Close to a popular cinema hall in Connaught Place, two teenagers try to snatch money from the pocket of a six-year-old. The kid resists as he struggles to free himself when some passers-by come to his rescue. Irked by the interruption, one of the teenagers first asks them to keep out and then (perhaps realising the large number of passers-by) tries to reason their behaviour. He argues that the kid owes them some money. As the drama unfolds, someone in the crowd talks of calling the cops.
At this the two teenagers turn aggressive and assert that it not anybody else’s business. Surprisingly the “victim” joins them and urges the crowd not to inform the police and that he would deal with the situation himself. The crowd disperses and the bickering resumes.
A few minutes later, the little boy gives up as the two teenagers (understandably stronger than him) manage to take out four currency notes of Rs.10 each from his pocket. Following this, they cross the road where they are joined by another visibly infirm teenager. Heading towards Shivaji Stadium, the three disappear in the crowd.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the road the little boy watches helplessly as a garment seller standing next to him mumbles “ Nasha khareedne jaayengay, aur kya ” (They will go after smack, what else). The man also has an explanation for the kid’s reluctance to engage the police. He says the boy himself is addicted to sedatives and involving the police would invite many uncomfortable questions.
Drug addicts like the group in question are found all across the city, but Connaught Place, some police officers believe, has become a hub for them due to several reasons. “A large number of devotees visiting the Hanuman Temple, Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and other religious places in the vicinity give them both money and food leaving them with enough money to pay to the drug peddlers. Besides, Connaught Place being the bustling area ensures that activities such as shoplifting and petty thefts often go unnoticed in the chaos,” said a police officer on condition of anonymity.
Indulging in theft and snatching is what the drug addicts resort to when their bodies crave for drugs. This poses a major threat to the safety of pedestrians in the area, particularly the subways of Connaught Place at night.
“Most among these addicts have been abandoned by their families or don’t have a family and hence a place to live. They are reluctant to go to night shelters, aware of the fact that they would not be allowed to consume drugs,” says a beat constable who has held many drug addicts in the past.
Asked about the behaviour of such drug addicts (or ‘smackies’ as the more popular word goes), the constable says that more than others they are a potential threat to themselves.
“They scream, bang their heads against walls and at times even go to the extent of cutting the veins on their arms with razor blades when they do not get these substances,” he says.
Due to their erratic behaviour, the constable adds, the police make sure that once arrested the drug addicts are produced in the court at the earliest. The court then sends them to de-addiction centres or jail as per its discretion.
However, there are offenders who return to drugs once they are released from prison or come out of rehabilitation, sometimes immediately after their release.