Friday, 21 October 2016

Placing Social Distance (Us and Them) within Security Approach and Peace Approach

Placing Social Distance (Us and Them) within Security Approach and Peace Approach       

The Time for Art of War is Over, it is Time for Peace

We guard our borders with intensity that can evoke envy in any species, the passion associated with a line of demarcation, largely hypothetical which few citizens would have seen or conceptualized beyond maps, is remarkable. Yet, we treat human beings within the borders as disposable ‘products’ whose aspirations need to be addressed as when their expression of dissatisfaction crosses the limit of  violence palatable to our 'sensitive souls'.

India can blame its neighbors for acts of violence but can we as Indians state with a clear conscience that we asserted the rights of all our co-citizens, especially those who differed in their physical attributes from us or those whom we perceived to be of lower stature or those who we could never accept because of their historical desire to have more constitutional independence than us. Can we erase the scars that it has left on our collective consciousness through the years, since independence.

Beings, when born, are not nurtured by food, human ties of warmth and social norms alone but also by the collective consciousness which communicates in verbal and non-verbal ways. The social distance between groups is strengthened through the use of racially coloured slang, gestures of discrimination or expressions; all contributing to building walls of separation ‘Us and Them’.

If this is the case, can India actually hope for a sustainable peace other than as spurts of ‘an absence of acts of violence’. A condition which is termed as negative peace by Gultang Johana (1).

Many countries in conflict have historical baggage they refused to address and pushed under the carpet with the hope that time would diffuse the tension. Often systems of governance, both formal and informal, focused on issues associated with negative peace and thereby on acts of violence for making its population and area secure. The process of governance, probably, ensures a spiral of silence around issues that are too unpalatable to our sensitive souls, ‘spiral of silence’ referring to how we silence ourselves to fall in line with what we consider the majority view.

Yet, these views find a space in the mainstream media at times as local people find discrimination and violence is a daily reality, they are rarely immune to its presence. It exists within them and somewhere despite all our efforts finds a niche in the collective consciousness.

Even countries equipped with the best of defence strategies, national and international, can be found to be extremely vulnerable when social distance exists within, cultural or racially, different groups. The discrimination can get entrenched and sustained through structural and institutional action, explicit or implicit. The reality in the United States is a clear assertion of the same. A sense of being excluded which goes beyond policies and ethical framework to become part of everyday reality.

We do yearn for inclusiveness and can assert it loud and clear as seen in case when a little one was washed over on the shores of Europe. But can inclusiveness be an isolated momentary expression, isn’t it something that has to be nurtured through the years, for that shift in perception, from being discriminatory to perceiving unity in diversity.

If, social distance does play a role in facilitating or hindering peace process, maybe it is worth the while to dwell on how our systems of governance and society is undertaking this task.

I. Governance For Peace

When peace is seen as an absence of violence then the system of governance will opt for security approach as a means for attaining peace. It is only when a country opts out of this tunnelled vision, to a holistic perspective that it moves beyond the security approach to look at sustainable peace, even as a concept.

I. a. Security Approach – To detect the Enemy and Secure the Nation

The security approach places its body of knowledge within the ‘Art of War’ Strategies that have been evolved by strategists on the conventional battlefield or conceptualized by others for those waging a war (2). When depending on strategies that have been evolved by Sun-Tzu (4th Century BC), Chuko Liang (A.D. 181-234), Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821 ), and Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), the underlying assumption is that the context surrounding war has not changed from that of conventional war. Hasn’t the context changed?

It would be interesting to note that Sun-Tzu to ensure women got oriented to Art of War, beheaded two women leaders to ensure women got beyond giggles and learnt the Art of War. In fact according the manuscript, “when you lay down a law, see that its is not disobeyed, if it is disobeyed the offender must be put to death” (3). With such stringent provision to ensure adherence, it is natural that the society was largely pacific and intensely opposed to militarism in any form.
Fight over terrain- geographical Demarcations

War in yesteryears meant control over borders and asserting the desire to expand the boundaries of the Kingdom. Different groups fought in the battlefield to conquer terrain and the assets that went with it.

In today’s world with, by and large, clearly, demarcated borders the dispute is far more within countries or within a region. There isn’t an unknown enemy to study or an unfamiliar terrain to entice one’s enemy into to ensure the final fall.

Often there is powerful State which is perceived to be a aggressor by some groups who use violence to assert their view. Since, the latter neither has the resources nor the manpower to fight a conventional war they opt for unconventional warfare and the concerned state often respond in kind.
There is no foreign terrain for the victorious to conquer and lord over, there are natural resources (oil, minerals, gas) to take control of, even if through backdoor channels. Unlike earlier war situations, where the mind of the vanquished was immaterial, today it the mind of the vanquished that matters. For the scope for any semblance of peace depends on the perceived reality of the vanquished or the rebels.

If peace hinges on human beings and their perceived desire to be part of the society there is a need for us to look at “war strategies” and explore whether they put in place walls of separation or nurture bridges across differences. Contextualizing the relevance of a few strategies, held in high esteem in the present day may be useful.

a) Expanding the scope for profiling an enemy- To declare war on your enemy it is necessary to identify your enemy, especially those who remain outside your vision. For best results keep expanding the concept of your enemy, identifying even those who show subtle affinity for a different world view.

b) Personalize the fight, ensure those who engage in war feel the desire to vanquish the enemy. Basically, transform war into a crusade.

c) To deter the enemy create a threatening presence, use any means to achieve one’s goal, deception being central to it.

d). Have a grand strategy to win the war be it through divide and conquer or destroying the source of power or enveloping the enemy psychologically till they break down and give in.

While the Art of War may give an excellent insight into strategies to be adopted and the enemy to be vanquished as an issue for the future. It gives no clarity how the process will bring peace to warring groups within a given society, state or region. A dependence on the security approach for peace will but ensure that walls of separation are strengthened and sustained. Making walls of separation a permanent reality for years to come.

I.b. Security Approach and Social Distance

The central crux of the security approach is to dehumanize the enemy, for any tinge of sympathy or empathy is perceived as a hurdle or threat to wining a war. This means the social distance between the ground troops and the local people is systematically increased and institutionalized. This clearly explains the reason for using disproportional force, whereby individuals can have their entire back riddled with pellets (4) or corpses are found with a liberal spray of bullets (5), and plays out in our national reality of conflict management.

The extreme sense of detachment ensures the army personnel rarely see the humane side of the ‘enemy’. Functioning within this tunneled vision of conflict reality, sustainable peace is an an alien reality, probably assumed to be a product of wishful thinking.

I.c.What the Security Approach does in Conflict.

According to Mitchell Chris (1981) in Demmers Jolle (2012) “…, conflict are not static phenomenon, and hence the dynamic aspect of conflict which alter both structure and inter party relation over time,.. (6)

Chris Mitchell (1981) used the triangle put forwards by John Galtung to explore the dynamic process of conflict. The three points of the triangle are Attitude (a), Behavior (b) and Contradicts (c) often referring to goals. In conflict situation, contradiction in goals set the ball rolling, attitude and behavior adds fuel to the fire.

When Security Approach is implemented for peace, the natural focus would be:

  • To strengthen the attitudinal difference or mis-perception of the other to the extent, if necessary, dehumanize the enemy,
  • To focus on the behavior of enemy, rarely dwell on questionable behavior of self and others whom one considers to be one’s own. Even when focusing on behavior of enemy, it is a tunneled vision that isn’t contextualized, effort is taken to ensure there isn’t an iota of scope to instill critical analysis in the minds of the public.
  • Motivate individuals by playing on negative emotions towards the groups in conflict rather than initiate rational thinking.
  • Ground strategies that are meant to win a conventional war can have different impact when dealing with conflict. For example, the divide and conquer strategy. When used in today’s setting can destroy a terror group, but it can also ensure splinters penetrate the society at large and make any positive change extremely difficult. Often to penetrate and divide the enemy, deceit is an important tool, and deceitful experience makes most people strengthen walls of separations. To do otherwise they need to be enlightened beings and terrorists in violent conflict are rarely enlightened beings.

