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Menace of alcoholism & drug abuse in Manipur


It is imperative to look at the functioning of our social institutions and find out the reasons that are pushing youths in the wrong direction.  

By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Alcohol abuse is a major cause for concern for India. Research findings show that the number of alcohol users in the country is on the rise and the number of persons requiring help is quite large. Available evidence reveals that about 19.8 percent of the total population of Manipur consume alcohol, which is one of the most commonly used substances in Manipur. Alcohol addiction is widespread in both urban and rural areas of Manipur even though manufacturing and sale of liquor is banned in the state since 1991. Interestingly, the prohibition of alcohol is found to be less successful in reducing the consumption of alcohol in the state, and all forms of alcohol viz, country made liquors (atingba, asaba) and foreign made liquors are available in the state. It is observed that the consumption of liquor generally begins around the age of 15.The reasons are many. Initially, they tend to hide from the parents about their drinking habits. It is observed that those who belong to younger age groups especially adolescents mainly consume the locally made liquor known as yu, which is cheaper and available in most of the localities.

There exists limited income earning opportunities for those dropouts after failing in matriculation examination, which possibly explains the rising alcoholism among the adolescents in the state. Moreover, in many places where Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes of Manipur are inhabited, alcohol is customarily included in all the social functions, such as ceremonies related to birth, marriage, death, etc. Some of the Scheduled Caste villages’ viz. Sekmai, Andro, Phayeng are very popular for their local brews. In fact, it is so embedded in their custom that the owner of the house where the ceremony is being held has to stock alcohol for any function, which will be served to the male visitors during the ceremony. As it is customary, taking alcohol is not considered as bad or harmful by many communities. In fact, taking a small peg is considered not only healthy but also manly. According to NCD, 37.5% of Men and 0, 9% of female consume alcohol in Manipur. As the consumption of alcohol became so widespread, women in Manipur mobilized themselves into what is popularly known as the nisha bandh movement or night patrollers in 1975. It was a movement against the sale and consumption of intoxicants especially liquor. However, the movement lost its relevance after the declaration of Manipur as a dry state by the state government in 1991, and later transformed into a more popular movement called meira paibi movement (women torch bearers). Despite these changes, there is hardly any visible decline in the consumption of liquor in the state.

In the psychological and sociological contexts, drug is a term for habit forming substance which directly affects the brain or nervous system. More precisely, it refers to “any chemical substance which affects bodily function, mood, perception, or consciousness which has potential for misuse, and which may be harmful to the individual or the society”. The frequent use of drug is considered so dangerous and sometimes even immoral, risky and anti-social. Drug abuse is the use of illicit drug or misuse of legitimate drug resulting into physical or psychological harm. Drugs under international control include amphetamine-type stimulants, cannabis, coca/cocaine, hallucinogens, opiates and hypnotic sedatives, all of which have immediate physical effects. Drugs can severely hinder psychological and emotional development, particularly in young people. Manipur borders Myanmar (Burma), one of the world’s largest producers of illicit opium. During 1970-1980, drugs such as morphine, heroin or No. 4, poldrom, mandrake, hypogen, etc. were widely available and consumed in Manipur. These drugs were available in cheap rates during this period and led to its extensive consumption. The use of drugs was found popular among the youths as it was considered as fashionable and initially drug was used by the sons of the rich family, mostly belonging to urban areas. However it slowly spread as wildfire to youths belonging to common populace. Early 1980s witnessed a large number of drug users being diagnosed with HIV. In 1990, it was estimated that there were 15,000 to 20,000 injecting drug users (IDUs) in Manipur. In 2001, Imphal alone accounted for 14,000 IDUs, of which 5-10 percent is estimated to be women. Another estimate in 2009 by the Social Awareness and Service Organisation (SASO), a local NGO, shows that there are 34,500 IDUs in Manipur, almost half of them are living in Imphal. It is also mentioned that IDUs are critical to the spread of HIV/AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

The risky habit of sharing needles and other injecting paraphernalia has been acknowledged as the most efficient, fastest and convincing way of transmitting HIV/AIDS. As a result, Manipur has become one of the six high-HIV prevalent states in the country. Findings of a Rapid Situation Assessment of Drug use done under the auspices of United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) show that out of 308 drug users from Imphal East and Imphal West districts, which is about 62 percent, started using drugs in the age group of 15-19 years, 21 percent in the age group of 20-24 years, 12 percent under 15 years. It means that a large number of people started consuming drugs when they were in the adolescence stage. Increasing cases of infections have been observed among people that  had previously been seen as ‘low-risk’, such as housewives and children. Recent estimates suggest that Manipur with hardly 0.2percent of India’s population contributes nearly 11.4 percent of India’s total HIV positive cases. The pattern of drug abuse changed by early 1990s with the arrival of pharmaceutical products such as phenshydyl, corex, parvon spas, spasmo proxyvon (SP), diazepam, valium and nitrosun 10 (N10). Using dendrite and correction fluids like erax-ex by beginner abusers are also widespread. These are cheaply available and school going teenagers commonly used these products. Peer pressure, weak parental control, imitation, emotional stress, lack of discussion on sex, the easy availability of the drugs and the ineffectiveness of the laws on drug trafficking are reasons for young people depending on these substances. Slowly, drug users resorted to crimes to finance their drug requirements. Stealing from family, friends, neighbours and locality became regular features. Street crimes, fights and cases of overdose and deaths are reported often. Of course, there are many unreported cases also. There were even cases of innocent children being kidnapped for ransom to fund their financial needs for drugs. Young people take drugs or abuse substances for many reasons. The degrading and all round system failure affecting every aspect of the society arising out of misgovernance, corruption, and lack of opportunity for progress aggravates this menace in Manipur. May be they do so in order to cope with the frustration in life due to poverty, unemployment, broken family, unrest of mind and for self-amusement or for satisfying company of friends. Many youths also indulge in unwanted activities to gain acceptance and popularity among the peers. The question that arises is, since it would be impractical to expect them to dissociate from their peers, how they can be protected from being negatively influence

Adolescents have huge potential to bring about a change in the society since they are vibrant, enthusiastic, resilient with full of energy and filled with curiosity and creativity. They need proper guidance from parents, community members and teachers. On the one hand, socioeconomic problems, political chaos in the state and loosening of the social control of community members over adolescents and on the other hand adolescents’ attraction to fun and pleasure and easy life without working hard has worsen the situation in the state. Often, they imitate others by taking drugs, alcohol without thinking of the consequences. Elders need to understand the need and desire of the adolescents and help them resist from taking harmful things or involving in unwanted activities. Though, normally, the problems of alcoholism & drug abuse are considered as an individual problem, however as the number of adolescents indulging in such unwanted behavior has increased tremendously in Manipur over the years, it no longer remain as an isolated individual concern but there is possibility that the problem is rooted in society. Hence, in order to reduce the prevailing menace in the state, it is imperative to look at the functioning of our social institutions and find out the reasons that are pushing youths in the wrong direction.

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