High on whitener, low on health

As the three kids entered the crowded bus in New Delhi railway station, the conductor at once grabbed them for tickets. Their untidy clothes and blank faces made him guess that they were ticketless passengers. The boys, ages 10 to 14, looked unaffected. They seemed accustomed to the rough handling. Closer scrutiny revealed that they were in some kind of stupor. 

The youngest who was bare-chested held his shirt close to his mouth constantly inhaling from it. The eldest after the brief scuffle with the conductor joined his partner taking out a folded handkerchief from his pocket. It contained the intoxicant. All through their half-hour journey from New Delhi Railway station to Nizamudin, they kept their pieces of cloths close to their mouths. As if it was their life. 

The other passengers in the bus seemed unconcerned. One of the boys who felt that the effect had lessened took out a white tube from his pocket and squeezed some transparent liquid on his piece of cloth, quickly slipping the tube back to his pocket. 

The tube contained whitener - a white fluid used to erase errors in handwritten, printed papers. It is increasingly being used by street children as an addiction. The addicts who are mostly adolescents sniff it. 

I could no longer hold myself and I enquired about their whereabouts. The eldest who seemed their head called himself Yasin. He said that he lived in Nizamudin in South Delhi with his elder brother who was a rickshaw-puller. His two friends were his neighbours. His voice was hoarse and manly unsuited to his age. And he spoke with a lot of effort. 

He revealed that the piece of cloth contained whitener which they bought from Nizammudin. For the people living in the capital, the sight of poor street urchins is not a very uncommon one. Many among them are also aware of the addictions that these people get into very early in life. 

What is more worrying is that whitener addiction in juveniles is increasingly being associated with crimes. 

300% more harmful than alcohol

Inhaling the substance is many times more harmful than alcohol, say health experts.

Dr Dnyaneshwari Patharkar of Go India Foundation says that inhaling whiteners is 300 per cent more harmful than regular alcohol because it directly affects the nervous system and hampers functioning of lungs, brain and kidneys.
Interestingly, the substance is not covered under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and therefore the police are finding it difficult to tackle this menace. The police cannot stop it sale as it is a stationery product that is easily available in the market. It is the shopkeepers who have to limit its sale to students and office-goers.

A 15 ml bottle of whitener along with a diluter of the same quantity costs around Rs 25-30.