17 October 2012
In this 2005 photo, a man surveys his banana plantation — part of the small farm he went on to run after completing Navachaithanya’s detoxification program. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are serious problems all over the world, and India is no exception. According to a literature review published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, a 2009 study found that 14.2% of the population surveyed in southern, rural India indicated a hazardous level of alcohol use on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT).
To help people suffering from addiction in Kerala, in 1991 the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Irinjalakuda established Navachaithanya, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.
“Alcohol has always been a problem here, it’s not just recently,” said Syro-Malabar Bishop James Pazhayattil of the Eparchy of Irinjalakuda. “Several years ago, people approached me about the problem in our community and we started Navachaithanya.” Since then, the center has treated more than 8,000 men for alcoholism or drug addiction, though alcohol is by far the area’s larger problem. ...
The Navachaithanya compound is up a slight hill, off the main road in the town of Aloor, and includes a seminary and a convent as well as the detoxification center. The accommodations are ascetic. During their stay the men sleep in bunks with thin mattresses, in crowded rooms where the heat can be stifling. There is no air-conditioning and little shade to be found in the central courtyard.
The campers receive medical treatment at a nearby clinic. Dr. V. J. Paul, who runs the clinic, treats campers with a combination of the classic Western detoxification cocktail — such as thiamin hydrochloride and sodium valproate — and local herbs and oils common to the local practice of Ayurvedic medicine. (Dr. Paul employs a different regimen to treat smokers.) Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic system of healing that originated in India some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, remains popular throughout India. Shops containing herbal and other plant extracts are more common than modern pharmacies.
Throughout the day, campers participate in discussions and exercise groups as well as prayer sessions. Most of the campers are Christians, but Hindus and Muslims also take part and are not compelled to join in the Catholic services.
“I have no problems being here,” said Razia, a 25-year-old Muslim camper who is trying to quit smoking. “My father told me about this place and sent me here. I’ve been here for three days, and I’ve never been made to feel uncomfortable for being Muslim.”
Read more in Paul Wachter’s One Day at a Time in Kerala, from the July 2005 issue of ONE.
Tags: India Health Care Multiculturalism Alcoholism