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  • November 18, 2013

Musings: India’s New Drug Subculture

Author
Jenna Turner

When Enrico Fabian quit his job as an IT systems manager for a hospital in Germany to move to New Delhi, he wasn’t entirely sure what he would do when he arrived.

“I had a steady income, an easygoing job, great colleagues,” he explains, “but still there was something missing. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I would pursue photography when the decision about India came up.”

His girlfriend at the time had received a job offer to work for an NGO in New Delhi, and Fabian saw an opportunity for change. Without any firm plans, he decided to go with her. “I sold everything I had and asked my company to give me one year of unpaid holiday.”

Nearly seven years later, Fabian was the first-prize winner for his photojournalism portfolio during FotoWeekDC—a photography festival in Washington.

Mohammed, a 15-year-old addict, watches closely while an older addict prepares an injection. For young addicts the relationships to the older and more experienced users can mean safety and danger at the same time. Crime and violence among the users is quite common.
Mohammed, a 15-year-old addict, watches closely while an older addict prepares an injection. For young addicts the relationships to the older and more experienced users can mean safety and danger at the same time. Crime and violence among the users is quite common.

When I asked Fabian what sparked his interest in photography, he told me that since his late teens he’d had an interest in all forms of visual content. He discovered the work of James Nachtwey, and was extremely moved by “what he was willing to give in terms of spending time with people and in terms of the very rough areas he was working in.”

When Fabian arrived in India, he said he felt immediately at home. “Even if there were many things I found confusing, I felt very comfortable there, immediately. The visual input was overwhelming.”

A 16-year-old boy prepares one of his daily injections. A so-called “set”, consisting of an ampule of Buprenorphine (semi-synthetic opioid), an ampule of Diazepam (Valium), an ampule of Avil (an antihistamine,) and two disposable syringes is sold for 50 rupees—a little less than $1. Regular customers of the local pharmacies sometimes even get a discount or an extra strong painkiller tablet for free
A 16-year-old boy prepares one of his daily injections. A so-called “set”, consisting of an ampule of Buprenorphine (semi-synthetic opioid), an ampule of Diazepam (Valium), an ampule of Avil (an antihistamine,) and two disposable syringes is sold for 50 rupees—a little less than $1. Regular customers of the local pharmacies sometimes even get a discount or an extra strong painkiller tablet for free

His decisive moment to pursue photography came while he was walking through a central part of New Delhi and heard someone screaming: “The masses of people opened up, and in the middle of the road there was this man whose right leg, his right foot, looked like it had been ripped off freshly … he was basically sitting there begging for money, screaming for money.”

Fabian was stunned by the fact that everyone, including himself, was just passing by. He decided to bring his camera there the next day. “I just felt the really urgent need of somehow documenting it.”

The man wasn’t there the next day, but Fabian still took photographs of the scene. Although not the quality he wanted them to be, he explains, “for me, it felt like, at least I did something, even if it was nothing.”

Wasim, 16, lies  on the floor of the family’s living quarter, his hands and feet tied behind his back, while one of his younger brothers watches. His mother tied him up, with the help of a neighbor, after arguing about money for drugs. Wasim is the oldest of five children, living in one of the many slum settlements in Delhi.
Wasim, 16, lies on the floor of the family’s living quarter, his hands and feet tied behind his back, while one of his younger brothers watches. His mother tied him up, with the help of a neighbor, after arguing about money for drugs. Wasim is the oldest of five children, living in one of the many slum settlements in Delhi.
A young girl, left, searches for something in a cupboard drawer, while her father’s friend, Pakori, injects drugs.
A young girl, left, searches for something in a cupboard drawer, while her father’s friend, Pakori, injects drugs.

 

A boy stands amidst the evening rush on a main road. The close-by Azadpur Mandi, one of India's largest vegetable and fruit wholesale markets, attracts thousands of people every day, making it an ideal ground for both legal and illegal trafficking. The area is well-known for drug abuse and drug marketing.
A boy stands amidst the evening rush on a main road. The close-by Azadpur Mandi, one of India’s largest vegetable and fruit wholesale markets, attracts thousands of people every day, making it an ideal ground for both legal and illegal trafficking. The area is well-known for drug abuse and drug marketing.

I was curious to know what he thought was the most challenging part of working as a photographer in India. Fabian reflected a moment.

“What is challenging obviously is that you are confronted on a daily basis with the roughness of life, but I find it almost more empowering and more integrating because it gives me a constant reminder of how lucky I am. Actually, it really motivates me to continue the work.”

View more of Enrico Fabian’s work on his website, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

There are 17 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. gina amituanai
    November 21, 2015

    beautiful photos. graphic yes but definitely heart wrenching honesty

  2. Yaroslav
    December 8, 2013

    Abhijit Sarkar
    November 24, 2013

    +100!

