A woman's leadership in mobilizing an Indian community for drug control


Adoption of a community approach


Author: K. BEDI
Pages: 15 to 21
Creation Date: 1995/01/01

A woman's leadership in mobilizing an Indian community for drug control

K. BEDI* General Secretary, Navjyoti Delhi Police Foundation for Correction, De-Addiction and Rehabilitation, New Delhi, India


Crime prevention is usually given a lower priority and underestimated as an area of policing. Detection and seizures attract priority and headlines, not the prevention of delinquency and breach of peace, which have all the potential of violent crime. Policing is for people: therefore, people must be made partners in policing. Once that goal is achieved, the whole system becomes transparent and accountable. Resources that cannot come from the police or Government alone come from participative policing. The present article describes a unique and innovative programme in substance abuse management by a combined initiative of community and police officials, which led to the establishment of the Navjyoti Delhi Police Foundation for Correction, De-Addiction and Rehabilitation.


The programme began as an experiment in 1986 when the author of the present article became the head of the North District, one of six police districts in Delhi. The job requirements were crime prevention, detection, law and order control and personnel management. The North District police force consisted of about 2,000 male police officers and 8 women police officers. The author was one of the eight. The difference was that she was the Deputy Commissioner of the North District and led the almost all-male police force. The area of the North District comprised 116 square miles with a population of about 1.6 million. The North District was jurisdictionally divided into 19 police stations, each headed by an inspector of police.

*The author wishes to thank the following persons for their input in the group sessions held prior to the preparation of this article: Suneel Vatsyayan, Director, Navjyoti; Dr. J.P.S., Bakshi, ex-Director (Administration), Navjyoti; Dr. Ajay Grover, Medical Officer, Navjyoti; Dr. Vijay Bhushan Gupta B. R- Kashyap, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Delhi; M. D. Mehta, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Delhi; Najeeb Ahmed, Officer in charge of Project Navjyoti; Raj Rani Saxena, Programme Officer, Navjyoti; Dr. S. D. Dwivedi, Programme Officer, Yoga, Navjyoti; Dr. B. L. Batra, ex-Medical Officer, Navjyoti; Dr. Suresh Pal; Dr. H. S. Malik; and Bhoop Singh, Inspector, Delhi Police.

The crime scene in the North District appeared to be under control; however, the problem of heroin supply and demand was out of control. The social costs and consequences of heroin addiction in the community were also alarming. Delhi was encountering a phenomenon for which it was totally ill prepared and which neither the police nor the parents of the abusers could understand. No one knew how to handle the situation. All were losers except the men, women and even children who were making quick financial gains as regular suppliers of heroin. Some of them had also become consumers and addicted pedlars. Many officials in the law enforcement agencies were like parasites, who were receiving their regular share of bribes. Property crime was rising because of the strong relationship between heroin abuse and thefts. In 1986, the records of the North District police force showed that out of every two persons arrested for property crimes, one was a heroin abuser. Along with such crimes there was rampant domestic violence. The prime victims were mothers, wives and sisters, all of them soft targets, from whom physical retaliation was least expected. In addition to the domestic violence suffered by these women, their valuables within their homes were being stolen. Drug abusers were desperately selling off household articles to sustain their habits. A particular case that came to the notice of the police was that of a university student, who was offering herself to men in order to obtain her daily dose of drugs.

Certain localities in the North District were infested with the supply and consumption of heroin and were all suffering from the consequences of drug abuse. The police were severely handicapped because of the following factors:

  1. Women police officers were not available to accompany their male colleagues in searching houses and arresting female pedlars;

  2. The accused, even when they were arrested, would be out on bail in next to no time and able to start trading again;

  3. The situation was like an epidemic; intense pressure was driving the sellers from one locality to another and eventually just beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the North District, thereby enabling them to escape the intensity of surveillance;

  4. Corruption had seeped into law enforcement and was good business for some police officers;

  5. A feeling of helplessness prevailed, even among the parents and victims of abusers;

  6. People were ignorant of how to manage and assist an abuser;

  7. Abusers suspected of a crime were a serious hazard for the police even if they remained in custody prior to their appearance before the court, as there could be judicial problems if they were to die in custody from withdrawal symptoms.

Adoption of a community approach

Against this background, an innovative, problem-solving approach was adopted, which was comprehensive and collectively corrective. It was comprehensive because an effectively supervised ground-level patrol was formed to cut off supplies. This measure allowed neighbourhood-watch groups constant and regular interaction with the officers on patrol. Each group felt responsible for developments and detections, which led to the reduction of supplies and improved intelligence on individuals who still wanted to take chances with the law. Telephone lines were provided for the public to call the police control room and were well publicized. This measure brought the availability of narcotic drugs under control.