I. d. Terrorism and Its link to Security Approach

Violence has been used through out history as a means to be heard, to assert a different viewpoint and fight against abuse of one’s right or world view. Violence also finds takers, who enjoy acts of violence and the pain it inflicts. Today’s reality presents different types of groups who base themselves in some sort of socio-political and religious frame and others who seem to glorify violence.

While we may feel a total disconnect with expressions of violence by terror groups, a critical look at acts of terror may indicates its link to a body of knowledge - Art of War, which evolved through centuries and we are immensely proud off.

• Know your enemy’s mind- Understand how mind works to wage a psychological warfare. The
  focus is to unhinge their mind. Isn’t this what the terrorists are doing when they bomb a location to
  ensure maximum damage and strengthen the sense of fear.

• The Blitzkrieg strategy- To overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness. Use speed to strike
  and if possible use different modes of attack to immobilize the opponent. When terrorists use timer
  bombs at different locations simultaneously, the terrorist is using a strategy we put in place.

II. Need for Peace

Our world presents two different attempts to bring peace, both focus on the use of violence as a means to an end; at one end is the security approach and at other end the terror groups who claim they are fighting for their people. Neither are bringing peace, both are managing to create a world filled with distrust and deceit; where building walls may be seen as a moral duty. Is this what we want, divided sections across the globe, where freedom will be defined by how secure it is ?

Johan Galtung (ibid), when looking at dynamic process of peace, focused on interaction between attitude, behavior and the contradiction in goals and how it can play out in different levels: culture, nature, structure and interaction among them. Most of all how to research these aspects and try to intervene.

Experience creates a narrative within individuals, families and communities these can be transferred from one generation to other, based on the duration of conflict. The extent to which such discriminatory or dehumanizing narrative gets entrenched within the minds of people may influence a long violent struggle.

The measures taken both by the army and terrorist groups affect the lives of local population, often making things that are normally taken for granted a difficult struggle. Strikes called to draw the attention of the State can last for weeks and months, as seen in the case of Manipur and other parts of the north eastern region. This disturbs basic services, education, health care, small trade, informal sources of livelihood and even access to basic household items. Individuals would be forced to seek alternate arrangements that rarely come without riders, may very well go to further complicate the complex local reality.

We, from the mainstream in other parts of India, find it trying when basic services are taken away for a day and yet when thinking about areas in conflict we do not give that a second thought even when it appears a normalcy for the region. With that blatant differentiation in perception about our rights and theirs can we expect a peaceful interaction to evolve.

When the system can be blatantly unaccountable it is foolish to think that any government schemes or services would be functioning with any sense of accountability. Especially when the absence of an accountability towards a tribal population can be a reality even for a state as Kerala which has one of the best social development indicators for the country. Recent investigation reports on tribal communities by the Asianet News Channel (19 and 20th Oct,2016) provided details how even money meant for ensuring transportation services for children from tribal populations to reach schools, schemes for pregnant mothers and infants have been misappropriated by officials can we then in India expect accountability in trouble torn conflict areas?

At times the harsh form of violence meted out to the less privileged is revolting, a recent report said in a remote region of Jammu, a father found his newborn, in a Government maternity ward, with marks of rat bites and he even witnessed them nibble away at his loved one who had passed away (7)
Along with silent violence the presence of human rights violations, ensures the local population feeling alienated from mainstream society, the experience is far from welcoming when people in conflict try to find a foothold in other metro cities of India. The mainstream media has reported instances of physical/sexual abuse, at times abuse that has turned fatal. This has but increased the sense of alienation. For these migrants even day to day existence can be tough; from finding a place to reside, to protect oneself from being taunted for being different or being overcharged when using basic services.

In fact to go back to the Art of War (Sun Tzu) according to the text, a country can benefit from prolonged warfare “… who is thoroughly acquainted with evils of war that can throughly understand the profitable ways of carrying it on”. In the present day reality, the ways and means in which unconventional warfare takes shape given the access to technology and a fertile mind, the possibility for anyone having a hold on or understanding the probable evils of unconventional war is limited, and the relevance of the Art of War is highly questionable for the present day.

III. Ways to Peace

The passage to peace is complex in its simplicity. Peace is a treasure we value when it is beyond our grasp, that is when we struggle to be in its clasp. The Art of War, evolved through the decades is a body of knowledge that forms the basis of our deterrence strategy even though it has been the recipe for a divided society. For peace, there is a need to journey in the opposite direction to create a sense of unity in diversity. To understand the reality that the Whole is more than sum of its Parts.

On this journey it may be useful to take the Art of War strategies and turn it upside down.

To illustrate, lets take one strategy and change it.

III. a. Build them in Detail

Art of War orients us to Defeat them in Detail, we could instead for peace ‘build the population’ living in conflict areas, especially those who face the brunt of conflict. Instead of dividing, focus can be on identifying ways to strengthen linkages within the community and if possible with the mainstream in other parts of India. Efforts can focus on ensuring at least the basic rights of a citizen are respected, such as access to education, livelihood, food security and safety from abuse and corruption. Prosecuting individuals legally or otherwise for having familial or other associations with alleged or known terrorists may fit into the Art of War strategy, where the focus is to expand the scope of identifying the probable enemy, but this is a hindrance to peace. It may form the basis for the alienation of a large number of the population, who may abhor violence irrespective of who commits it. It also forms the rational for terrorist groups to recruit new aspirants.

Understanding silent violence may be a difficult task but not unsurmountable, there are agencies that work on these, may be the government does have reservations about their assertion, but then, all of them can’t be lying. Besides professional committees are formed and sent on fact finding missions, but rarely are the reports collated for synthesis and action.

Probably, the Government/State wants to fall in line with provisions under the Art of War, which is “Negotiate while advancing, the diplomatic war strategy. It elaborates on how not to give in to appeal for fairness and morality as it may be seen as a sign of weakness and used as a cover to advance their position. The source of the strategy Prince Klemens Ver Metternich (1774-1859)..." Let us always carry the sword in one hand and olive branch in the other, always ready to negotiate but negotiate only while advancing”.

But, hasn’t the world changed, Prince Klemens Ver Metternich did not have to deal with globalization, multi-racial/ethnic profiles of local population, the presence of individuals willing to link with insurgent or terrorist groups for various individual, religious, ethnic, political reason or their mix. Besides, the lack of communication and resources then restricted the scope for individuals to opt to be part of unconventional war, which is not the case, today.

Clearly the Art of War and its product the security approach cannot be the sole or main solution to deal with a conflict situation or terrorism. Neither can we hope for a Blitzkrieg strategy to work, instead we need a snail pace approach that focuses on detail to enhance its quality and relevance. An approach where there is no exit strategy, but takes steps to ensure change is integrated within the system and individuals/groups at all levels. The focus is not on division but unity in diversity.

The present day security approach can set in place a divided society that in the short run may benefit the armament industry, military industry and private partners who play a direct and indirect role. But, not for long.

It is time for change, to opt for sustainable peace, otherwise nature that thrives on diversity might decide that the human race can turn extinct.


1. Johan Galtung, “Peace by Peaceful Conflict Transformation- Transcend Approach in Webel 
    Charles. Galtung Jung (ed.) (2007) Handbook on Peace and Conflict Studies. Taylor and Francis         e-Library.

2. This paper has extensively used the publication Greene Robert (2010). The Concise 33 Strategies
   of War. Viva Books: New Delhi.

