The building is in ruins. Garbage is piled in the courtyard, mostly bottles. There are no doors, no windows. Colored polythene and tin sheets cover all openings to light. It is dark inside. I pull out my mobile phone, use it as torch. The walls are cracked with black spots painted on the pale background by cigarette stubs. There is a peculiar smell across the place- as we walk in, it becomes intense. Few old food items lie around. The center of the floor is dark wet and all shit. The smell is unbearable now.
As I step in the room, hundreds of half burned match sticks creak under my sole. Countless sanitary napkins lie in a heap. Cigarette stubs cover the rest of the room. The cement floor is hardly visible. We have to make our way slowly through the left over cough syrup bottles, ink erasers, playing cards and cigarette packets. It is the drug den of Dalgate. Or rather, was.
Almost a month ago, the entire neighborhood started a campaign against the drug dealers in the Dalgate area. Two families were selling drugs in the area and the neighbors ostracized them, pooling in money to buy their houses. “It had become hard to live in this area for us because of these two families. Drug addicts from all around would be roaming in our streets. But for the last month, no one (drug users) comes”, says Shabeer, a resident of the locality. “This is not the first time they (drug dealers) have moved out of here. But they keep finding their way back”, he adds.
The drug trade is almost open in Kashmir- with Srinagar as the drug capital. A study carried out on drug abuse in the Valley by Government psychiatry Hospital reveals that more than 17 per cent of Kashmiri youth—mostly in the age group of 16 to 35—are addicted to drugs. Heroin, brown sugar, cannabis and deadly medicinal opiates top the list.
On a pavement at the main road, a boy is lying under a wheel cart. I sit at his feet. His eyes are sunk deep with dark circles around them. His hazy eyes are closed for most of the time as he asks us to leave. I make up a story about my drug addict friend who fractured his leg and thus asked me to buy stuff for him. But the dealer he told me about has left his house. He slowly gets up sniffing at his yellow handkerchief. “Yes, they left. You will have to cross the bridge now”, he says with concern. I inquire about money as I have very little with me. “You can get things for 100 rupees, even 50”, he stutters.
Yasin, lying half awake on the pavement (name changed) is 13, an orphan who sells clothes at Batamaloo. His friends got him into drugs. He does brown-sugar mostly. He has done it today. “I earn 150 rupees a day. The stuff costs me half of it”. He sprawls back on the dusty pavement, his oversized pink jacket covered with soil and his head resting on a half burnt wooden piece.
We pass the bridge, ask a hawker for brown sugar straight away. No one talks to us. Hostile looks and snarling words greet us everywhere. I reach two guys sitting on the pavement and pull out a 50 rupee note. The younger one smiles. His eyes twinkle. The other guy taps his shoulder but they leave. We follow. They don’t stop. Our clothes betray us, so do my friends’ glasses and bag.
Most of the drug trade in Kashmir happens around Dalgate, Chattabal, Bemina and Sumo stands. “It is in Sumos and other taxis mostly that stuff is transported”, says Ishtiyaq, an auto driver who was a drug user a year back.
The cannabis is grown locally and is available across the Valley, especially in South Kashmir. More refined drugs like brown sugar and heroin, according to local substance abusers, make their way from Delhi to South Kashmir and then to Srinagar. In fact, the crude opioids are actually sent from South Kashmir to Delhi where they are refined and sent back.
“Brown sugar and heroin mostly come from Sangam (a village in south Kashmir),” says Aijaz Ahmad as he smokes with a couple of guys. “We often go there to buy stuff. It is less expensive there. For the same stuff I earn 1500 rupees in Srinagar as compared to only 500 in South Kashmir”.
Nannu (name changed) leans back in his Ford Car. The music plays loud and the smoke envelopes everything inside. He takes a deep puff at his cigarette- his eyes red, fingers shivering. I am on the back seat passively smoking Charas, the local weed. “It is fun man. What is life without Charas dude?” says Nannu passing over the joint to me. Naanu is a doctor in one the biggest hospitals in the state. His father and mother are doctors as well. “I am high all of time but that doesn’t hinder my work. It makes me more efficient”, he says, as wisps of smoke come out of his lips.
For the rich like Nannu and his engineer friend Jimy, deals happen with much more sophistication. One phone call and things reach you, provided you know the number and they know you.
“While all these people keep killing themselves, someone somewhere is getting rich”, a photographer in Dalgate laments”. “It is better you catch him but I know you wont. He must be one among you educated people.”
It is dark across Lal Chowk. I walk back home. The stench is still lingering inside me. My head is dizzy, stomach revolting. I sit on the pavement and puke on the side of the road. Yasin would still be half awake under the cart, sniffing at the handkerchief, his pink jacket almost black by now. Nannu would still be in his car playing with smoke. Or maybe, operating someone on the surgical table, his eyes red, fingers shivering.