By – Haobam Nanao, Activists
Substance use has woven its presence into human history, evolving with time and societal changes. The global phenomenon of drug use and abuse knows no boundaries, impacting societies at large. Recognizing drug use as an illness, world health bodies emphasize the need for treatment. Manipur, since the early ’80s, has grappled with the rising tide of drug abuse, particularly opioids and pharmaceutical drugs. The societal stigma associated with drug use intensified with the identification of the first HIV-infected case among injecting drug users in the early ’90s, exacerbating the situation.
To curb the alarming rise in drug abuse, various entities, including law enforcement, community organizations, religious institutions, and insurgents, took on the responsibility. However, early responses were marked by harsh measures, including police herding, moral policing, and human rights abuses. Despite these efforts, addiction persisted, with associated issues such as HIV infections increasing.
In the early ’90s, drug treatment institutions, primarily rehabilitation centres, began to emerge. Despite progress, human rights abuses persisted in the ’80s and ’90s. During this challenging period, drug user organizations emerged as philanthropic groups, providing care services for HIV-infected individuals and working to reduce societal stigma. By the late ’90s, the state AIDS control Society initiated programs responding to drug users, setting a historic precedent adopted nationwide.
Presently, Manipur has witnessed a paradigm shift in its response to drug use, with rehabilitation centres, free treatment centres, and harm reduction programs in collaboration with NGOs and bilateral partners. Despite these efforts, the Ministry’s 2019 study revealed around 100,000 drug users, with 35,830 injecting drug users. The demographic landscape has likely changed, necessitating continued improvement in response mechanisms.
However, the communal strife that began in May 2023 has brought unprecedented challenges. With over 70,000 people displaced and 200 lives lost, drug use continues amidst the turmoil. Disturbingly, certain groups of people and insurgent groups target drug users, violating human rights. Instances of merciless beatings, forced treatments, deaths in private rehabs, and extortion from parents underscore a harrowing situation.
The current scenario mirrors the dark days of the ’80s and ’90s, with drug users terrorized and killed. The state, having learned from past experiences, now grapples with a resurgence of inhumane acts during the ongoing strife. The pressing question remains: Who will be held responsible for these egregious human rights violations in Manipur?
The Unfolding Crisis: Drug Use and Human Rights Violations in Manipur revisited
By – Haobam Nanao, Activists