3. Sun Tzu (2015) The Art of War. Wisehouse : Sweden

4. Asia News Channel had extensive coverage on ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir in their
   investigation section in Oct 2015

5. Charles Molly (2015) Manipur in Conflict in

6. Demmers Jolle (2012). Theories of Conflict. Routledge: New York.

7. Indian Express (17/10/ 2016) Nibbled by Rats in J &K hospital new born dies. Indian Express,
    Thiruvananthapuram. Kollam Edition. p.7

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Social Distance & Violence- Our Unpaid cognisable offences

Social Distance & Violence- Our Unpaid cognisable offences

Violence, unlike its portrayal is rarely an individual reality that emerges from a vacuum. Our perception of violence and the response it evokes is a product of socialization with culture, ethnicity, sense of identity, technology, skill, all playing a significant role, at times far more than the long hands of the law.

A reality to confront the United Nations or other agencies, when setting in place a universal frame to perceive, to react and act (to prevent, restrict or reform/rehabilitate), be it to address violence or assertion of rights.

Given the diversity in culture, technological advancement, and presence of conflict between individuals or communities, if setting in systems of management with definite terms of reference is seen as the only option to facilitate the evolution of a collective frame of reference from a distance, the task would prove trying and is bound to fail.

Is there a short cut to deal with violence sans its socio-political reality?

Our visual media sharpens its skills to portray violence, for us to relate to and identify with actors or animations in the virtual world. We are in tune with the creations and look forward for the journey, our mind tries to direct the course of events or at least relate with it; we rarely want to distance our emotions from the visuals.

Our mind set changes, when watching news coverage on violent confrontation between groups with diverse perceptions or world views. We take all steps possible to distance ourselves from the events flashing on the screen, be it to sip a cup of coffee, smoke a cig, or simply be acutely objective or cynical about life. No longer the desire to direct the course of events or to relate, only a desire to switch off- immediately or later after news loses its news value. A desire to maintain a distance at any cost.

Admitted, there are times when section of the viewers identifies with the other side, based on their perception and intensity of identification they take different steps, be it to shift from a viewer to that of actor seeking social/political change through peaceful assertion of their views or taking on arms to act out their disagreement.

Individuals may want to reduce any felt or perceivable distance with the group they identify with, for which they may change their faith, lifestyle, social network and in extreme cases uproot themselves and their families. Any measure is taken to reduce distance and strengthen active identification process.

This analytical/introspective piece tries to explore the role of social distance reducing or increasing perceived vulnerability to violence and management of violence.

I. Social Distance and Our lives

Social Distance, the concept that is very much part of our daily lives, we rarely discern it except as part of our holistic perception or understanding of a situation. At the same time, social scientists understanding its relevance, hope to be able to measure it like intelligence, someday.

As pointed by Robert Park (1924), the lady of the house may be in most intimate personal relations with her cook, but this drastically changes when guests arrive. While, in West professionalism has taken over, there still exists dichotomy for when they meet in different social setting after work hours, the subordinate in a social relation would rarely take for granted his/her presence to be acknowledged.

In India, it is rarely subtle the sudden shifts in non verbal communication can be stark for acute observer, and both parties of the interaction accept this as matter of fact basis. Why do we do this, an interesting query for introspection.

I. a. Social Distance and Identities

We cling to our identities for they give meaning to our existence but are they more relevant than being humane. It is an assertion of freedom to hold on to our rituals, life style and violation of the same when we to insist others follow our footsteps with no questions asked.

Our arrogant claim that values and perceptions we adhere to, be upheld by others only bring forth our naïve understanding about our species- the human form; for it has taken on and lived by norms of many cultures, travelled through different spaces to reach its present location and form. As per our convenience we cordon off our historical time lines and guard our areas with commendable diligence, the problem arises when we want no deviations and dream of uniform replicas of us all over the global space.

Social Distance and Gender Identification.

English language may have positive terms for female gender, the fairer sex or better half. These are just words, often most cultures expect women to submissively walk behind or stand by the side. Admitted there are couples who enjoy harmony of power play within relationships, but the general trend remains skewed.

If, anyone has doubts and state equality exists in western culture, please take another look beyond personal liberties of dress code, consumerist life style, rights enjoyed upon divorce; there is at maximum token representation of women in positions of power in area of governance, military, finance/banking, corporate etc.

What is shocking is that in spite of the great effort cultures take to show the woman their place in society; men still don’t seem to feel all that powerful. They would not think twice about using force of disproportionate proposition to assert self in domestic life. The question to be asked why are men so insecure, for a secure being rarely feels so threatened even when holding position of power. Why the continuous need for stimuli that assert their positions of power?

The relevance of these queries will be significant, if one were to go through reasons for fatal domestic violence, in India. The reason is as simple as “when I came home and asked for food, she was grumbling; I got angry hit her hard with iron rod and she died”. Domestic crimes are often indicators of how Governance (be it any political ideology) has miserably failed to be gender sensitive. The total insensitivity of all political parties in India to look at issue of right of women to land and other family assets, is a clear indication of the abysmal concern any political ideology has about woman and her search for identity.

The stark gap between governance measures to strengthen gender sensitivity and instances of sexual assaults and fatal crimes is widening.The dark side of skewed male superiority is evident when crimes are reported where vicious sexual assault and mutilation is carried out emphasizing the perverse assertion of power. All in the name of failed Love (sic) or for being taunted and male ego being trampled upon (sic).

Is society really not to blame, for identity and sensitivity to gender is something that evolves where family, institutes for socialisation (including religious), educational centres and community at large play a central role.

Ways in which society decimates right of girl/woman, especially the assertion of “I”:

When female foeticide is ignored and sex ratio discrepancies become rampant across a state and brides are brought in from another state, moulded to meet specific requirement. Of course, any failures are discarded. I wonder what happens when sex ratio discrepancies become a matter of fact across states, will the brides be imported from nearby countries and then tailor made to fit.

When girl child is asked to be absent from school to take care of younger siblings it is not only the second status of girl versus the boy that is asserted it also belittles the beautiful act of nurturing in mind of the boy. While discontinuing of education is crime, irrespective of gender, the beauty of nurturing inculcated in the young can build a better sensitive society.

Another instance where culture tries to eliminate emphasis of “I” in a girl or woman is seen even in case of the attire code insisted upon. It is not only on religious grounds that a woman is expected to hide her face, which may be linked to belief that men are so fickle that a little amount attractive stimuli can corrupt their mind. There also other cultures in India, where woman is expected to hide her face behind a veil at the same time it is fine if she exposes other parts of her body. Have been asked by friends from other cultures as to the logic behind it. In my mind the only explanation is that, it is another instance for society to assert that “I” in a girl or woman is relevant as long as it is linked to husband and immediate family. For development of “I” is a process that can occur in different dimensions and being always behind a veil is not conducive for development of a critical, independent mind but a submissive and obedient self.

Often girls are socialized to an extent that they accept many rituals as part of life. As a teenager I realized my perception may be more critical than others. A young girl is expected to make herself pretty and present herself to prospective bridegroom’s family, often offering tea/coffee or snacks. While the future to be in laws, assess the girl’s grace, checks for deformities, and query about her skills. As a young girl the only parallel I could draw to this was that of cattle market where customers come and check out cows in terms of grace, milk productivity and scope for breeding. The worst is the conversations, where girl is objectified, analysed, judged as though the universe has given them special rights to be judgemental. No thought about young children who may be hanging around and are being moulded to objectify a woman. At a young age, I realized the ordeal is not for me, for I wanted and had the luxury of being the subject of my own reality and not an object for someone else. My parents stood by my freedom to decide, though their point of view differed.

The final assertion of irrelevance of “I” for a girl child occurs when honour killing is justified by family and community. They state if a girl chooses to assert “I”, they will be silenced.

Since, we spend a lot of our energies to strengthen the scope of social distances between gender all towards asserting the secondary status of girl, can we actually distance ourselves from act violence committed by a member of our society. It is time for introspection.

Social Distance and Caste/Race Identities:

Our fascination for social distance never ends, we use it as the tool to maintain arm’s length with all whom we belief can be a threat to our identity. Have travelled to many parts of India, to conflict areas, to rural parts, got the good fortune of visiting some distant lands but nowhere did I feel a victim of racism as I did once on train journey through Europe. This does not deny the warm and friendly interaction with so many friends and professionals in Europe, the reason I did not want to visit a stray incident of racism I was a butt off. Now, I am doing so as part of introspection for these incidents can make or break the process of change.

