Growing Up: Ramzan’s Story
“I only need love and acceptance, without discrimination for my history with drugs,” says twenty-four year old Ramzan Sheikh.
Ramzan went to the municipality school on Dockyard Road in Mumbai for a short time; he didn’t learn to read or write and he’s forgotten what he learned. He liked to sneak out most of the time to roam around with friends, disregarding his family, his father, mother, elder sister and younger brother. His father could have provided him with an education, but he left the house at the age of seven with no intentions to return. He started smoking beedis, and wanted to be the “master of his own will.” He disdained the control his father tried to exert, and the moral preaching he tried to impart.
He moved to live on the streets outside Victoria Terminus (VT) Station where drugs were sold in abundance. He went without food and bath for days on end; all he wanted was to satisfy his craving for brown sugar. “I did anything and everything to get cash to buy drugs. Petty thefts, picking pockets, conning people, even charging tourists to pose for their photos,” constantly running from the police. Ramzan spent time at Arthur Road, Kolhapur, and Byculla prisons on several occasions. He says, “VT was my favourite place as maal (brown sugar) was easy to find. I was beaten up by people, bitten by street dogs, survived wounds without medication. As long as I had my supply of drugs.”
When he was eighteen, he met a girl named Asha outside of the station who had fled her home in Orissa. They grew to like each other, “I protected her and we took care of each other,” says Ramzan. She was also struggling with a drug addiction, and soon her parents found her and took her away. When she told her parents about Ramzan they got furious. “They didn’t want their daughter to keep any relationship with me, as I was totally immersed in drugs,” says Ramzan. “Now, I’m happy for her. Her life would have been worse if she had stayed with me in those dark days.”
Many Sankalp peer educators exchanged his used needles for clean needles, tried to educate Ramzan about the available medical treatments and counselling services. But Ramzan wasn’t quitting; he continued to fix, “To remove the physical pain, sometimes I took drugs every two hours. It helped me forget, and I felt immense peace and relaxation. This was one thing that brought me happiness.”
Then an outreach worker from the Mumbai Central Drop-in Centre (DIC) named Hasmukh Shah, Ramzan’s former “using partner,” began to change his perspective. Ramzan says, “Hasmukh used to be on the streets, submerged in drugs with me, and what he became surprised me.” This inspired Ramzan to seek out the services of Sankalp, and he started a course of buprenorphine, the Opioid Substitution Therapy.
The significant turning point came when he became part of Project Hunar. He received shelter from Sankalp, and visited a partner NGO, AMBA CEEIC in Bangalore to meet intellectually challenged youngsters who were learning computers. Ramzan thought, “If these young kids with such disabilities can learn computers, then why can’t I?” This gave him the inspiration to go forward with the programme. Today Ramzan works at Sankalp’s Charni Road Centre where he is not only trying his hands on data entry training but also learning English. He says, “I want to make up for all of my lost days of learning.” He adds, “Anything I do, the foundation must be strong. I want to get hold of life and do something for my family.” He learnt first aid and dressing in Sankalp, and enjoys dressing the clients under treatment. He enjoys attending NA meetings, and thoughtfully says, “In the meetings, we can relate to each other; the journeys of drug people are more or less the same.”
In 2004 he tested positive for HIV. He has grown to accept his status, and is an ongoing support person for many clients at Sankalp. “There’s an opportunity to marry a girl who’s negative, but I can’t do that,” says Ramzan. The admiration and value he gets from people around him encourages him to do well in life, to pursue a good career, and rebuild relationships with his family. “I’m in contact with my sister, with my mom. She used to be very angry with me, with my addiction. I know I have to improve these relationships, and I’m gathering the courage to tell them about my HIV positive status.”
This story appeared in our spring 2010 newsletter.