Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
A mother is someone who can never give up on her child, whatever be the case. When her child is going down the wrong path or is in the wrong company, the mother fights despair, frustration, and fear and persists with the hope that her child will mend her or his ways.
But what if you are a mother whose child has become a drug addict? The dynamics become more complicated in such a scenario, and not least because of the stigma attached to addicts.
A group of mothers in Arunachal Pradesh have come together to help tackle the menace of drug abuse in the region. The story of Women Against Social Evils (WASE) is one of courage and empathy. WASE was born out of the need to help parents cope with the pain of losing sons or daughters to drugs and alcohol. It gradually grew to encompass activities to help parents identify addiction symptoms early on, counsel addicts and their parents, and ensure that society is aware of the evils of drug abuse.
The Logical Indian interviewed the spokesperson of WASE. Below, we describe WASE’s journey, challenges, and impact.
WASE is about how a group of women have found courage from their grief to make a difference because of the unfortunate events in their lives. The group is fighting for a change and a cause which is very close to their hearts because their children could never grow in the kind of society they wanted and desperately hope that their grandchildren will grow up in a better environment tomorrow.
The all-women group began its crusade against drug abuse and alcoholism in 2011. It started in the East Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. Initially called by different names, the group settled on “Women Against Social Evils” in 2016.
Many women in WASE have been mothers of drug addicts and alcoholics themselves. Therefore, they know the sentiments one must address when dealing with addicted teenagers and their parents. Out of experience came empathy and need to serve, to ensure that no parent and teenager would have to suffer through a dark phase of addiction and rehabilitation.
The drug and alcohol menace
Leaders, officers, intellectuals, the administration, police, organisations, the rich & the poor: everybody has been a witness to the menace of addiction in the Northeast. The drop-out rate of children from school has increased. Every third person in the region is a drug addict. The menace has only spread in recent times.
The WASE spokesperson said, “When we started our mission to eradicate our district from drug abuse we didn’t know what drugs were and how many types were used here. After some time we realised the drugs used were brown sugar, cough syrup, spasmoproxybon capsules, decolic tablets, opium, and ganja. These were supplied from neighbouring Leku, Jelam, Jonai, Simen, Dibrugarh, and Guwahati regions of Assam.”
How addiction spreads in the region
Drug peddlers lure innocent children first by giving them the drugs for free to get them addicted after which they start charging money. This is the story of the beginning of many drug addicts. The targets are usually between the ages of 12 and 21. “There is a drug peddler near every school and college of East Siang, ready with a sling bag full of the banned substances, looking for their old and new inquisitive potential customers.”
In almost every family there is someone who is exposed to drugs or at least tried them once. Some parents are not aware of it and those who are aware, hide it or do not talk about it while others know but do not accept the fact that their child is a drug addict, instead of giving timely help and care. Due to all these a child is pushed further into addiction. Many of the addicted customers swear never to give up on drugs and never to disclose the identity of the peddler or supplier if they get caught. They swear that if any of them somehow gives up on drugs, then the rest will beat up or even kill them or their siblings.
“It is kind of an oath that they take, brainwashed by the drug peddler.”
Waiting for a miracle
WASE said, “Nobody came forward to do anything about [the addiction epidemic]: not our elected leaders, the administration, police or any other responsible body. Nothing was done about it. Everyone did cry when a son or a daughter died, supported each other and gave each other hope for a better tomorrow. Condolences were sent, but nothing more was done about it.”
Among all these, the most affected were the grief-stricken mothers. They had to witness the death of their children. Many tears were shed, homes were broken, all due to the same cause: drugs.
The women of WASE waited for a miracle which would wipe their tears and fears away, but nothing happened.
Frustrated, they decided to take it upon themselves to combat the menace. “Sometimes grief makes you a more sensible, wiser and stronger person. It was grief that united all the grieving mothers belonging to different castes and tribes, educated, uneducated, rich and poor. They came together to fight against the menace of drug abuse and alcohol … Grief was and still is the strongest force which unites us.”
How WASE is helping people in the region
WASE has caught many drug peddlers selling drugs by sometimes sending decoy customers. “Most of the time, we have informers – mostly affected mothers and relatives – who tell us. We have WASE informers in most of the villages and urban areas in the region. We keep a close watch on the drug peddlers, and when they have procured the drugs, we contact the police. Many peddlers have been caught and arrested, and FIRs have been filed by us.”
Many times, family members of drug addicts and alcoholics call WASE members for help when the addicts get violent. “We immediately rush to the place and talk to the addicts. Sometimes we have to counsel the relatives as well, as they do not know how to treat or take care of the drug users.”
WASE not only tackles addiction in the region; they also help in other cases of abuse. For example, in January 2016, WASE rescued a six-year-old girl who was working as a domestic help at Mirsam village. “When we found the girl, she was being kept near the drains, near dogs and chickens. She had burn marks, cuts, wounds all over her body; she was unable to speak or stand. The Child Welfare Committee members were alerted, and the girl was admitted to the general hospital where she slowly recovered.”
Challenges faced by WASE
The group has faced many hindrances and obstacles in the name of religion, caste, tribe, clan and community. “It was an uphill task all the way. Every threat that came to us, every threat that was thrown at us was met with an even more determined fight.
The threats were like encouragement making us stronger. Many obstacles and hindrances came our way, trifle and enormous but each one giving us more insight views of the dark crime. It taught us lessons and trained us to wage war on drugs more efficiently.”
The activists of WASE never backtracked on their goals or compromised on their beliefs, and continue to save lives every day.
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