Dropped off at the station, I boarded a cross country train, was told I could take a seat in any of the coaches, for there is no specific reservation. Walked through the passage, with my luggage in tow, on and off reminding self of the ever ignored promise- not to lug books when on the move.

My steps came to halt in front of almost empty coach, with hardly five or six persons. Tried, and not very alert decided to settle down, as I tried to ease out of my shoulder bag, the situation changed. Till then picture perfect family image changed to where negative energy spewed out. Words flew in local language, but that didn’t matter for expressions clearly stated their disdain, aversion for the foreign being. The sudden change, where finesse, elegance, polite mannerism all flew out of the window to be replaced with pure venom for a being that dared to cross the unstated boundary of social distance maintained and treasured. Left the scene, feeling for a few moment being part of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.

A few moments later, did find a seat, tried to compose inner thoughts, shutting out reality to relax for a while. Only to feel the curious warmth of a co-passenger, her smiling face and soothing eye, slowly led to a friendly interaction with the girl and another youth close by. Their curiosity to know about my trip slowly gave way to them coaxing me to think about Europe as a nice place to stay. I evaded stating, I would miss the warmth of India for sun shines through with ease. But, my inner voice queried -Does it? At times India is brutal towards outsiders. The incident indicates, in many cultures, sens of Us and Others runs very deep. While I have the luxury of many images to counter a negative incident, will positive spaces be available to the migrants who feel alienated and excluded and have to live a life where experiences that are emotionally taxing is a part of normalcy. The first generation older migrants who chose to leave for distant lands, for safer/ better future will have the rationale for migration as the safety net to ensure the feeling of being saved overwrites sense of exclusion. This may not be the case for second generation and third generation migrants. Probably the only safety net would a sense of inclusion and being part of mainstream society.

India is warm for me, who is part of mainstream, but otherwise it can be an ordeal as revealed by incidents of abuse towards outsiders. Individuals from African countries do face racial abuse, physical and verbal, with limited option to fight back. Even citizens of India from North East have to face wrath at times, for having different facial features, cultural associations and food habits. The wrath and contempt, which is capable for being brutal, quickly changes to soothing smiles and friendly gestures when seeking to have a smooth ride to utilize the natural resources of the North Eastern region.

Mainstream Indians are rarely concerned about the abuse meted out on outsiders, while many would not want to act out their negative perceptions, all steps are taken to keep a social distance- restrict social interactions, create specific spots where outsiders can reside, ensure disproportionate rates are recovered for services and resources provided. All is done in such systematic manner, that it almost reaches a state of normalcy.

Social Distance and Religious Identities – Influence of Flux

Religion, irrespective of its form, belief system, rituals and world view generated, all claim to be a path towards ensuring a better place in another life or a way to ensure quality of existence in next birth. It is sort of a trade-off, strangely there are many games that occur even within this trade-off.
Rarely anyone is willing to actually follow the basic tenets of any religion; to  be humane, to place altruistic values above vested interests, the clear guideline that human beings are rarely capable of understanding or comprehending the Power they worship, irrespective of what name they have decided to associate with the Power, falls on deaf years. The ardent believers among us decide to take to arms, to maim to mutilate, do everything beyond the imaginations of any other species to protect the Power we believe in, as though the Power is so vulnerable that Man can protect.

Since, we believe we are incapable of following the basic tenets expected of us, we decided to find other ways of pleasing the Power we worship, for which we fall back on our world view as to what we value and then follow suit. The depth of our understanding is evident when we sharpen our skills to perform rituals through generations and strengthen power structures associated with it, creating structures of grandeur to assert our belief and where offerings of gold, money, oil, milk, flowers, incense are made with hope that it will make up for our blatant lack of appetite to Know, Comprehend and Experience the Power we claim to believe in.

We all decided, in our small ways, as we are incapable of actually adhering to basic expectations of our religion, we will assert our faith by strengthening our religious industry. When we found rituals and praying taxing, we sort to outsource; thereby option for a representative to say prayers on our behalf for a price evolved. Basically we ensured the industry called religion is totally and completed connected to object we value most Money, though it has no intrinsic or transactional value of any sort in the spiritual world.

Religion, any name it goes under, has different types of followers almost like a continuum with non-believers at one end (some of them abhor any association with term religion but will stand up with great passion for values reflected in religion), with majority falling in the middle with varying degree of adherence to set way of expressing faith and at the end of the continuum is the small minority, who are asserting their presence with such vehemence, as the vanguard of religion. We, the human species are indeed an interestingly lot, we trample over the core of religion and then are at each other throat about asserting importance of our rituals and right to use brutal force to ensure adherence by others.
The fanatic selective adherence to religion, has to led to certain groups turning themselves to vanguard with narrow and short-sighted vision that leaves limited room for any rational discussion.

Lynched to death for a Cuisine Choice

Proud to be a human and an Indian, yet bow down in shape at intolerance for deviation from our set ideas and beliefs. We claim to be a democracy, yet there are many instances where individuals find their assertions of freedom of expression lead to being silenced. Why such disproportionate use of force, are we convinced fear is the only strategy available, if so will it work.

There are many crimes that have been meted out on the vulnerable population the recent one win hands down as a perverse act for we lynched a man to death for having a different cuisine choice (sic). What an achievement to be proud of for a democracy after 69 years of independence, and we continue nurture these acts of violence.

Another incident where democratic governance of India, out did itself, while the family of the lynched victim got continuously harassed, the government machinery being professional tested out the meat seized and identified it to be beef. None of the government machinery part of the process saw any irony in the course of their actions. Is this democratic governance or cultural identity based abusive governance at its best?

The manner in which Dalit community and tribal population have been marginalized leaves a scar on democratic India. It is sad even in a state like Kerala, which can be proud being in par with some of developed countries, has children from tribal communities die due to malnutrition or curable diseases. The height of insensitive was evident when a development plan ensured the common ground near houses of tribal population was made fit for eye with well-designed flooring while the population continued to reside in dilapidated housing. When criticized for such shallow development initiative, the counter stated that it is a participatory decision. Then the question is what is participatory process? Is it asking leading question, to a vulnerable group, with limited powers and hardly any information as what are issues to be considered prior to choice of putting entire limited resources available to develop a community path, at its best.

Recent news articles highlight how members from Dalit community have been protesting against vigilant activities by cow brigades. They have taken measures to catch the attention of the democratic government about their right to exist as citizens, their protest includes refusal to carry the carcass of dead animals.

Wonder what would government do if cattle slaughter did stop, will the government actually be able to provide feed and medication at a national level, as it would weigh on the government. When children are dying because of lack of nutrition, when citizens try to choose medicines from the list prescribed for them, when tribal lives lost because of curable disease and malnutrition. On what firm ground can one stand and state the limited resources available should be spent on cattle and not humans. 

Asserting Right to Maim or Kill on behalf of religion

The political aspiration of power, the desire to ensure network associations are created to meet our market need at macro and micro level, finds us twisting reality, our actions and its repercussion. A luxury that ensures we can sip our cup of coffee with ease while images of war play out on our screens.

World views differ, the images we watch with detachment may evoke strong passion among some others, it gives them motivation to stand up and fight against what they believe are criminal acts. Anyone who works on issues linked to conflict or war, understands there are far more grey areas, rather than black and white demarcations which we are found of focusing on. A lot of energy is spent on finding, addressing, and changing the areas perceived to be dark. Isn’t it relevant to change grey areas as this offers fodder for drastic changes in perception about violence/ conflict. The grey areas include perceived existence of discrimination, violation of rights, feelings of humiliation and absence of hope.

