As of 2015, there were an estimated seven million drug addicts in Pakistan, according to the Anti-Narcotics Force. Pakistan is said to be the main transit country for narcotics produced in Afghanistan, particularly opium, hashish and heroin.
Heroin has long taken root in our society, with people from all walks of life battling addiction to the substance. This road to self-ruin has always piqued my curiosity. And in search of answers, I immersed myself for two months into a facility that helps people with addiction.
Located at the heart of Karachi, on Fatima Jinnah Road, Ibteda has been working with drug addicts and victims of substance abuse since 1984. Ibteda, which is Urdu for beginning, offers a new approach to drug rehabilitation, emphasising the role of community, and offering a spiritual response to the problem.
This photo series aims to capture the many issues that lead to substance abuse and the subsequent journey through the stories of 12 recovering addicts in this facility. It offers an insight into the kind of problems that drive people to the drug, and the point at which they choose to revisit their choices. Through this series, I hope to give a voice to the victims of this life-threatening addiction.
Since the programme requires members to stay within the confines of the small facility throughout their rehabilitation period, I have tried to incorporate that feeling through the lens -- of being trapped by their past, and restricted for the sake of their recovery.
Age: 19, Salesman for clothing outlet
“If you want to kill street crime, you will have to eradicate drugs. Almost everyone committing street crime is doing so mainly because of drug addiction.
I started off with chars when I was just 12 years old. Looting becomes an easy job when you’re addicted. Addiction kills your conscience. I needed Rs1,000 every day to spend on the drugs. One round of a place like boat basin can give you Rs300,000 to Rs400,000 worth of valuables. With a job that earned me just Rs4,000 a month, this was the only way I could sustain my addiction.
It was one of those days that I got caught and people started beating me up. My parents were shocked when they had to come and get me out of the police station. I think it was my wake up call. I had to fix my life.”
Age: 21, Tailor
“My friend’s father, who was the only breadwinner of his family, passed away. To give him company and support, I offered him a job at my tailoring shop, and spent time with him at his house. Uss ko bachanay may main khud phas gaya. He would drink often, and would offer it to me. There was no one else at his home. Now that I think of it, it is so important for parents to know what company their children keep.”
Age: 35, B-Com graduate
“It’s funny because I was never the one smoking hashish. I used to receive large amounts of hashish from my friend in Quetta, and would give it all away to the bullies in my college to earn their respect.
I was my mother’s only guardian when she was critically ill. I would take her to the hospital occasionally but in her last days, I really started getting lazy. I kept putting it off because I knew that my family was going to come home soon and they were going to share some of my burden. On her worst day, I knew I had to take her to the hospital but I realised that my heroin had finished; so, instead of taking her first, I went to buy heroin. By the time I got back, she had passed away.”
Age: 62, Former transport truck driver, currently works for Ibteda
“I was like every other truck driver, smoking hashish on long routes to make a monotonous journey easy and pleasurable. The fact that truck drivers smoke up is such an accepted fact in our country that policemen don’t even stop us.
Heroin was a new thing in my time. It became readily available during the Soviet-Afghan war. Since it was so fresh, everyone was raving about the high, but not the side effects. It also worked as an aphrodisiac. When you’re on it, everything is more exciting. Your wife immediately gets used to it, as well. And then you fear that if you quit, your wife will leave you and go somewhere else to get satisfied. Not every wife is understanding.
In order to get this drug, you can go to any extreme.”
Age: 34, Physiotherapist
“On my way to work, I used to see a gatekeeper smoking hashish very openly. I was always drawn to the smell. One day, I walked up to him and asked him what it was. I was immediately offered to smoke it. It felt good, I came back for more and he warmly welcomed me. The third time, he revealed that he was in fact a drug dealer and that I could purchase from him. After that I felt pressurised; I knew it was wrong, but it was also wrong to smoke his stuff for free. I had always been an antisocial person. I loved solitude. Drugs became my only friend.”
Age: 22, Beauty parlour employee
“Recruited by the army and protecting my country at the borders, I was living my dream, but I was unable to continue due to personal reasons and joined my mother at her beauty parlor. Some employees and customers over there would sniff heroin and that’s how I was introduced to it. I used to be around girls all the time; to an extent that I even started behaving like them. It got to a point where it became uncontrollable and obvious. I couldn’t help it and was made fun of.”
Age: 34, Chef
“Har buray kaam mein hi maza hai. Getting high was an escape from my sorrow and heartbreak. I used to be happily married. One day, I ran out of hash. The dealer on the street outside had none, and offered me heroin instead. One thing led to another. I lost my job because I was too sick to make it to work for three days at a time. Going from being the chef of a popular restaurant to a jobless father, I started injecting regularly.”
Age: 34, Car showroom owner
“I was really impressed with my brother. He drove just like characters in Fast and Furious do. He was in control even when completely drunk. He was my partner in crime. When your brother has your back, every wrong seems right.
We come from a religious family. After my immediate family learned that I was drinking, they started separating their glasses, bed sheets and towels. When I touched the handle of the refrigerator, my mother would come wipe it in front of me to make me feel guilty. It made me angry. I felt my family had abandoned me. This was when I started heroin. There was no smell, and I thought I could get away with it.
When my best friend died in front of me while injecting heroin, I realised I had to stop.”
Age: 28, Nursing graduate from rural Sindh
“I have severe anger management issues, especially when I am eating. After my parents and my brother found out that I was occasionally smoking hashish, they started taunting me by calling me names such as charsi, mavaali, herionchi, powdery. My brother would even bring it up on the dinner table. I got treated the same way whether I did drugs or not. I became a rebel. I made it my aim to do all those things they accused me off and blame them for it. I thought: Jab ganda bana hi diya hai to sahi se ho jao.”
Age: 19, General store emloyee
“When my parents found out that I was smoking hashish, they did not stop me. They simply warned me to not go beyond hash. Their acceptability made me feel comfortable. I thought to myself, ‘Nasha toh nasha hai; hashish and heroin are more or less the same thing. Let’s do it’. I had nothing against these kinds of things. I had seen it at home; I had seen my father drink, and I had always been part of Christian celebrations. It didn’t feel wrong at all.”
Age: 21, Finisher for leather garments
“It didn’t take much effort if any to be exposed to drugs as I lived in Pehlwan Goth at the time, an area where drugs were readily available. I was surrounded by it. There was a weird aroma in the air at all times. Initially, it was just a combination of sleeping pills and hashish. Just two puffs of heroin cigarettes gave you the same high. At that point, it was easy for me. I had money in my pocket and I could afford it. It was only when the dosage increased that I started taking money forcibly from home to satisfy my cravings.”
Age: 19, Student
“I think I took advantage of my parents’ leniency. My father really loved me and gave me everything I wanted before I even asked for it. He wanted me to be the popular one among my friends. That really boosted my confidence, but in the wrong way.
After my dad retired from work, there was always too much going on at home. I couldn’t handle all the screaming and shouting between my parents. I needed to breathe. At a party once, I saw some drivers smoking a weird black-coated cigarette and out of curiosity I asked what it was and they gave me a puff. It was heroin. It was a bad feeling followed by sweet one.”
Age: 36, Private driver
“If you live in a place like Shireen Jinnah Colony, you are more likely to get into drugs. I started hashish like most people do in their teens, out of curiosity and for kicks. If every second person in your streets has some drugs on them, it’s almost impossible to escape it.”
Listening to the stories of some of these survivors, I felt that their problems were not poles apart from the problems that many of us face. Tough times fall upon everyone, but it’s about redirecting the drive that sustains an addiction into something that benefits us.