislation singling out drug users. Decriminalize Chemical dependency.

2. Establish a commission to document and prevent blackmail, extortion, violence and other such actions on drug dependents at the hands of the police, judiciary and the state administration.

3. Encourage the Press Council of India to issue guidelines for respectful, sensitive and representative reporting on drug-dependents.

4. Ensure judgement free health education for all, an education that emphasizes the disease concept of chemical dependence.

5. Terminate all forcible HIV Testing.

6. Ensure availability of voluntary and anonymous HIV Testing.

7. Stop all discrimination against recovering drug dependents, at the work place. For active drug users, ensure adequate treatment.

8. Stop the requirement of certificates regarding HIV and AIDS negativity from students and those desiring to marry (particularly those from North-East).

9. Set up a unit and appoint a sensitive ombudsman to receive and act upon complaints from Drug Users/HIV positive and persons with AIDS.

10. Release all HIV positive persons detained in jails, vigilance homes and under house arrest all over the country and stop further arrests of such persons.

11. Ensure free supply of sterile disposable needles to intravenous drug users so as to prevent the spread of AIDS (This should be done under anonymous settings).

12. Control growth of illicit drug industry and requisites for the manufacture and trade of these drugs – especially AA.

13. Permit Citizen groups to visit jails and mental hospitals so as to promote understanding of the conditions of persons detained there.

14.a. Repeal Article 13 of the Code of Ethics of The Medical Council of India under which Drs refuse treatment to select patients. Take action on doctors or other health personnel who refuse to treat drug-dependents, HIV positive and persons with AIDS.
b. Provide sufficient number of gloves and disposable syringes/needles in all medical centre throughout the country.

15. Establish detoxification and rehabilitation centres as envisaged under the NDPS Act.

16. Deal severely with drug smugglers and drug barons.

17. Investigate the functioning of the existing government funded (220) rehabilitation centres to suggest improvements and ensure effective programmes.

18. Change government policies to de-link funding of treatment centres for chemical dependents with success rates of recovery, so as to prevent false reporting.

19. Constitute a group comprising professionals from various backgrounds (including recovering individuals) to be part of policies/decision making on the specific issue of drugs and chemical dependency.

20. Establish a coordination unit between the Finance, Social Welfare, Health and Chemical Ministries to deal with the problem of drugs and of chemical dependency.”

Modern Day Opium War of Sorts

ABVA views with concern that drug abuse is seen to be rampant amongst the youth precisely in those very states where exists movement for autonomy/ true federalism/ azadi/ referendum or plebiscite since 1947 or sometimes even predating India’s independence; thus states like Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur and Assam bear the brunt of the drug problem. In Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of militancy in 1989 the number of drug abusers has reportedly increased from 0.3 per one lakh population to 2.5 to 4-5 per lakh in recent years. This is 8 to 17 times jump in the increase of drug abusers in over a quarter century! In these states a few generations have been lost to militancy and the consequent killings by the police/ paramilitary/ army in encounters – genuine or fake, more often the latter. The militants in addition are reported to have disappeared or detained lawfully or illegally or injured in crossfire; not to speak of custodial deaths and those who are tortured at the hands of those in charge of the security apparatus

The fact finding team of ABVA was informed by the Young People Welfare Society, Dimapur, Nagaland on 09.03.1992 afternoon that there is involvement of paramilitary and military personnel in the drug smuggling from Burma into Nagaland; that the drugs could well be used to break the movement of the youth.

Social scientists will have to study further whether these movements are finally being weakened by a conscious policy of the state of getting the drugs smuggled into these states which would ensure that a generation of the youth would be destroyed by being hooked on to the drugs. It should not appear to be a farfetched idea since the British colonial rulers notoriously indulged in opium wars towards legalization of the opium trade.

Read the full report here:

AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan
(AIDS Anti-Discrimination Movement)
New Delhi, India
Email: aidsbhedbhavvirodhiandolan[at]

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[The report ’This Sugar is Bitter’ is also mirror hosted in public interest as part of the document archive]

This Sugar is Bitter: A Citizens Report on The Status of Chemical Dependents and HIV Infection in India
published in 1992 by Delhi based AIDS Anti-Discrimination Movement (ABVA) [This digital version is hosted as part of the document archive]