Individuals who exist in grey areas or identify with it do have limited resources to fall back on for a different world view and can be easily manipulated. Recent reports of individuals being fascinated by certain videos, even those that glorify violence. It is seen as an individual perversion, that leads to individuals enjoying violence. Isn’t it possible there something more to it? Development of Artificial Intelligence with scope for embedded manipulation may be giving options to instil positive feelings even without the viewer being aware of the behaviour changes/manipulation happening. While positive behaviour change is welcome, what happens when unaware individuals are exposed to negative behaviour modification. Wonder who can be held responsible, technology developer or those who acquire it illegally or system of Governance itself. For isn’t making citizen aware and capable of deal with threat a part of governance.

What can protect a person from being enslaved through manipulation- is a critical mind. But, none of the existing systems of governance focuses on critical thinking, the focus is create set patterns of thought so that citizens are amiable to control with minimum input.

It is this attitude towards governance that is being questioned at present through violence, probably it’s time for systems of governance to change.

Slimmer of Hope

While we take pride in distancing ourselves from cultures that are different, there are people who show finesse even if life has offered little to them. I found such an experience in the streets of Manipur, hungry, I went to have lunch in a small shack lunch home. It was way past lunch time or snack time in line with local culture, women were busy cleaning up and getting the place ready for the next meal of the day.

With a smile I patted my tummy and asked for a bite, was not sure what to expect as mainlanders have not given them much for a positive touch. The women smiled back at me, one indicated to have seat and other got busy and gave me fresh rotis with snack on the side. Feeling satisfied I asked for the cost- Rs.15 was the reply.

Felt ashamed, for in spite of the raw deal meted out to people in Manipur, women did not think of charging extra for off time lunch being served. If, ordinary women struggling for survival in streets of Manipur can be humane and fair, why can’t we learn to be considerate to others, at least.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Drugs, Altered States of Consciousness & Us - Implications for Drug Policy


   Drugs, Altered States of Consciousness & Us- 
Implications for Drug Policy

Centuries have gone by and yet we struggle in our waltz with Mind Altering Substances (MAS), our steps still falter and a probable safe distance evades our grasp. The yesteryears centered around finding mind altering substances in nature, from far and near; now we hone our skills in identifying the right chemicals or the means of manipulating molecular formations for creating MAS within kitchen labs or in the pharmaceutical industry. The presence of numerous substances to choose from has apparently not satiated user demand nor dampened the passion of enforcement agencies to exterminate the 'enemy'.

There is an ever widening gap in the perception of MAS by users, numerous sub groups within the larger society, inclusive of enforcers of the Law. Users who adhere to cultural norms or those seek a break through a cannabis smoke view the drug as a catalyst or substance that adds color to life. To the hardcore heroin user the drug is a magnet capable of involuntarily pulling them from any corner of the world, especially when appropriate cues are present. Those who want to exterminate drugs see it as an Ebola virus where chance encounter can ensure irreversible damage. All ignore the power of the Mind. 

Unable to find the key to exterminate the enemy many countries have ended up questioning the punitive approach and a few have gone ahead to critically review the United Nations framework for drug control based on their own national realities. It has led to slow drift towards harm reduction, decriminalization and in one instance a rights based approach to maintain cultural use. The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on World Drug Problem, slated for 2016, would probably be the first session where the need for diversity in global drug control policies will be asserted. Against this background, this note tries to look at international governance and drug control, the various approaches that have evolved and its implications for the future. 

I. International Governance and Drug Control

The 'Single Convention 1961(1) reigned supreme at the international and national level with regard to drug control policies, be it use or trade. Its role was facilitated by subsequent conventions all set in place to strengthen the scope and extent of the punitive approach and ensure a criminal framework towards drug abuse management within member states. But, in reality there never was a unified approach as diverse associations with mind altering substances continued to exist against all odds.

Realizing the disconnect between the international treaty for drug control and national or regional realities, countries like Portugal, Germany, Netherlands and United States have opted for the decriminalization of specific mind altering substances in their nations or for specific states within their boundaries. Bolivia has asserted the right of its indigenous population to adhere to their cultural reality and the cultural sanction thereof for the use of coca leaves.

In line with these conflicting views and based on local realities there has been an assertion to reconsider The Single Convention as a dynamic instrument by the United States (2) with a scope for reinterpretation based on changed national and global realities. The presence of such conflicting views raises issues for all nation members states to consider while framing drug control laws and policies for the future.

The Single Convention- A Static Instrument for Drug Control?

Individuals, groups and agencies that strive passionately to eradicate mind altering substances believe that The Single Convention is a static instrument and would remain so irrespective of the changes in socio-cultural, political, development dynamics and even as we expand our understanding of altered states of consciousness. Is that true?

There are many countries that are unable to deal with the collateral damages coming off the punitive approach, be it as an increase in the number of individuals incarcerated, with the criminalization of drug use turning him/her felon (or criminal) for life, besides the reality of an increase in discriminatory vulnerability for certain sections of society determined by race, class and place of residence as slums/ghettos. There is additionally the added burden to public health care provisions facing resource constraints, with the spread of HIV and other blood borne infections among injecting drug users; and resource intensive militarized and environmentally lethal interventions (such as fumigation (3)) used to address illicit cultivation and trade.

Against this background there are a few issues that need to be focused on:

1. The evasive Basic Norm for drug use Control

All legal provisions do at some point emerge from social norms that exist for a specific area or a sovereign state. According to Hans Kelsen's(4) theory of positive law there is a hierarchy to law which begins with a Basic Norm and has a hierarchical structure indicating a position in the structure. At the same time political reality dictates that the resultant legal system for a country may not be shaped like a pyramid given the deviation on some aspects of the law, across states within a nation. But, whatever the case, what is relevant here is that no one disputes there exists an hierarchy and structure.

As Hans Kelsen points out a legal instrument does not exist in isolation, there is often a hierarchical formation in the process of legal authorization that puts it in place. This is true of the United Nations Conventions also. The Charter of the United Nations (5), which can be considered to be the base for all other legal instruments that exists within the United Nations, has an assertion acknowledging the sovereignty of all member nations under Article 2 and it goes on to further state that the Charter would not intervene in matters that are under the nation's domestic jurisdiction. The only exception stated to that is under Chapter VII of the Charter, which addresses issues related to the threat to global peace and the actions to be taken against threat to peace that include economic sanctions, severance of diplomatic relations and the use of armed forces against the aggressor nation. Nowhere is there a mention about interference with domestic jurisprudence, especially with regard to a habit, addictive or not, whether perceived to be criminal or evil.

Does then the explanation for course of action adopted by the United Nations with regard to drug control lie in John Austins' concept of the Command Theory (6), where the concept of law is a command by the sovereign backed by threat. Were one to try to conceptually understand this unpalatable explanation there still remains unexplained, queries on the the presence of a basic norm across cultures with regard to drug use and the process of authorization of a Law that ignores ground realities of domestic jurisprudence across nations. 

2. Law of Treaties or the craft of diluting sovereignty

The Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties (1969) (7) is an interesting document reflecting on legal instruments at the global level as having been put in place for political manoeuvring and where power, invisible to law, reign over all else.

According to Article 27, under Section 1- Observance of Treaties, ` A party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty'. Of course there is an option for refiling under Article 46, under Section 2 - Invalidity of Treaties, where a State can invalidate its consent to be bound by a treaty when violation is manifest and it violates a rule of fundamental importance. The violation should be objectively evident to any State conducting itself in the matter in accordance with normal practice and in good faith'. The tone of these articles is different from that assertion on self determination and sovereignty found in Charter of United Nations. Further, a State that wants to revisit the provisions of any treaty it is bound by, can do so only through the application of the present convention. Which means a State, which is not signatory to The Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties like India, has at the outset to give up its focus on sovereign rights by being part of the Convention on Law Treaties and then file for invalidation or termination (as for example with regard to The Single Convention 1961) and then sit tight and hope for the best.

