On December 2nd 2013, The Books and Brew Cafe in Sector 16, Chandigarh became the venue for the first ever Harm Reduction Cafe in India and Chandigarh. The group was a wonderful mix of professional practitioners and community members from the city and its adjoining areas who came together to discuss the issues and the road map ahead.
Here a list of the members will be put up just for memory sake of the event: Rajesh Jogpal, Pooja Pande, KiranDeep Dhillon Chahal, Umesh Pandey, Tanya Mediratta, Sanjeev Gulati, Preeti Sainni, Narayan Das (Baba ji), Ravinder, Pammi, Patrick Roy, Varun Anand (who was around and played perfect host) Neelam Kohli and Tavanpreet.
Some of the Key issues that were discussed were local drug problems, Women and drug use, working with children, overdose, Legal issues facing the drug using community and some related issues. The discussion had valuable inputs from Mr. Rajesh Jogpal who is the Director of Social Welfare, Chandigarh Administration, Counsellors of Womens and Child Helpline (Chandigarh and Punjab) a Lawyer from Punjab and Haryana High Court, Representative of the Chandigarh Network of Positive People and members of the community. The group was together to discuss how to reduce the risks for local drug users and increase local community involvement.
Local drug problems and Overdose: Over coffee / tea (as those were the only beverages served although some of our guys did disappear intermittently :) ) and some food, we discussed the local drugs problem. We talked about the lack of proper statistics available for the actual number of deaths due to drug overdose. We spoke about the fact that 3 users had passed away in past 3 months and unfortunately maybe those might have been prevented had the police / health facilities been more sensitive. The member of the community also emphasised the need for the feeling safe call the police / ambulance in case of a drug overdose.
Outcome: The Director of Social Welfare suggested that during one the training program that is being organised by the department a small session can be organised on Harm Reduction and the work being done so that the police personnel can be more sensitive to the needs of the community.
Legal Issue (police, deaddiction centres, jails): There was a detailed discussion of how the users felt a constant pressure since Chandigarh is the capital of both Punjab and Haryana and hence has police of all three Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh and a large number of VIP and Police presence. Hence the Users who are peer educators also often feel the police pressure while performing their work (Needle and syringe duties, OST etc). Also Chandigarh being such a small place there is constant legal harassment faced. There was also a discussion about what should be done about community members who are positive and in the prisons.
Outcome: It was discussed to speak to a few lawyers under the guidance of a retired senior legal representative in order to find some sort of workable solution and to work of furthering the legal rights of the community. Regarding the Community members who are positive and in prisons, Neil was asked to find out if there are any guidelines for providing special diet that has been approved by the government of India or being provided by any other prison in India. If they exist the these will be put to the IG Prisons and implemented for all the Community members currently in prisons in Chandigarh as per a policy decision.
Women / children and Use: There was a general and specific need felt that this was area that received least attention in the city and elsewhere in the country. We as a country and a society in the north almost seem in denial of the problem. We all felt that the problem was there and also that the services that existed were primarily for males.
Outcome: It was agreed that the problem would have to begin with finding out the extent of the problem, formulating a proper user specific solution to the same. The Director told the group that it was a mandate of the Women's and Child Helpline to provide services to both these particular group and if a proper proposal could be made available to the department then necessary action can and will be taken.
It was a full night of fruitful discussion. We all got to know each other just a little bit better. A few could not make it to the event but though who did make it enjoyed it. But the high point of the evening was the round of applause that went through the group when they were informed that they were part of the first ever Harm Reduction cafe in India. I'll leave the cafe as a success in my books.
Report submitted by Neil Roberts