With their ankles shackled, scores of heroin addicts hobble around the crowded yard of their rehabilitation centre in a unique de-addiction programme in this Manipur district bordering Myanmar in northeastern India. //
Two heavy China-made padlocks that are difficult to pick secure the thick manacles around the ankles of 74 druggies as they shamble across the Gamnuam Christian Home participating in 'vocational activities' like noodle making, tailoring, carpentry and choir practice.
'Their desperation makes them crafty. They can open ordinary padlocks to run away and begin taking drugs again,' said Pavkholian Dousel, a church elder and founding head of the detoxification centre that has been functioning for 18 years.
'If they escape, I become answerable to their parents who insist I keep their sons chained and captive till they kick their drug taking habit and become clean once again,' the 64-year-old preacher told IANS.
With a population of around 150,000, Churachandpur, 65 km south of the state capital Imphal, has the highest heroin addiction rate in India. The drug that is cheaply available - Rs.100 for a single shot - is smuggled across the porous Myanmar frontier, barely 40 km away.
A recent survey revealed that around 67 percent of regular heroin users were 11-year-old schoolchildren. In many cases, these youngsters also doubled as couriers and often resorted to petty crime to sustain their addiction.
'Every house has a user,' said Joy Ganguly of Sahara, the Delhi-based NGO that is involved in rehabilitating drug addicts using more traditional methods. 'The region is fighting a losing battle against heroin addition,' he added.
The ostensibly barbaric and medieval shackling of the young men admitted to Dousel's Home by desperate parents is discounted smilingly by the inmates aged between 11 and 40 years.
For them 'changed when chained' is the guiding principle.
They have even written a song around this theme which they sing frequently, rhythmically rattling their shackles as they do so.
'It was painful and humiliating when I was first manacled and all I wanted to do was escape,' said Pau Siamal, 30, an inmate for over three years.
'But after six months, as I stayed off drugs and began feeling better, things changed emotionally, spiritually and physically. Now I feel incomplete without them (chains),' he added.
'Being chained has helped me break the debilitating drug habit,' said Mangboi, a longtime heroin addict and home resident for 18 months. For him, the first few weeks were a 'nightmare' as his emaciated body, sustained on a daily diet of heroin, screamed for sustenance.
'The shackles and god completely altered my life. I don't even notice them now,' the 28-year-old tribal boy admitted.
Fifteen of the home's 74 residents were chainless, having 'graduated' to a level where they did not need restraining.
Most inmates compete to achieve the 'chainless state' during the three-and-a-half-year de-addiction course as that got them 'special status'. Several even volunteered to stay on afterwards to help with new entrants.
A special 'reward' system also prevails in the yard by which the thick and closely manacled chains are replaced by thinner ones allowing greater freedom of movement. This, of course, depends on the progress we make, an inmate said.
'We teach the addicts the ugliness of sin and the beauty of holiness in accordance with the Bible,' Dousel said. That faith ultimately gives them the will to prevail over the addiction, he declared.
All home residents are tribal, originally from the surrounding hill regions, who were converted to Christianity by missionaries some 140 years ago.
'There is no coercion involved and all are free to leave provided their parents withdraw them,' Dousel said.
also makes it mandatory for the parents of inmates to be present at the frequent therapy 'fellowship' sessions to demonstrate their involvement. The parents' wishes are unconditionally obeyed by all, Dousel added.
Dousel has 'treated' over 1,700 addicts since 1987. And though their subsequent progress had not been monitored, independent observers believed their recidivist rate was low.
Addicts go 'cold turkey'upon being admitted to the wooden home that is built around a small courtyard lined with dormitories and 'activity stations'.
Their day begins at 5.30 a.m. with church service, gospel classes and choir practice. Noodle making, sewing and work on building a new wooden chapel and a massive underground water storage facility follow.
Football, the most favored activity and the only one - besides bathing - for which the chains are removed, accounts for the afternoon.
Daily practice sessions have led to the home's team winning the district's senior division football league on several occasions.
Monthly charges for each inmate are Rs.2,000 but around a third, too destitute but horribly addicted, are admitted free.
Some are even permitted to keep their wives and children with them but the women live separately with the Dousel family.
Human rights organizations initially filed cases against Dousel soon after he launched his distinctive programme. But the inmates' parents rose collectively to his defence, neutralizing criticism and paying lawyers to defend him. The cases are pending.
Dousel strictly prohibits his home or any of its inmates being photographed as all such publicity has led to NGOs filing human rights abuse cases against him.
The home's popularity, however, has grown with Dousel having to turn away addicts. Consequently, three similar detoxification centres, where all inmates are chained, have sprung up in the town and house around 150 addi
'It works even though it appears inhuman at first,' college lecturer Tonsing Vunglallian said.
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