‘Khatti’ (translation: hangout) is a word which every Odia would relate to. A common sight which greets you in Odisha’s capital are the number of Omfed milk centres (which also double up as tea stalls) spread across the city which are hubs for such hangouts. These harmless looking shops have slowly become hubs for consumption of tobacco – especially gutka. Local paan shops and tea vendors are adding to the woes and the state is now reeling under acute problems of tobacco consumption.
But there is hope.
Meet Md Imran Ali, a young Odisha resident who has waged a war against tobacco addiction in the state and is single-handedly trying to take on the 20,000 cr gutka industry.
He experienced this menace up close during one of his field visits to a slum in Bhubaneswar for his college project. Seeing kids as young as 10 years addicted to tobacco products, he decided to launch a personal crusade against this lethal industry. On further investigation, he found that the easy availability of tobacco products in the market and ignorance of parents make it easy for children to access these items. The experience affected him immensely and he published a book ‘Bloody Gutka’ in which he talks about the dangers of being addicted to tobacco products.
Imran then roped in a bunch of like-minded people to launch an awareness programme in the slums and talk to the parents. The group called Nasha Mukti Yuva Sankalp (NMYS) started with a mission to end the sale/distribution of tobacco products and get youngsters out of this life threatening habit.
With about 30 volunteers in the NMYS, Imran targeted schools and colleges next to spread awareness about various addictions.
Imran and his friend Jitendra Kumar Sahoo also filed a PIL in the Odisha High Court, seeking a ban on the sale of tobacco products at milk parlours. A senior advocate, Biren Tripathi offered to help and in 2011 the court ruled that there should be a ban on tobacco products in the state milk booths.
They next had their sight on bringing about a complete ban on gutka business in the state. NYMS launched awareness drives and online campaigns and filed another PIL in the High Court. What followed was a legal battle with the state government banning gutka completely in 2013. This was a huge win for the group.
They also use films as a medium to spread their message and their documentary – Salaam Jeevan talks about the hazards of tobacco. The youth wing of the state government helped airing the documentary in 2, 500 colleges in the state.
Imran has also roped in a doctor friend, B Nayak to counsel tobacco addicts. Through various health camps, they spread awareness about diseases like mouth cancer and how withdrawal from tobacco and early detection can help curb the disease. Those underprivileged who already suffer from mouth cancer are taken to the Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre for free treatment by NMYS volunteers.
While Imran works as part-time teacher in a college, all other volunteers are from different backgrounds, ranging from professional editors, voice-over artists, cameramen, etc who participate to make Odisha addiction free.
Though achieving a complete ban on tobacco is a daunting task due to boot-legging and illegal sales/distribution, Imran and his group of volunteers are putting their best foot forward to curb this menace and we @The Broken Scooter applaud their efforts and urge our readers to do their bit. You can follow them here for more details.
Let’s make Odisha tobacco free, together.