Focus on recovery, not prohibition
The ongoing crackdown on narcotics is now at the juncture where prohibition and punishment collide with injustice.
On the one hand, the zero tolerance policies declared over the trafficking of drugs is justifiably laudable; but on the other, questions of the law enforcement agencies playing judge, jury, and executioner, pointing to a Duterte-style war on drugs right here in Bangladesh, can’t be ignored.
In the light of the ambivalence, where does the line between right and wrong get drawn? But more importantly, are we merely solving a symptom of a disease more grievous?
According to NGOs working towards eradicating drug addiction, there are around 7 million yaba addicts who are counted for. Last year, reportedly, an estimated Tk350 crore worth of yaba pills were sold, which makes monthly profits at around Tk30 crore.
These alarming -- and quite possibly understated -- statistics point to something more sinister that goes beyond substance abuse: Addiction.
Under the bridge
We know that the body craves the chemical hooks which exist in narcotics, once it has been chronically exposed to drugs, that is. But we need to ask ourselves where the root of addiction is planted.
Sometime in the 20th century, there was an experiment done with heroin, wherein a mouse was put inside a cage with two bottles: One filled with water, and the other with water laced with heroin. The mouse ended up drinking away all of the drugged water, till it overdosed and died.
A similar experiment was conducted in the 1970s by a psychology professor, except, this time, he put together a lush cage with all the things mice fancy -- balls and tunnels and other mice to mate with -- alongside the two water bottles.
At the end of the experiment, the drugged water bottle was hardly drunk from, and no mouse overdosed.
A similar phenomenon was seen in American soldiers who were abusing substances during the Vietnam War. When the soldiers came back home to their families, surprisingly, their drug habits stopped altogether.
The need for humans (and rodents too) to connect with those around us is innate. What these examples show is that when we’re isolated and caged in, we are going to find something to bond with, anything that brings us a sense of relief or comfort.
This bond could be one with our phones, video games, or drugs. But in a healthy and content state of mind, that bond is with the people we want to be close to.
City of scars
Dhaka isn’t an easy city to live in. It’s much harder for those who don’t fall into the very narrow bracket of multiple cars and houses, even more so if you’re a woman, but every single one of us has been dragged through the mud by the city, both literally and figuratively.
Be it the everyday stress of traffic, or the anxiety of pushing through bureaucracy, Dhaka has mastered the art of draining a body.
On top of that, from our childhood, we are taught what constitutes a good person, and what we must refrain from, lest we turn into bad people.
The majority of parents and teachers and well-wishers hardly mention why these are so, and how one could be somewhere in between, and still fare well.
There is no regulating.
When the freedom of growing up brings forth exposure to newer things, we perhaps shed some of those binaries we were taught as kids, but we hardly acquire the knowledge of the process of regulation which we so badly need.
The result is an inability to moderate -- it shows in the way some of us support a sports team, or the way we fall in love, or the dependency on the drug of our choice.
The truth is, we live in an unkind and unfriendly city that pushes its inhabitants over the edge mentally, emotionally, and if the land grabbing is anything to go by, physically.
If every single day’s reality is compounded by the anxiety or frustration over getting even the most menial of things done, who wouldn’t want to escape reality?
When we’re traumatized and beaten down by life, with little awareness of regulating the things at hand which give us pleasure, succumbing to the forces of addiction is an easy way out.
And the path out of that isn’t sobriety per se, it’s the environment to form healthy bonds.
From a problem-solving point of view, we need to talk about recovery.
That entails acknowledging that the system we have in place makes people miserable and that we punish them for being that way. It involves understanding that addiction is one symptom of the disease of the overwhelming disconnection.
If the West’s almost century-long war on drugs is anything to go by, it’s that the fighting has made things catastrophically worse. In order to avoid the devastating consequences of the campaign against drugs, it isn’t prohibition that needs to be the focus. It’s recovery.
And that need not only be individual recovery from addiction -- it is imperative that we as a society recover from the notions we’ve put in place that lead people to the forces of undesirable and uninhibited compulsions.
Luba Khalili is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.