“I was arrested for drugs when I was 19-year-old, now I am 32-year-old. Thirteen years have passed but even now I can be imprisoned anytime. I live under the threat of police. Use drugs once and become a criminal for life,” rued Vinod (name changed) as he took part in a Support. Don’t Punish event in New Delhi.

These words ably illustrate the consequences of the punitive laws that criminalize drug use in India. As part of efforts to raise awareness and speak against harmful policies, India HIV/AIDS Alliance joined the Support Don’t Punish campaign with Global Day of Action activities in New Delhi to raise awareness of the harms caused by the criminalization of people who use drugs.

At busy service sites for people who inject drugs (PWID) in the Yamuna Bazar and Jahangirpuri sections of the city, we shared Support. Don't Punish stickers and posters and spoke with PWID about how June 26 has long been observed as “anti-drug day” with public arrests of PWID along with the disposal of seized drugs. Our campaign aimed to reclaim the day as one to support PWID.

PWID from both sites volunteered to join us as we headed to our rally at Jantar Mantar, a historic area of New Delhi. Here the group grew as it was joined by more representatives from drugs users groups and other activists to observe a silent march to bring the issues of PWID to the notice of decision makers and the general public and encourage policy reform to promote our health and human rights.

Our last stop of the day was at Sahara House, a community-based drug treatment center, where we took part in an interactive session facilitated by Tripti Tandon a prominent lawyer from Lawyers Collective. PWID shared their experiences, and Tripti noted that though the law allows for a PWID to avail detoxification, this provision is often overlooked by law enforcement.

As our Day of Action ended in New Delhi, we hoped it would mark a turning point for PWID. 

There are signs of change. As we raised community voices on 26th June, a group of international technical experts urged the Prime Minister of India to end the War on Drugs. Is a new consensus forming? As our banner proclaimed, “The War on Drugs kills us!” In India, this War has been lost, leaving behind only death. We need to move past futility and toward solutions that work for PWID.

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