| Artistes perform at an anti-opium rally at Khonsa in Tirap district and (above) Kijan Richi, an opium addict of Lazo village Telegraph pictures
Lazo (Arunachal Pradesh), Dec. 13: In the past year, Lazo police station in Khonsa district of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Myanmar has registered only two cases — one over a fight between two villagers and the other aga-inst a youth who tried to damage a neighbour’s property.
Apart from these two minor incidents, this sleepy mountain hamlet has witnessed an environment of peace and serenity as always. But there is a bitter truth behind the prevailing tranquillity: more than 60 per cent of the population in 18 villages under Lazo revenue circle, which is under the jurisdiction of Lazo police station, is addicted to opium.
“Most of the villagers here, particularly the elderly, are addicted to opium and many of them are into opium cultivation. With opium addiction making the villagers lazy and sick, there is hardly any crime here,” P. Moidam, in-charge of Lazo police station, told this correspondent.
He said although opium cultivation is illegal, it is the only source of income for the villagers and it would be a futile exercise to stop them unless they are given an alternative source of income.
He said the district administration did carry out drives to destroy poppy cultivation in these villages but it is a virtually impossible task since most of the cultivable areas are inaccessible — on hill tops where there are no approach roads. “The only way to stop the villagers from engaging in opium cultivation is to motivate them and to convince them about the ill-effects of opium,” he added.
Keeping this in mind, Arunachal Pradesh has launched an anti-opium crusade in five eastern districts of the state where opium has become a big threat, especially to the youth. A car-cum-motorcycle rally, taken out as a part of the campaign, reached Lazo yesterday where the villagers were told about the ill-effects of opium.
Convinced with the anti-opium message, 13 self-help groups of two villages — Naglo and Lonliam — under Lazo revenue circle signed an understanding with the administration to give up opium cultivation. Chicks were distributed to the members of these self-help groups for raising poultry as an alternative source of income.
“We are trying our best to convince the villagers about the ills of opium but since it’s a sort of custom for the villagers to grow and consume opium, it is not an easy task,” Tirap deputy commissioner Sachin Sindhe said.
The state government is also planning to start tea cultivation and horticulture as an alternative to opium cultivation for the villagers.
Yngsen Homcha, a teacher at Lazo government school, said he used to be an opium addict till about a decade back but gave up the habit as he realised its dangers. “It’s difficult to keep away from opium use since it is prevalent among our people since ages. My family was into opium cultivation but gave up soon after I got the teacher’s job,” he added.
Kijam Richi, an opium addict, said he needs to consume opium worth Rs 200 every day but since his family is into its cultivation he gets his regular supply. “If my family gives up opium cultivation, I will need Rs 200 every day... from where will I get it?” he asked. Richi, who is totally against the anti-opium crusade, said the administration should mind its own business and leave the peace-loving hill people alone.
Yumrin Khela, an educated youth from the village, said he understood how opium was harming the people but unless its supply from the other side of the border was stopped, the anti-opium crusade by the administration would be of no use.
“More opium is grown in Myanmar than here and it’s easy to cross over the unmanned border. I have visited Myanmar several times. It’s just a few hours’ walk.” He said opium was a lucrative trade and it would not be an easy task for the administration to find an alternative for the villagers. “A pouch of opium is sold at Rs 6,000,” he said.