The area where the police had neither the training nor the backup infrastructure on which they could rely was management of drug abusers. Experience had shown that most drug abusers who were sent to hospital for treatment absconded and remained at large, which led to a general feeling of helplessness. In one densely populated, drug-infested slum colony with over 15,000 households, the inhabitants were poor, unemployed or earning little, and largely illiterate. Each family also had a number of children who were not attending school. Health facilities and other civic amenities were non-existent as the whole colony was illegal. This type of environment breeds crime, including the trafficking and consumption of drugs. For many women, men and children, drug trafficking was a quick way of earning money for the day. However, as they trafficked, they began to experiment with drugs themselves, which caused them to become addicted. Children and women all too easily became facilitators of drug peddling as it was difficult and ineffective to arrest them because their arrests generated complaints by the public against the police. The police therefore had almost given up on this colony and similar ones in the North District.

Then the North District police force took a policy decision to assist those helpless people. A change of attitude and strategies was worked out. The objective was demand reduction through community participation. Meetings were called within the heart of the colonies affected to address the residents. The policy of effective law enforcement was made known, and the offer of working together for rehabilitation was made to those willing to cooperate. A date was set for both policies to be initiated. Women police officers were drafted both to patrol and to conduct searches and were urged not to be hesitant in arresting women caught trafficking in drugs. Some arrests were made, which sent a loud and clear message. The residents then started to demand alternatives. It was at that point that vocational training centres, financially supported by the Good Samaritans, were started for women who wanted to be trained in alternative ways of earning their livelihood. These centres were begun from the abandoned homes of the main drug suppliers, who chose to leave the area rather than stay and be arrested or isolated. A school was opened to provide formal and informal literacy programmes for children and adolescents. The drug abusers of the locality, deprived of their easy "dose", then wanted medical help. To meet this need, the North District police force decided to open a detoxification centre in another locality, on the premises of a police station. Citizens' forums and neighbourhoods came forward and volunteered their services. Doctors, social workers, counsellors and yoga teachers were available and the chemists' association offered free medicines. Food for the patients was provided by their families. Thus began in June 1987 the first four weeks of voluntary residential treatment and cost- free detoxification ever to be conducted from the premises of a policy station.

The treatment centre was called Navjyoti, a Hindi word meaning "new hope", and was inaugurated by the Commissioner of Police of Delhi in the presence of local political leaders, eminent citizens, police officers, parents of abusers and residents.

The Navjyoti programme was unique in the annals of police-community relationships. Never before had the Indian police assumed a corrective social role as depicted in this model. The abusers came in large numbers, by themselves or accompanied by their families, to be admitted into the programme. There was a noticeable rush for treatment. The young male abusers started to recover and were willing to change their habits. With good security at the police station, and comprehensive medical and social services, the Navjyoti programme began to provide an integrated approach to the management of abusers. The families were extremely cooperative and supportive, as they saw the benefits of recovery. Hope began to be visible.

The North District police force did not stop at one centre, and went on to open five other centres on police-station premises within a period of six months. These were all in areas of the North District that needed such services. The goodwill of the citizens was overwhelming as they donated time, services and materials to help fight the menace of drug abuse.

By the end of 1987, a reasonably comprehensive multidimensional approach had emerged, based on initial medical support to handle the withdrawal symptoms, followed by yoga to restore physical and mental balance. Trained counsellors helped families to understand the problem of drug abuse, while they worked on the individual patients to ensure that they received personal attention. The patrol network also established a programme of home visits after the former abusers' discharge from the treatment centres. Volunteers from the neighbourhood were drafted to assist the patrols. They helped return the relapsed abusers for readmission before they fell back into the vicious cycle linking drugs, crime, prison and release on bail followed by recidivism.

All six Navjyoti centres were run entirely by professionals working as volunteers. In addition, other non-governmental agencies were involved in providing yoga and counselling and so the Navjyoti programme was able to raise the human resources and material support that it needed.

It was then time to evaluate the Navjyoti programme and decide on the future course of the centres. A meeting of police officers of the North District was called in order to obtain their inputs. They were unanimously of the view that the centres had played a corrective role in fighting the problem of drug supply and demand, and had enabled the police and the community to show themselves to be equal to the challenge. To ensure sustainability, the Navjyoti programme needed to ensure consolidation and to be institutionalized. The people in the North District were asked to make a decision jointly on the future and an open meeting with the residents' associations and supportive citizens was called. The feedback was very encouraging. All the participants were of the view that the Navjyoti programme had brought a semblance of control to a hopeless situation. It had reversed the trend of rapidly growing drug supply and demand. It had put a brake on property crimes, particularly those committed by the abuser population. People wanted the Navjyoti programme to continue and offered to help in any way necessary for it to be selfsustaining. The meeting resulted in a decision to institutionalize the work and to establish Navjyoti as a registered society. Financial support was pledged and collected during the meeting.

