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.
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