Community, Rights and Gender – Putting people at the center – Statement from ANPUD

Delivered by Rajiv Kafle, Project Coordinator for Harm Reduction in Asia project

Statement from ANPUD delivered by Rajiv Kafle, Project Coordinator for Harm Reduction in Asia project, Dec 18 -19, New Delhi, INDIA

Respected Chair, Friends and Colleagues,

Good Morning and Namaskar,

On behalf of Asian Network of People who use Drugs (ANPUD) I would firstly like to thank Alliance India our partner for being an amazing host and taking care of us so well. I am also grateful to India Alliance for allowing us to speak on an important topic of “Community, Rights and Gender – Putting people at the center”.

Without taking much of our time indulging in the history or the goals of my organizations I would like to dive into the topic that I have been asked to share my thoughts. For those of you who are new faces in this meeting ANPUD represents people who use drugs in our region. We will soon be ten years and work in increasing number of countries in our region. Under the Global Fund regional grant we are partnering with India HIV/AIDS Alliance for strengthening the people who use drugs community in 7 countries.

I will first speak about the Community then Rights and finally gender. I know that you all are familiar with these topics but I hope that by the end of my presentation you will certainly have broadened your view on these topics.

  1. First allow me to speak about the Community. While I am using community in today’s presentation often mean community such as the People who use drugs or People living with HIV communities. I travelled to Delhi twice this month from Bangkok. I always prefer to travel light but since its winter and the temperature is really plummeting down I needed to carry a lot of warm clothes. Hence this time I had a suitcase full of warm clothes. You all must be wondering why this travelogue of mine is even important to share with you all as you all must have done the same. However it is important because the clothes I carried were all donated by friends so that our ‘community’ – people who use drugs in Delhi would have some warm clothes during these harsh winters. Our good friend ‘Loon Gangte’ who does things completely out of the box had made a public call for people to donate some warm clothes for the community of people who use drugs that they serve from their drop in centers. I wanted to share this story with you this morning because I thought how important it is to tell you who I really represent, what their challenges are, what we have been able to provide to them and what all we have to do to address their needs. It is important to begin our day remembering them because it will give us an opportunity to reflect as simple humans and not just policy makers, data geeks or program managers. People who use drugs around the globe and specially in our region are generally poor. There are also people who are rich and use drugs but they do not usually want to identify themselves as people who use drugs so sometimes we also don’t feel that they are part of our community. ANPUD aims to bring this community together by creating an enabling environment so that they can come together to share their common issues. Through our partner networks we work towards strengthening networking of people who use drugs however it’s a big challenge for us to do this because our community is criminalized. In the face of the existing laws in most of our countries varying in the tone, intensity and language we are generally “Criminals”. We are treated as criminal all the time. We are poor and criminals hence we can all imagine how we are being treated today  by the police as well as by people around us. Very few good Samaritans like you all are on our side but most of the world do not want us around. They literally want us Dead.
  2. This brings me to my second topic Rights. So where is our so called rights. Our rights are generally limited to the books, seminars and workshops and rhetorical presentations in large conferences. Let me share with you another ground breaking event that recently happened in our region. President Rodrigo Duterte recently hosted the landmark event of ASEAN’s 50th The world leaders gathered in Manila and took an iconic picture of holding each others hand in solidarity which in my opinion spoke a thousand words in relation to the rights of people who use drugs. President Duterte since coming to office in past 18 months have murdered over 10 thousand poor people who use drugs. He is the same guy whose case is being examined by the ICC in the Hague for EJK. He is also the same guy who has admitted of himself using fentanyl regularly for his pain management. He is rich and powerful so are his friends. The world leaders gathered in Manila in his invitation, thought that it was okay what he was doing and decided to shake hands in solidarity endorsing his extra judicial killings of poor people who use drugs. I wanted to share this story with you not with an intent to name and shame one crazy leader but to name and shame all the leaders who shared the stage, shook hands in solidarity endorsing his extra judicial killings and not denouncing in public that what he is doing is blatantly wrong. This is the current state of the rights of people who use drugs, the community that I represent on behalf of ANPUD. With support from the harm reduction in Asia project in partnership with the Alliance India and the Global Fund we are working towards reinstating our very basic right. The right to life. You can follow our Stop Duterte Now Campaign by visiting our website, Youtube channel and Twitter and Facebook pages. I urge you all to be bold to speak up about this gross violation of the rights of people who use drugs which after this historic endorsements is likely to spread to other countries in our region. This is your last chance to be in the right side of the history and not be among those who endorses unlawful killings.
  3. Now I would like to talk about Gender. Frankly I am not an expert in gender so you may not hear anything new from me. People who use drugs have so many challenges that they are going through that I have already shared with you earlier ranging from right to life to right to warm clothes and everything in between I find it hard to dis-aggregate gender and speak in detail. However, it will be unfair if I do not speak up about the challenges women and trans people who use drugs face amongst our community. Beside all the trouble they have to go through just being a person using drugs they are often forced to sell sex and are exploited by their own community members. ANPUD has in this regards taken a few steps in including a gender module in our PUD organizational development manual with the support from Alliance and the Global Fund as our partners. All of our community development work in future will be guided by this module on meaningful gender inclusivity.