The Navjyoti Delhi Police Foundation for Correction, De-Addiction and Rehabilitation was registered as a society on 5 January 1988. The Commissioner of Police of Delhi was appointed ex-officio President and the author, General Secretary. All police officers who were directly managing the centres in the six police stations became founders. All donations in cash or kind were taken into account and the Navjyoti Foundation became a self-sustaining entity. It engaged its own full-time professional staff of doctors, yoga therapists, psychiatrists, counsellors, home visitors and round-the-clock supervisors. It also employed some office staff and an accounts manager.

All these enterprising developments, however, were not without their share of obstacles, of which, surprisingly, the greatest came from the Central and State social welfare departments. They considered that drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation was not a job for the police and that it could have been better left to them. In other words, if they could not do it, no one else ought to. Hence they were seen and heard criticizing the police initiatives and even questioning the methodology without offering any alternatives. Popular opinion remained unchanged, however, and the North District police continued its work undeterred.

Since the centres were run on the basis of voluntary services, enthusiasm had to be sustained, a need that called for a great deal of personal time, persistent initiatives and regular follow-up by the leadership. There were times when the centres ran out of funds, which then had to be raised and replenished. This activity was hard on the police officers, but all of them were convinced that it had to be done for the larger cause of prevention and community help.

For the first five years of its existence, the Navjyoti Foundation operated from year to year on funds raised by the community to meet its financial costs. Thereafter, a small grant was made by the Ministry of Social Welfare, and the Foundation was formally accepted and the centres recognized, although they continued to depend on the help of the public. Ten years later, the Navjyoti Foundation still has no core funding, and exists from year to year on donations and the funds raised.

It has detoxified over 9,000 substance abusers, free of charge. The abusers who are admitted pay only for their food. The Navjyoti programme advocates a comprehensive strategy, which includes (a) demand reduction, and (b) harm reduction.

Demand reduction includes educational programmes, as well as cultural and social alternatives to dependence. Harm reduction includes treatment, rehabilitation and social welfare programmes that address the needs of people who suffer from drug-related problems. The main aim is to reduce the drug-related harm to society.

The aim of the Navjyoti programme is the attainment of a drug-free environment in the belief that an active lifestyle without the use of narcotics and the non-medical use of other psychoactive drugs is the best foundation for a good life.

The Navjyoti programme follows the principle of psycho-social management, which is adhered to by a team of trained social workers, counsellors, paraprofessionals, yoga therapists and abusers who are recovering and physicians who practise homeopathic medicine. The Navjyoti programme does not advocate the use of substitute substances, but total abstinence from all chemicals, including those used for the purpose of detoxification. During detoxification, patients find themselves in crisis: irritable, full of psychological defences and in a state of denial such as shielding themselves from reality. Many of them have neither the wish to live nor the will to fight. Most have very low self-esteem. In that phase, the role of counselling is supportive and assists the drug abusers in strengthening their motivation to pass through the detoxification phase. Various approaches are applied, such as self-relaxation, meditation, reassurance and use of inspirational group therapy in which detoxified patients join new patients and discuss and share the problems they have already experienced. Patients usually remain at a Navjyoti centre for three weeks after detoxification is over.

The Navjyoti approach also follows cognitive modalities. There are lectures, workshops and group counselling sessions where patients receive training in assertiveness, social skills and sexual functioning. For example, in the one-to-one counselling session, some of the major areas covered are as follows:

  1. Decision-making;

  2. Developing a positive integrated view of life; one's own place in a social network of relationships;

  3. Rebuilding relationships with family members or non-drug-dependent- former friends;

  4. Re-entering the academic or employment stream;

  5. Developing non-escapist attitudes to reality;

  6. Dealing with associational memories and situational factors that might be conducive to relapse.

Patients often tend to develop depression in the period of recovery. They also tend to become anxious and disturbed at rather innocuous comments, gestures and actions of people close to them. Helping drug abusers at such moments is important.

The Navjyoti Foundation also initiated a family service as a self-help group and family assistance programme, which helps family members to cope with the impact of drug abuse on the family either as individuals or as a group. The Navjyoti After- Care Service assists in achieving the ultimate goal of helping the former abuser to reintegrate into society. This Service involves a day-care centre, which former abusers attend for a minimum of 180 days, and the provision of medical services, counselling, home visits and community-based self-help group meetings. In addition, the wives or mothers of recovering drug abusers have taken charge of their lives and formed, in the localities where they reside, mutual-help groups called "Enabling Women", which are linked to the Navjyoti programme.

One of the principles of the Navjyoti programme is that rehabilitation is not an attainment but an attitude towards the drug abuser, recognizing that:

  1. Drug dependence is an experience of human beings, not a property of certain drugs;

  2. Individual strength, rather than pathology, is the focus;

  3. Behaviour is, in part, a function of the resources available to people;

  4. The community is a resource and not an obstacle.

Finally, the Navjyoti approach is very challenging and difficult because, according to it, the process of treating and rehabilitating drug abusers should always be open to new possibilities so as to maximize the potential for the former abuser's recovery and reintegration into society.