16 July 2011
By Radheshyam Jadhav
The whitewashed walls splashed with scarlet sprays, the corners littered with tiny, plastic sachets and the foul, rotting smell — all are the staples of any public building. The headquarters of public governing bodies are no exception. Tobacco, in all its forms, has had a long innings in the seats of power in the state — right from gram panchayats to municipal corporations. Now, the times they are a–changin’. If the women’s movements against addiction and the NGOs have their way, politicians aspiring to contest the forthcoming local polls are certain to face the music if they fail to eschew their addiction to chewing tobacco.
Ahead of the elections for the 27 zilla parishads and 10 municipal corporations scheduled for the next eight months, women’s organisations in Maharashtra have joined hands to bring tobacco addiction to the political agenda.
“Local governing bodies are important power centres and we do not want people who are addicted to tobacco as our representatives. We do not want to see our panchayat members and corporators spitting all the time with mouthful of gutkha or tobacco. The state has enforced various criteria for contesting elections. For example, those who want to contest should have toilets in their homes and should not have not more than two children. We want that the criterion of non–addiction be added in the list,” said Varsha Deshpande of the Dalit Mahila Vikas Mandal (DMVM), a Satara–based organisation formed and run by women, which has used legal provisions, such as voting against liquor shops in Gram Sabha and raiding illicit liquor dens in South Maharashtra.
This resentment against chewing tobacco gains significance against the backdrop of the World Health Organization (WHO) figures which were released last week. The figures indicate that 33% adult Indian males and 18.4% adult Indian females use smokeless tobacco. Among the youth, 19% males and 8.3% females use some forms of tobacco.
In 2009, rural women working for the anti–liquor movement came out with the manifesto in which they vowed to defeat candidates and parties that distribute free liquor to win votes in Lok Sabha elections. The women leaders in local governing bodies are taking similar initiatives in the forthcoming polls.
“Any anti–addiction campaign must start from the grassroots. One cannot impose changes. The women’s movement in Maharashtra has grown stronger by the year and I hope women leaders will implement their agenda. All reforms must not be tagged with elections and I’m confident that women leaders, who will now get 50% share in the local power, will take steps to strengthen the anti–addiction campaign,” said Bhim Raskar, programme director, Mahila Rajsatta Andolan, a campaign for women in governance initiated in 2000.
Civic activist and president of the city–based Surajya Sangharsh Samiti Vijay Kumbhar said leaders like Anna Hazare, who have taken initiative against addictions decades ago, can bring a change. “Civic movements should campaign for leaders who are free of addiction and corruption. The wave of the anti–corruption movement will have its impact in local elections and good candidates will benefit,” said Kumbhar.
“It’s time to have non–corrupt and non–addicted leaders. There is no idol in politics and it is our responsibility as society to elect leaders with personal and social integrity and create new idols.” says Archanatai Jatkar, sarpanch of Pokhari village in Yavatmal district, who pointed out that women are the one who bear the brunt of the men’s weakness for addiction.
According to the India Cancer Initiative report, more than 4,000 different chemicals have been found in tobacco and tobacco smoke. More than 60 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer (carcinogens). Nicotine is a drug found in tobacco, which is highly addictive – as addictive as heroin or cocaine and over time, a person becomes physically and emotionally addicted to, or dependent on, nicotine.
“With addiction comes spitting, which spread diseases. Even in city like Pune, we are falling short to fight this menace. In fact, political parties in Pune should take up this issue on their agenda for the forthcoming civic polls. The central should run a spit–free campaign nationwide. In city like Pune public spitting is a major concern and political parties should take up the matter,” said Girish Deshapnde of the Spit–free India Campaign.
Said anti–tobacco campaign activist Vilas Baba Jawal from Jawalwadi in Satara: “We are sure that political parties will not like our anti–tobacco agenda. We have received no support from the politicians for our campaign till date. But we are determined to push our agenda. We want to make this a political issue and want parties to take a stand. The coming elections will be the litmus test for political parties.”
How R R Patil dropped the habit
obacco addiction made the headlines Tin Maharashtra politics when state home minister R R Patil decided to shun his long–time habit of chewing tobacco after he was publically castigated by NCP leader and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar for chewing tobacco.
“Since that rally in 2005, where Pawar Junior made public statement on R R Aba’s (as he is popularly known in his home town, Sangli) habit of chewing tobacco, Aba vouched to shun tobacco and since then he hasn’t touched the substance,” said one of R R Patil’s staunch supporters in Sangli.
Ajit Pawar publically said that Patil’s hands were trembling on the day of the swearing in, because he (Patil) had not had his hourly quota of tobacco.
- The WHO report on ‘global tobacco epidemic’ finds that tobacco will kill nearly six million people worldwide this year
- More than five million will be users and those addicted to tobacco but have since given up. And, the rest will perish for being exposed to tobacco smoke
- Tobacco could kill eight million a year by 2030
- Tobacco use is one of the biggest contributors to the non–communicable diseases epidemic, including heart disease, stroke, cancers and respiratory diseases, and accounts for 63% of all deaths
- There are 425 million people in 19 nations – about 6% of the world’s population — where bans on tobacco marketing are in place, and nearly all of them are low or middle–income countries
- The tobacco epidemic continues to expand because of marketing, population growth in countries, where tobacco use is increasing and also due to the “extreme addictiveness” of nicotine
- Large, graphic health warning labels on tobacco packages are an essential component of a national strategy to reduce tobacco use