Now I would like to wrap up my presentation.

First and foremost,

  • All of you present in this room here today are the most important people to me, to ANPUD and the entire Harm Reduction in Asia family and in that matter people who use drugs around the globe who are facing insurmountable pressure just to “keep us alive” and take care of our loved ones just as how we are and how we choose to live. Hence our mantra specifically thought for this meeting since its happening in India is ‘ Jisko pina hey pinay do – Jisko jina hai jine do’ this is derived from a popular hindi song which translates to – let those who want to use whatever use, let those who want to live without support of any substance live. Whoever wrote this song almost 4 decades ago. This is all we want as people who use drugs. Lets use evidence to design programs and avoid our prejudices. My mom never grew me up to be a drugs user. It happens. It happens to anyone and if we take our lessons from the past we will be able to stop and minimize the harms in future.

I call upon all of you present here to put the people who use drugs first and in the center of the center of the planning process. So what is this ‘in the center of the center’.

  1. PUDs are criminalized groups so its impossible for us to organize and mobilize in the same way other groups who may not be criminalized do. I call upon you while developing programs to keep this in mind and prioritize interventions that allows that to happen through supporting the National and local groups of people who use drugs beside other services that you have already been planning and implementing successfully. Earlier Dr. Sachdeva already acknowledged the leadership of NACO in trying to make this happen through HR interventions to criminalized populations. Please allocate resources to support the networks of people who use drugs. Most of our networks are struggling due to lack of support across the region.
  2. Because we have not been able to organize ourselves as I have already mentioned in my point above we are underrepresented in many crucial forums such as the CCMs. Even though there are representations they are not necessarily meaningful given the fact that the entire public health is not one of our core expertise (most often it’s the injecting and abscesses that we are experts in). I would call upon all of you who are part of the CCM and the National programs to facilitate our representations as much as possible and make it meaningful by being our allies, advocates and ambassadors.
  3. While designing the programs putting PUD communities in center also means for yourselves to change the way you think of the drugs. We have been told that drugs are bad, we should all have drug free society for several decades now. We have made effort and put a lot of money in taking this approach but sadly have not achieved the desired result. I urge you to keep yourselves updated on the recent successful policies and programs that are based on science and have shown the light in the end of the tunnel that suggest that there are pragmatic ways to address the drug use issues.

This is all I have to say today. Thank you again for giving us a chance to speak. We have already achieved a lot in the 1st year and we have 2 more years to go. I will like to reassure Sonal, Nicole and the entire Alliance India team that we are determined as partners of this HR in Asia project to bring some tangible change in the area of Drug Use in our region.

Thanks to Simon and Charan my go to friends while in Delhi if I need any sight seeing per say.

Thank You.