|Sister Ann Mary is the coordinator of an eight-member committee that the Delhi High Court formed in November 2016 to spread awareness in schools on the danger of drugs. (ucanews.com photo)|
Clad in a white habit Sister Ann Mary comes out of a Delhi court room with a contagious smile. But behind the friendly face is a woman determined to save children from the clutches of drug addiction.
The 30-year-old nun, a qualified lawyer, has been working among child drug users since 2012.
"The drug addicts are mostly aged 14-20 and come from families where parents are separated or have no time for their children," said the nun who belongs to the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Graces.
The children from well-to-do families can get money to buy drugs but their problem is that their parents are busy earning money and have no idea what they are doing, the nun said. "Even if I tell parents about the condition of their children they do not believe it. So, I wait until they see it for themselves," she said, adding that most of the drug users drop out of school.
"They have no control, they do not know where they are or who they are with. The could commit crime or become a victim of crime," she said.
Sister Mary said the most popular drugs are heroin, cocaine and cannabis.
The nun said drugs are easily available at roadside eateries, tea shops and even medical shops. "The drug business is going on without any fear. The peddlers are hand-in-glove with the police and that is why drugs are so openly available," she said.
Threat to life
She began counseling children against using drugs in 2012 when she was serving in the north Indian town of Meerut.
In a slum of rag pickers, beggars and cobblers near her convent, she noticed the poor engaging in prostitution and drug taking. She and other nuns began educating local children about the dangers of drug use "but the change was very slow as the poverty was so deep rooted," she said.
Her work continued when she transferred to Ghaziabad, a satellite town of Delhi, in 2015. She noticed addicted children there as well. She also located a few areas where drugs were exchanged and even tried to shoot pictures and videos as evidence.
"While I was trying to take a picture, a woman held my hand and warned that she would break the camera if I tried again. I had no choice but to leave the place," the nun said. The intimidation continued. She has been getting threatening phone calls from drug dealers for the last three months.
But it will take more than that to put Sister Mary off. So far, she has counseled 25 child drug users. She is doing a free service in the name of God "who has entrusted me with lots of children."
In November 2016, the Delhi High Court formed a drug awareness committee of eight people, including two judges, and made Sister Mary the coordinator.
They run awareness sessions for school students as well as parents. "Children these days are very smart. They might not be taking drugs but they know all about them," she said.
The nun also gives individual counseling sessions to drug users. One parent sought her help for his drug-addicted daughter after seeing the teenager watching pornography late at night under the influence of drugs.
Another boy was taciturn and very violent. Sister Mary sent the parents out of the room. "He was shaking terribly … it took me around six hours to make him speak to me about the problem," she said.
The nun also counsels the parents and helps them find drug treatment centers. "After a point only treatment centers can help," she said.
A drug-abundant market
India has strict anti-drug laws. Offenders are punished with jail terms up to 20 years depending on the gravity of the offence but police continue to make drug-related arrests indicating the problem is still prevalent.
The northeast state of Mizoram tops the list of drugs seizures, according to India's Narcotics Control Bureau; some 48,209 tons of drugs were seized over the past four years. In the same period, 64,737 drug-trafficking cases have been reported in the country and Punjab topped the list with 21,549 cases there alone.
New Delhi is becoming a hotbed of drugs with the Narcotics Control Bureau recovering some 340 kilograms of drugs including heroin, cocaine, cannabis and pseudoephedrine there in the past two years.
Every day at least 10 people commit suicide because of drug abuse in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. In 2014, the country witnessed 3,647 such cases.
Sister Mary is determined to make a dent in the statistics. "I am here to serve and I will keep on doing it wherever I go," she said.
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