Invisible Women

The unseen plight of Manipur’s female drug users

01 September 2017

ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF IMPHAL, an abandoned red-brick house stands amid rice paddies, its front garden overgrown with weeds. It does not have a front door, just a chained gate, and its floors are made of concrete. The house looks like it is still being constructed, with pieces of wood, piles of garbage and other building materials lying around in it. Dirty footprints on the ground are the only signs that visitors frequent the decrepit structure.

The house is a spot where injecting drug users in the Imphal area congregate. When I visited the place on a dusty morning in late May, I encountered a group of men and women of varying ages, lying down on the floor of a back room, which was littered with needles. Some were injecting heroin. Others were smoking bright-red tablets of WY—a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine. They were placing the tablets on a strip of aluminium foil, heating them from below, breathing in the fumes and then exhaling huge clouds of smoke. In nearby Myanmar, where WY is produced, it is called yaba, which translates literally to “mad drug.”

One of the people gathered was Jenny: a 46-year-old woman who comes to the house every day to do drugs. Jenny, who is homeless, used to be a schoolteacher. Now, she deals drugs and does sex work in order to survive, and to afford drugs for herself.

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    Sophie Cousins is a health journalist and writer. Her work focusses on the systems that perpetuate inequality and the impact this has on women’s and girls’ health.

    Keywords: Manipur Drugs Health drug addiction heroin Opiate Substitution Therapy