Mission of the Month: 'Ten years is the norm for possession of illegal drugs in India'

A series by diplomats from UK Embassies and the High Commissions from around the world

The alarm goes off at 6.30am, but I've been awake for a while thinking about a young British lad who's been sleeping rough high up in a remote mountain area. The little information we have suggests he has a psychiatric condition.

We've seen a rise in such cases in the past year. What to do? There's barely a pharmacy in that part of the country, and we are neither doctors nor specialists. We have to try to find a way to track down his family back home and make sure he sees the right people quickly.

Last year, almost 800,000 British nationals visited India, and more than 1,200 needed our help. Many of the straightforward cases need never have come to our attention had the people concerned been better prepared. Simple steps include reading our travel advice; taking out travel insurance; keeping a photocopy of the personal-data page of your passport, and the page bearing the Indian visa; and telling someone back home where you'll be – or, better still, registering with us.

We dealt with 122 deaths last year, almost one in three of them in Goa – understandable, given the appeal to both holidaymakers and long-stay expatriate Brits. In each case, it's for the police to investigate the causes but we can help relatives find a funeral director to repatriate their loved one.

Of the 40 British nationals arrested in India last year, a large proportion were for possession of drugs. We have no standing to interfere in the Indian justice system any more than India can interfere in ours. Ten years is the norm and, unlike the Bridget Jones film, The Edge of Reason, there is no diplomatic car to get you out.

Later in the morning, I go to the Ministry of Home Affairs to talk about a particular Brit in prison. The official I speak to does not look too concerned. But while the lawyers argue the case in court, we will be persistent and determined if we hear any rumours of abuse – be it brutality, deprivation of mail or poor quality of meals.

Simon Ferrand is British Consul – Head of Consular Operations, based in the British High Commission in New Delhi, India. For travel advice on India, and everywhere else on the planet, see fco.gov.uk/travel

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