3. The Single Convention 1961 – Cultural and Political Bias.

Prior to The Single Convention 1961, there existed bilateral treaties between countries to control drug trade, but none were multilateral in nature or had penal sanction for drug use central to it. As per the Law of Treaties, it is not just the text of the treaty but also its context which includes object and purpose, preamble and annexes that contribute towards the interpretation of the treaty. In that case The Single Convention 1961 is a clear example of misrepresentation of reality to create a universal legal instrument for drug control.

It states in its preamble that the treaty is based on concern for the health and welfare of mankind, recognises addiction as a serious evil for the individual, fraught with social and economic danger to mankind and considers it a duty to prevent and combat this evil. These words hardly describe the socio-cultural sanction for different kinds of mind altering substances that existed and continues to exist. It is far more in line with a western world view where all forms of MAS, other than alcohol, is viewed with suspicion and considered to be a social evil.

According to Article 49 of the convention there is provision made for a Member State to temporarily allow the use of opium, cannabis, coca leaf for non-medical or quasi medical purposes. It is interesting to note that the treaty expects member states to eradicate cultural use within a maximum period of 25 years, wonder how many years it would take for western culture to get beyond the taste of wine or beer froth. The sad reality is that government representatives from countries with socio-cultural forms of use have signed up to the treaty on behalf of their populace, without people's knowledge. Long live Democracy?

Article 49 does indicate a cultural bias towards traditional systems of medicine or all forms of health care other than western medicine. Otherwise, why should all forms of health care other than the western system be considered quasi medicinal practice? How can a treaty meant for the health and welfare of mankind, with a stroke of pen plan to dismantle entire systems of health care without a viable sustainable replacement? When western health care system still depend on derivatives of poppy plant why should traditional systems of care be denied this opportunity? (8). Besides, can western medicine ever be the solution to health care given the central role of drug patenting and resource intensive manufacturing process. 

4. External Institutional Control versus Internal Restrain

In L. A. Hart's work on legal positivism (9), he indicates two aspects of adherence to social rule or law; one being the external aspect or an independent observable fact in that people obey the law and the internal aspect where the individual feels obliged to follow the law and which L.A. Hart calls the critical reflective attitude. The problem with coercive legal instruments put forth by the United Nations to address drug use is that it could not facilitate an internalization of the coercive approach among peoples across the globe. For example in many member states among the populace the internalisation aspect, shaped through years of socialization or socio-cultural experience, indicated no lethal or evil associations with cannabis.

According to Hart, it is from the internal sense of a positive association that a populace has towards a law that it acquires its normative quality. He further points out that a law is efficacious only if a majority of the population follow the law. If that be the case, then how did the The Single Convention get to be the base norm with regard to drug control? How can it be a successful tool for control?

If for the populace within many member states the adherence to the drug control law is an external need it would mean the nation having to depend on officials from different institutions to take measures to ensure adherence to the law. Given the ever increasing scope for newer drugs especially new synthetic drugs or other pharmaceutical products to what extent can such an approach be viable.

II. Criminalization - Universal Approach to Drug Control

Today, a few places depend on social sanctions and social rituals to control drug use with 181 nation member states of United Nations having become signatories to the Single Convention 1961 and subsequent conventions – Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

Under the coercive approach the focus is on ensuring an adherence to drug control laws and an attempt is made to 1) identify the criminal act when enacted or later, 2) get information on all individuals who participated in the criminal act directly and indirectly and 3) make the information public to ensure the individuals are branded as criminals and stigmatized. The media often playing a significant role in this entire process.

In India, the focus on the punitive approach created a dichotomy for there existed social norms related to cultural use management that had been internalized through socialization. The Single Convention 1961 did give India a grace period of 25 years to eradicate its cultural association with mind altering substances. Since the Indian government was aware about the naïve expectations of the punitive approach and harm associated with it they did nothing. Towards the expiry of the grace period provided by the treaty and under international pressure it passed the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985.

India also initiated the national drug abuse management program, very much in line with the format followed by the west. It basically carried out research, largely quantitative in nature, and put in place prevention, treatment and rehabilitation measures.

a. Prevention of Drug Use (10)

Prevention programs highlight the use of 'MAS' as a criminal act, provide information on various forms of drugs, its use, and highlight how drug users become dysfunctional and addicted. Educational institutions such as school, training institutes inclusive of sports are selected to create awareness. Yet, the best of athletes at the global level are caught for the misuse of drugs.

The oft given explanation is that peer pressure leads to drug use. My personal interaction with drug users, in-depth exploration of what went to create a situation of first time use indicates it is far more complex than peer pressure. There are other aspects to be considered as: wanting to hang out with known drug users or the desire to know them, the desire to experience a high, the fascination with taking a risk or even accidental use. Irrespective of the reason for first use, the decision to continue use is crucial, this is a personal choice and rarely forced. On experiencing a high and enjoying it the individual becomes focused on the substance of choice and he/she disassociates the role of his/her mind in the whole process. We tend to forget our contextual reality, both drug and the mind define what we seek from drugs; for example among the street kids what stands out is the desire to numb the reality of life.

Even if one were to accept peer pressure as the reason for first use, isn't this a fallacy. Who made the drug using peer a drug user?

The emphasis of prevention activities continue to lie on the identification of the drug user through surveillance, human monitoring or testing. Except for detection through the testing of body fluids, in other instances detection often occurs much after users have turned dysfunctional. Among students detection leads to a disruption of education, for upon detection he/she seeks treatment and subsequent rehabilitation ensuring education is discontinued for a long period of time.

b. Treatment Options

Drug abuse is considered to be a disease and a crime at the same time, this perception of a disease as a crime is unique. This shift towards considering drug use as a disease occurred with the violation of the human rights of drug users with a growing focus on penalization as a means of reforming the drug user.

Unlike the case with other diseases a drug user is reluctant to seek treatment and does so when under pressure. Upon arrest the courts could pressurise the user to seek treatment, the threat of imprisonment at times being used as an incentive. On other occasions pressure from the family, fear of losing a job, fear of losing close ones, fear of being stigmatized and isolated, the need to cut daily cost on drugs etc. all provide an impetus to seeking treatment. It is rare that the drug users seeks treatment when all is well. The irony in this disease model approach is drug user enjoys being ill, or rather enjoys the symptom of the illness – that being the high.

Considering drug use to be a disease brings forth certain interesting facts:

It is a disease without a uniform and accepted line of medical care as part of a client/patient's right. In India the line of treatment given varies from being chained for months; to be locked up till the time drug user has lived through his/her withdrawals; being given symptomatic relief with psychoactive substances/painkiller and on rare instances drug users are provided medical treatment based on the drug/s abused.

Few doctors want to deal with drug users as they are considered to be troublesome and non-compliant. This means though a doctor is mentioned as among the staff of a treatment centre, in reality a nurse or practitioners of traditional system of medicine may be dealing with the actual treatment. One shouldn't be surprised if ex-addicts are the ones actually delivering treatment.
Since treatment centres don't want to be caught in a vulnerable position because of paucity of trained professionals: they don't admit drug users with medical complications or those without a support network as clients; clients referred by corporates get preference, and alcohol users get preference over the users of hard drugs.

Government funded treatment centres are expected to raise 10% of the funds locally. Most treatment centres do raise funds locally and also charge the drug user under treatment for food and other expenses; monthly charges can vary from Rs.2,000 to Rs.8,000 or more. Since the relapse rate remains high it ensures assured clientèle for a long period of time.

Human rights violations of various forms take place in treatment centres, from the refusal to provide service to individuals who can't pay (or those without a support network) to 'accidental death' which may occur in the of absence of adequate trained staff. In conflict areas this may be far more the reality than in other places. There is no option open for drug users to assert their concerns or rights, all issues get pushed under the carpet.

c Rehabilitation and Re-integration or being fitted in

Rehabilitation programmes centre around the concept of one being an addict/ex-addict for life and their activities carried out as part of the recovery process are tailored to the needs of the institution and not that of the client. An amiable ex-drug user is given the option to be ward assistant and work his way through to become a counsellor or the administrator in charge. In case of a relapse he may restart his journey from the beginning.