  3. Ansar
    December 3, 2013

    Many people are are concerned about their image of India, especially when their culture is shown in poor light, at least now they recognize these issues as ” their problem” . It is also important to recognize their role in it rather than lay the blame on old invaders. It is Indias polity, culture and sub culture , the religions with their castes and sub castes which has brought us to this situation

  4. Bharath
    December 2, 2013

    @ankur your comment is true.
    800 years of Mughul rule and 200 years of the british rule ruined India

  5. Abhijit Sarkar
    November 24, 2013

    Why is it that most images I see made in India (and Africa) are of terrible agony and extreme pathos? It is because those sell. Think 9/11 and how people were riveted to their television watching in horror the extreme suffering of the victims. The author is no different, at least not that I can tell from this piece. He came across a suffering man, and what did he do? He came back the next day with a camera hoping to make a pretty compelling addition to his repertoire. It’d be more humanitarian if he came back with a doctor or a member of an NGO to help out the poor guy.
    A photog is not a silent observer to the things going around him. A camera does not come with an automatic “no social responsibility” token. If you want to make a difference and spread awareness, feel free to document the event for others’ sake who weren’t there; then put the camera down, and try to help these people. Otherwise you may win awards but never will win any hearts.

  6. Sher
    November 23, 2013

    @Ankur, Not just British Imperialism or other European colonialists. The raping of India, especially Delhi and it’s people started centuries back when the Islamic rule of India began.

    Forceful conversion of religion, looting of Indian wealth and what not.

    One of the example I can point out is ‘Timur’. India’s fate was long sealed and seems will be sealed for some more time to come.

    It’s Indians for Indians. Nobody else cares.

    Good work by the way.

  7. Steph
    November 22, 2013

    Ankur…you are so absolutely correct! Some think nothing of creating misery and despair so that they might live luxuriously.

  8. gina
    November 21, 2013

    Its absolutely absolutely heartbreaking to see such disturbing images. You really have captured moments of pure agony. I cannot even begin to imagine the immense suffering of these these people, although there is pain the images are beautiful, very well done

  9. Arshia
    November 20, 2013

    I feel totally shaken up after seeing the photographs. Job done Mario. I have to say these are incredibly disturbing images especially since majority of the users are so young. The image with the little girl rifling through the drawers while the man shoots up, just goes to show how routine it is within society. Yes it’s to escape the hard ships of life and that’s what makes it so heart breaking. It’s not recreational drug use, for which there is no excuse. One carries around the image of someone with their eyes rolled up, high out of their minds, when one thinks of a user. But these are just kids, the innocence in their eyes is truly heart breaking.

  10. Ankur
    November 19, 2013

    no. it starts with british imperialism. it starts with rape of natural resources and utter dehumanization of a people. it starts with colonization and division of folks who inhabited a country together, with their own internal struggles which pale in comparison to what europeans have done to them. it ends with a broken country, rife with corruption, addiction, and violence. it makes sense that the pathetic government is following the paradigm established by western governments to go along with these aforementioned western values.

  11. Bhaskar
    November 19, 2013

    Things are not as simple as my friend Mario suggests and thousand others like him think. But great work and intriguing pictures. Keep up the good work. Would love to interact someday.

  12. B.N SAIKIRAN
    November 18, 2013

    Probably the most painful pics ive ever seen.This is the plight of India.Future of India is amputated by means of inducing drugs in children’s blood.This is the situation of poor people but there are scores of rich people who squander their money on drugs. in a way a child is given an injection which should be replaced by book and pen.These pics convey a lot. Good work. Appreciation.

  13. Arijit Nag
    November 18, 2013

    Brilliant photographs but the story has nothing has new to offer. We are immune to such sights. It is time the so-called NGOs and people attached to rehabilitation are photographed with their masks off.

  14. MARIO LAWRENCE MONTEIRO
    November 18, 2013

    It starts with lighting up an ordinary cigarette as a school boy. Then someone suggests marijuana (pot) which is crushed and replaces the tobacco in the cigarette. When this high is not enough, the now college student progresses onto cocaine and later crack or brown sugar. This later becomes main lining or directly injecting heroin into the blood. This is the path in cities for children of parents who send their wards to good public schools. What has been documented above is the lower strata of society which considers illegal drugs as an escape from the hardships of every day life.

  15. Carolina
    November 18, 2013

    You certainly have captured very disturbing images of these poor addicted souls. I know many ppl will say: who wants to see such photos but it’s important that these images are shown. I love the hustle and bustle of India.

  16. rayhaan ‘s
    November 18, 2013

    A small changes can be big changes 4 better changes. ….

  17. jose
    November 18, 2013

    Amazing work

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