It was sometime in 1980. On an undisclosed hilltop in Shillong, Simanta Das had first tasted a banned substance. In about a month’s time, he was fully into substance abuse. After 15 years, he enrolled himself in a rehabilitation centre run by Dr Chiranjib Kakoty in Guwahati and managed to get the camel off his back. But his cup of woes was not going to end so soon. He started drinking alcohol. By this time, he had sold off his house in Ulubari, in the heart of Guwahati city, and a godown as well and started living on the platform in Guwahati Railway Station.
Often, he used to harbour suicidal tendencies, but the fear of death and the jest for life brought him back into the fold of Dr Kakati in the year 2000. “In this tumultuous phase, I would often reflect on the hell that I was in. I used to entertain the thought of jumping before a moving train. Somehow, I could not,” said Simanta.
It is to prevent the Simantas of the world from descending into terra incognita that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has launched Nasa Mukt Bharat Abhiyan (NMBA), a sensitisation campaign across the country to wean the youth away from the lure of drugs. “This campaign is the need of the hour. Drugs had physically, mentally, and financially made me weak and vulnerable,” he told Asom Barta. “If you do not put a lid on it at the very start, especially when you are young, you are staring down the barrel,” he added. He is now spearheading a campaign against alcohol, drugs and substance abuse through his organisation ‘Sobriety Foundation’ in the city
The NMBA kicked off across the country on August 15, 2020 in 272 districts identified as most affected ones based on a national survey conducted by the Ministry as well as supply side inputs from the Narcotics Control Bureau under the Ministry of Home Affairs, in 32 States and Union Territories. Out of the 272 districts, nine are from Assam namely Cachar, Dhubri, Hailakandi, Kamrup, Kamrup (Metropolitan), Karimganj, Nagaon and Udalguri.
It has been a slow starter in Assam, but there are districts in the State which are showing the will to fight. “This programme must be introduced to the youth and be incorporated in curriculum at the school level to have a lasting impact,” Das opined.
According to data, there are 20.4 lakh substance users in Assam. Of them, 8.05 lakh are using opioids, 6.3 lakh use ganja while 3.4 lakh are frequent users of inhalant and 2.4 lakh use sedatives. What is worrisome is that over 3.3 lakh of these addicts are children. A Ministry official told this reporter that what has come as a surprise is the increasing number of women who are into drugs.
Kamrup (M) ADC Kalpana Deka rationalising the initiative said that more than the rehabilitation campaign, it is the sensitisation that is of importance. “We are working on major areas under the campaign. One is to bring back a substance abuser to the mainstream, the other, which I think is more important, is to create awareness among the youth on the ramification of substance abuse,” she told this reporter, and added that top psychiatrists, artistes, social activists and media professionals have been roped in the process.
Manindra Adhikari, District Social Welfare Officer, Goalpara informed this newsletter that schools and colleges are being used to create awareness about the NMBA campaign. “We organised a rath yatra on June 27 and 28 to create awareness on the subject, especially in sensitive areas,” he said.
In the Kamrup Metropolitan district, Uttaran Welfare Foundation, an NGO, has been engaged to offer training to NGOs, volunteers, and even government employees.
The State Government has time and again let its seriousness known to the people. Recently, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Pijush Hazarika expressed his displeasure at the state of a rehabilitation centre in Guwahati. He even convened a meeting of stakeholders running such centres and directed them to put their house in order.
The persistent drive against drug peddlers have resulted in seizure of ₹ 655.40 crore of banned substances in the last one year or so, while leading to the arrest of 4,750 individuals in 13 months beginning August 1, 2021 and ending on August 31, 2022.
Experts believe that sensitisation efforts coupled with a drive against drug peddlers and users can only make the effort achieve the desired objectives. “One is lame without the other,” an official said, on condition of anonymity.