Issues to be considered with regard to rehabilitation and re-integration:

The crux of the program is to emphasize on “I am an addict” or “I am an ex-addict”

Across India this identification process is central to the rehabilitation process, probably considered a useful way to keep the drug users on the track of recovery and create an identification with a sub-group or a sense of belonging.

This is a reductionist view of human existence. Isn't there a difference between “ I am an addict” and the statement “ I have a problem with drug use”. Isn't “I” much more than a disease, a habit, an infection or even a gender identification. Human form and its energy source that has evolved through centuries needs something beyond this reductionist approach. Did man evolve for 430,000 years to be known by a habit?

After the identification process such programs ensure that he/she spends time with ex-addicts within the institution's network. Centres do not want to encourage interaction with outsiders; for they see it as exposing the individual to vulnerable situations where the possibility of relapse is considered to be high. The extreme steps taken to create an enclosed life invariably restricts individual growth.

Under such a limited framework social integration is difficult, and often ex-addicts become a cheap labour force for NGOs or Corporates where tasks have been out sourced.
d. Controlling Drug Trade

When India implemented NDPS Act,1985 it led to many users finding themselves behind bars and spending a decade or more as 'under trial'; cases invariably got thrown out as they had mostly served the probable imprisonment period or more as under trial. Through the years we have expanded the scope of the law and refined the probable penalties for various activities in drug cultivation, manufacturing, processing and trade; and even ensured attempts to commit an offence attract the same punishment as the offence itself.

Protests from NGO's working in the field of Drug Abuse Management, legal experts, and at times enforcement officials led to changes being incorporated in the law. At present under Section 27 of the NDPS Act a drug user can be sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment for possession or consumption along with a fine or both (11). Though this is a positive change to earlier reality, the benefits of considering drug use as a criminal act is itself debatable.

To counter the enforcement measures individuals involved in various activities of illicit drug business periodically innovate - methods of processing, transportation, concealment, mechanisms for drug trade, distribution and money laundering. Retail sale has become more mobile and client friendly with use of mobile phones and cyberspace. Drugs are concealed in legitimate goods of trade, given the extent of regular legit trade that happens between countries, it is very difficult to detect every act of crime or identify new creative techniques of the drug trade. Only a small percentage of the quantum of drugs traded in is seized through enforcement activities.

III. Drug Control through Harm Reduction and  Decriminalization

a) Harm Reduction Strategies

The vulnerability of Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) to HIV infection and other blood borne diseases through contaminated syringes and equipments, led to a Public Health approach to drug abuse management in many countries. The needle exchange programme (provision of clean syringes and other equipments to users in select safe spots) and opioid substitution therapy (OST) whereby alternate substances are provided to safeguard against withdrawal and hopefully avoid complications of addiction.

A review of literature indicates the indulgence in at-risk behaviour is governed by contextual realities; an individual on OST may shift to a favourite drug of choice for a better high, women may opt for unprotected sex to get money for drugs, when high an user can opt to be part of risk taking group behaviour for a sense of group identity (12).

b) Decriminalization of drug use

The decriminalization of drug possession and use; takes it away from the purview of criminal sanctions and makes provision for administrative sanctions such as penalty to pay fines or court ordered therapeutic intervention.

Decriminalization translates itself differently across countries based on their constitutional provisions and contextual reality. Spain decriminalised personal use and possession of small amounts of drugs in 1984. Belgium decriminalized small-scale cannabis possession in 2003. From 1976 Netherlands has decriminalized use, possession of cannabis up to 1gm or one dose of hard drugs for personal use are not prosecuted. In Germany from 1990's Federal law decriminalized use but the approach differs across different (States) Lander (13). In United States regulations with regard cannabis use varies across States(14). Other countries in Latin America are also looking for a change to the failed punitive approach (15).

For over a decade Portugal has been implementing its decriminalization initiative with a public health orientation. Additional resources have been provided for treatment and harm reduction. A person caught using drugs is sent to a Discussion Board which assess each case and decides on the further course of action, which could be referral for treatment or payment of fine (16).

In Bolivia the government asserted the right of indigenous people to chew coca leaves, a cultural practice and sought to deviate from the set framework of the single convention. After a long struggle in 2013, it managed to get special exemption from the 1961 Single Convention (17). 

IV. Dependence on Law and Police for Drug Control

The role played by law in moulding personal/family reality or a habit differs across countries. In India there are many instances when law defines a socio-cultural act to be criminal but various communities evolve their own mechanisms to modify the legal definition to ensure their cultural or a vested interest practice survives- a clear instance of this is giving or receiving dowry.

The relevance of Law as an important instrument of social control would depend on the internalization of the law and on its enforceability to ensure there is maximum assertion of external control. It would be useful to look at the relevance of the law in the control of drug use with regard to the need for ASC, beside the harm reduction and decriminalization models.

a) Acceptance for Altered States of Consciousness:

ASC falls outside the purview of the legal framework, for ASC is a subjective reality and does not adhere to the normal perceptions of time, space, sound or other stimuli. While the law seeks to set standards for different stimuli, e.g. permissible sound decibel, traffic regulation.

The only hold the law has over ASC is to control the use of MAS. In all the other instances as religious or physical feats such acts can't be criminalized for it is the individual's mind and belief that either hinders or takes the individual on to another level of consciousness. With technological innovation there has been an attempt to provide a well defined and controlled virtual reality, as it involves activities that are in line with the supply demand curve, that probably will have many takers. At the same time ASC lies far beyond virtual reality, yet we rarely focus on our mind and its powers.

b) Ensuring Relevance of Drug Control Policy

This legal framework has been put in place in a short span of time with technical experts playing a critical role. Its implementation process was to identify loopholes and redefine the legal framework for but ensuring adherence to the legal provisions.

How does this translate with a focus on criminalization of use and drug trade, or harm reduction and decriminalization.

Acceptance of Drug Law as the reference point and its implications: To create acceptance of the drug control law awareness is created by media and practical demonstrations on the enforcement of the law. But this is fraught with limitations and it may be useful to look at the same with regard to India (18):

As per Section 54 of NDPS Act 1985 the onus to account for possession of psychotropic substance is on the accused unlike the general rule in criminal cases where the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. Couriers are the ones most likely to be caught under this criminal act and given their profile they are rarely aware about the NDPS Act or its various subsections and end up in jail for long periods of time as under trials. Till recently even drug users found it difficult to get bail when caught under NDPS Act for drug consumption.

The implementation of any law depends on subtle realities in the social context, the profile of the accused and the presence of institutions to carry out the judicial procedures. While the NDPS Act 1985 does make provision for ensuring legal assistance for the poor and indigent accused as per Article 14 and Article 21 of the constitution(ibid), this may but remain a provision in print. For there is scarcity of human resource and voluntary agencies to provide legal aid to those accused across the county. In India the there is but one lawyer for every 1008 (19) (a recent article did indicate that to be at 886) persons, for United States it is 260, for the United Kingdom 525 and Australia 228. How can India really ensure provision of legal aid to the many accused, especially as many lawyers may not be interested in criminal law or in providing legal aid. Making that assertion of human rights for drug users a reality will happen only if alternate community based action exists.
Besides, it is possible out of ignorance or for aggressive questioning and search practices the accused would readily admit to being guilty without understanding its implications rendering the provision of legal aid irrelevant. Take for instance women and children caught with drugs in remote areas or rural areas it would be difficult for the officers concerned to ensure that the steps laid down for search, seizure or arrest can be adhered to and they could and would end up taking short cuts. This could of course lead to a high rate of acquittal but only after the accused spent years behind bars. The plight of the couriers is not different in other countries as indicated in the case of Bolivian(20).

As per Section 36 of the NDPS Act 1985, Special Courts may be constituted for the purpose of providing speedy trials as getting bail is difficult under this Act. It is interesting to note the media reports on the absence of Special Courts in Jammu and Kashmir as late as Aug 2014, this speaks for itself. Besides, one has to consider the inadequate numbers of judges in India, it is 14 per million population, for United States 108, France 109, Australia 40, and U.K 35 (21).

