Two young men are sprawled out on a double bed in a small room, idling the hours away on a Thursday afternoon. A despondent-looking teen, sitting across from them, looks on as they share a joke.
What seems like a casual gathering of friends is a detox session for substance addicts - captured on a CCTV at a residential de-addiction centre in one of the farthest corners of South East Delhi's Badarpur. The footage belies the excruciating blackouts the men are experiencing as addicts in withdrawal.
Cut to another frame on the CCTV, a large group of addicts assembles in the common kitchen for an evening snack. Curiously enough, there is no woman in sight. At Shanti Ratn Foundation, like the rest of the capital's rehab facilities, women addicts are a diminutive statistic. They exist in absentia.
|As in a stereotypical Bollywood film, an omerta typically dictates what kind of women succumb to abuse.|
Their debilitating stories of addiction are hidden from the world; a lucky few get a shot at finding their lost voice and life at rehabs in the fringes of the city.
Suneeta Jhankar* (33), an Ivy League-bred, former management professional from rural Haryana, is currently a resident at the Badarpur facility. She was forced into alcohol abuse by her husband and is now being treated for not only alcohol, but also sex addiction. Her husband would insist that if they shared drinks, he would eventually get over his addiction.
She gave in to his demands and took to drinking. Now, the couple were chronic alcohol addicts. Over the years, Suneeta became a victim of severe depression and emotional abuse. Anxiety followed and she developed a critical sex addiction. Suneeta's family saw it fit to send her to a rehab only when the addiction peaked - they realised it was at its worst when she tried to have sex with her brother.
Once a well-heeled, high-achiever at an MNC and the mother of a three-year-old, she is just another addict on the brink of ruin today. Suneeta is a glaring portrait of women who are pushed into abuse by their families, left with no means to cope with their addiction.
Cases like hers are also a stark picture of the lack of awareness about substance abuse among women in India, which has risen, unabated.
She is just one of the many women whose addiction finds no mention in official records.
Ruby Kumar* (24), another woman resident at the same facility, was addicted to sleeping pills that she had easy access to owing to her job as a receptionist at a hospital. Ruby saw the pills as an escape from numerous psychological problems and anxiety.
"Frequent taunts from family members, anxiety about the future flare up depression like Ruby's. It could seem innocuous, but it damages an individual's psyche," a counsellor at the centre says.
Because of hormonal fluctuations, women are more prone to depression, a leading cause of substance abuse among them. But what hope do they have against social norms that clearly dictate the Indian woman must uphold her family's honour and keep the moral fabric of the society together?
A thorough online and offline search for addicts makes it apparent that women are left out of serious conversations about substance abuse and healthcare in India. Despite having a dedicated Women and Child Development ministry, India keeps no record of cases of substance abuse among women and their implications on the society.
Unlike men, women have their lives destroyed because it is convenient to bind them to prejudices built into the Indian mind. Why does it become important to shun a woman addict and her punctured body?
As in a stereotypical Bollywood film, an omerta typically dictates what kind of women succumb to abuse.
Actress Kangana Ranaut won a National Award for her realistic portrayal of a successful model turned drug addict in Fashion. She was lost to the streets because she was destroyed by the glamour world.
Because that happens only to the girl-gone-wrong. We don't include women addicted to seemingly less-harmful substances as possible victims in this crisis - teachers, doctors and homemakers who pop a stray pill or anti-depressant to deal with work pressure or troublesome adolescents.
The male addict is seen as a man gone astray. He has a second chance, and possibly many more chances to recover and begin a new life. But a woman is relegated to being a shameful liability - she is less of a woman because her body is tainted.
In the rare instance where women addicts are admitted to a rehab for recovery, fear of rape and harassment accompany the course of their treatment. To address the staggering pattern of women addicts, India needs dedicated rehab centres that cater to female patients and sensitisation among all sexes about the crisis. Instead, it pushes women addicts to the end of the hollow, bearing out our practised hypocrisy.
While the government takes pride in launching schemes like Beti Bachao for the welfare of girls, a woman addict is left to reel in the pain of her tortured body and mind.
It slowly snuffs out her existence - mutilated, corrupt and less significant than a man's. Because it is a passive, deliberate honour killing India refuses to talk about.
*Names changed to protect identity