The course of events leading to the recent Amendment to the NDPS Act 1985 highlighted the debate on considering the rate of purity of narcotic or psychoactive substances seized while determining the quantity seized. The Amendment (2014)xxii to NDPS Act 1985 however decided that the purity of the drug would not be considered for determining the quantity of drug seized. There is need for reconsidering this from another angle. Extremely low purity as much as .2% for heroin could be an indication that the consignment has been tampered with after seizure. It is difficult to conceive of any peddler or user being willing to purchase 500 grams heroin at that low level of purity. There is also the need to test the seized consignment for all substances present in the seized packet, instead of assuming that the rest of the substances present are neutral. This would indicate the cutting pattern, or substances used in the processing or different base drugs. That could act as a safeguard by being in the know on the introduction of new drugs into the user market or the possibility of fatal cutting agents.

c. Enforceability of criminal, harm reduction and decriminalization approaches

The punitive approach was unable to restrict drug use and it increased the drug users vulnerability to human rights violations. This led to countries opting for harm reduction and decriminalization initiatives, especially to control the spread of HIV and other blood borne diseases.

Prior to replication of these initiatives it may useful focus on certain issues:

For harm reduction initiatives inclusive of substitution therapy, the availability of health care professionals is crucial to implementation. Portugal has around 4.1 physician per 1000 population and the ratio is not very different in other countries with harm reduction programs. In Belgium it is 3 physicians per 1000 population, for Germany 3.9, Italy 3.8, and Spain 4.9. The number of physicians is lower in United Kingdom at 2.8, Netherlands at 2.9 and United States 2.5. At the same time in India it is 0.7 per 1000, in Colombia 1.5 and in Afghanistan it is 0.2 (23).

Besides, there are issues such as connectivity, availability of transportation, dependable communication systems and the presence of paramedical staff for medical emergencies.

Decriminalization requires the identification of users, their referral for assessment and decision on the final course of action, be it penalty in terms of fine or compulsory treatment. For this approach to be effective the concerned target groups (users, youth, adolescents) should sense its relevance. Portugal with 437 police per 100,000 population may be able to implement decriminalization initiatives as would Belgium with 421, Netherlands with 328, United Kingdom with 729, and United States with 373. United Nations has recommended a minimum police strength of 222 per 100,000 population. In addition developed countries have set up extensive systems for monitoring using technology to facilitate delivery of services. India with police strength of 130 per 100,000 is far from equipped to follow this approach (24).

Given this structural reality there has to be a rethink on what is actually viable for each member State. Besides, India with a population of 1.252 billion and an area of 3.2888 million Sq. km, with connectivity an issue, it would need years to make adequate numbers as human resources available for any viable resource intensive strategies. This difference is evident when considering the reality of countries with harm minimisation and decriminalization approaches such Portugal with of 91,212 sq. Km and Population of 10.46 million or Netherlands with area of 41,526 Sq. Km and population of 16.8 million.

Cultural use management happens at the micro level with a focus on the individual or the community. It is qualitative information routinely collected that helps communities act in a short span of time using local wisdom with regard to the use of MAS to ensure harm reduction. The present drug abuse management system carries out harm reduction activities within enclosed safe settings, where there is a clear separation of the user from rest of the community. Here quantitative data is collected on trends or probable risks involved, for the government and other agencies to act upon, the community or user is nowhere in the picture. Even after years, the findings of the study may or may not reach the community or user. This is but a process of building academic, technical and scientific knowledge and is resource intensive. It is rarely sensitive to the micro level dynamics of use management and its specificity with regard to local reality.

Cultural use management is often seen as a culprit rather than the local wisdom that has evolved with the realization that the search for altered states of consciousness exists and would continue to do so. When the socio-cultural context for use of mind altering substances evolves, it does bring about significant contributions towards use management such as:
a) Individuals are given space not physical space but mental space which gets translated through rituals, associational relationships be it religious or one of festivity to get imprinted in the community milieu, b) controls the substances available for use, sets boundaries about quantity used and occasions for use, c) Mode of consumption – it evolves it own dynamics be it in terms of paraphernalia associated with drug use, for example the pipes or chillum used to smoke cannabis or opium can be canvas for artistic expression d) with passage of time the setting gets defined, with scope for modification; the setting not just in terms of space of use but also in terms of time, social dynamics that evolve around the use such as songs sung, issues discussed, food consumed.
At present with cyberspace offering a multitude as choice of substances there is a need to rethink the need to differentiate between drugs and also consider drug use as a complex phenomenon requiring diverse approaches. According to Zinberg E. Normanxxv who focused on the role of social controls in regulating drug use in the Western setting, the drug or its pharmacological properties, set and setting all contribute towards the mechanisms of social control that evolve. Set is the attitude of the person at the time of use, inclusive of his personality. Setting refers to influence of physical and social setting within which use occurs. 

The Way forward - Local Reality and Drug Laws

With the expert meet for UNGASS 2016, there would be many options put forward to re-look at The Single Convention 1961. Whatever decisions get taken one hopes that a humane strategy evolves rather than the mulish belief that the universal punitive approach is the only way forward. The minds that drafted the The Single Convention upheld control to enforce a universal norm that existed only in their mental framework. Take for example the Convention on the Law of Treaties under Part V. Invalidity, Termination, and Suspension of the Operation of Treaties. While there is the option to raise an issue of Error under Article 48 and Fraud under Article 49, the treaty takes away this right under Article 45 as a State looses its right, to invoke a ground for invalidation, termination, withdrawal or even suspension of operation of the treaty if it has agreed that the treaty is valid or the treaty remains in force or is continuous in operation. Of course one could opt for the provision under Article 62 Fundamental Change of Circumstances to re haul the Single Convention and make it more relevant to the present reality. But even this is pointless as the State has already lost its right in case the treaty has been in force or is in operation. This would mean the countries that asserted the need for a different approach and ended up settling for reservations with regard to implementation of the treaty for a period for 15-25 years are enslaved by the treaty. Of course, when doors are shut from all sides, there is only one option - Break Free.

The punitive approach towards drug use, has not just given scope to criminalize psychoactive plants, pharmaceutical substances or synthetic drugs and substances needed for manufacturing them but also ensured that a single act of drug use can turn a user a criminal. Yet, the desire to experiment and search for altered states of consciousness or a high persists. The continued prosecution of an inactive substance to address a search for ASC has only increased the fascination for it among some individuals, turning it into a vicious circle where the only option seems to be hidden use, abstinence or substitution therapy. There is need to break this repetitious vicious circle for long term change.

The search for an ASC and the use of MAS exists and will continue to do so, the only option available is to reduce or control its adverse impact on society. Our mind plays an active role in our interaction with MAS and in ignoring this we are being short sighted for neither criminalization nor decriminalization takes away the fascination for a high or the search for ASC.

Positive change is possible only when individuals take a critical reflective attitude towards drug laws, determined by the efficacy of the law which comes about through its proximity to social norms and a capacity to change with evolving socio-cultural and development realities of the State. Which would mean it is time to bid farewell to Universal Coercive Norms and opt for area specific drug use management strategies along with a probable restriction on trade with other countries. At present we still have the space to evolve norms that are relevant and internalized, which would be difficult when the number of substances keep increasing along with technology to facilitate drug trade.

For a country like India, with a scarcity of resources, its population, a disparity in development across states, the limited presence of e-governance, the presence of areas under conflict, the dynamics of having areas with licit cultivation of poppy and illicit cultivation of both cannabis and poppy, being close to countries that are cultivating illicit poppy on a large scale and being along some of the main trade routes for illicit drug trade makes it pertinent that India looks at micro level interventions that exist within the country.

The Member States of United Nations have very different canvases from which governance has to be carried out, this means wanting to implement a uniform framework for drug control across the globe remain unrealistic as it did when The Single Convention 1961 came to existence.


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