WASE is about how a group of women have found courage from their grief to make a difference Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri

Pasighat: For the last few decades, Arunachal Pradesh has been battling a growing drug problem, with a large number of youths falling prey to the grip of opium, heroin, and brown sugar. The availability, accessibility, and affordability of drugs are easy due to trafficking, which has escalated the drug abuse problem in the region. A whole new generation of the region is in danger and the official steps to tackle the problem remain weak and ineffective. Such a grim situation calls for a pragmatic solution keeping in view the local context.

Fortunately, taking matters into their own hands is a group of women from Pasighat in East Siang district. They have all lost loved ones to drug abuse or alcoholism and their mission is to combat these evils. Together, in 2016, they formed an alliance known as Women Against Social Evils (WASE) in order to ensure that other parents do not have to endure the losses they did with their children.

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WASE started rescuing children from the grip of drugs based on the information they received from contacts — often parents and relatives of drug addicts. “Initially, we were part of Adi Bane Kabang women wing but it became difficult for us to work for all other communities like Bihari, Nepali, Tagin, Galo from there. Then we decided to work independently where we can reach all communities those suffering from drug abuse and other social evils,” said Jaya Tasung Moyong, general secretary of WASE.

Jaya Tasung Moyong sitting at her residence cum office at Mirsam village in East Siang

On January 2, 2016 evening, Jaya got a call from a woman requesting her to rescue a five and half-year-old girl child who has been facing abuses at Pasighat. The next morning, the woman came to her house and told her that the child could die if Jaya won’t intervene. Then she moved to additional district commissioner of East Siang, local police station, and rescued the girl child. “While we rescued the child, she could not even talk to us, marks of tortures all over her body. We admitted her to the hospital and informed her family in Assam. The child is safe now but we heard the man is Pasighat bought the kid from her parents at just twenty thousand rupees,” Jaya explained.

Since then, Jaya and her team started working against all social evils. Their membership network continues to widen and even the local police are helping them in their tasks. Their achievements already are many. They successfully protested against the establishment of a liquor factory at East Siang and have run well-received awareness campaigns about the perils of addiction. “There are 77 liquor shops and 9 distributors in the small town like Pasighat. We want to know what is our government’s motive behind issuing a random license to a liquor shop?” Jaya asked.

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They have even caught drug peddlers red-handed and have alerted the police to such criminal activities. Many drug peddlers from Ayang, Ngopok, Oyan, Jonai, Lekum, Laimekuri villages, and Pasighat town were caught and FIRs filed against them. In addition, WASE members try to counsel the victims and their relatives too. Oshy Koyu, convener of WASE said, “We caught several drug peddlers and handed over to police in the past. But now our children become drug peddlers. Agents from nearby districts of Assam send drugs through the youth of Pasighat. They get Rs 250-500 as commission and our children become addicted. But we don’t want our children to die, we will fight against it.”

Members of WASE attending District Court for hearing of a drug trafficking case in Pasighat

WASE has become a household name in the Siang region due to its vigilantism and the positive impact it has made on society. They have won the hearts of the people and put some fear in those who are involved in the drug business. Since the last three years, WASE has been organizing anti-drug programs involving civil society, GBs, and PRI leaders in the district to educate the people about the ill effects of drugs, illegal peddling, and sale of illegal IMFL. They also fight against money powered elections in Arunachal Pradesh.

Jaya said, “We requested the people not to demand money, mobile recharges, and fuel in lieu of their votes during the last election. Women have the power to influence all the members of a family. That is why through the door-to-door campaign, we are trying to educate the women not to vote for cash. We want fair polls despite corruption and the use of money power by candidates during the election time.”

What’s more these women are extending their activism to other areas, such as protecting the environment from afforestation and cleaning local streams of garbage and relief effort during coronavirus outbreak.

Jaya and her team are truly an inspiration. They have fought many hurdles—in the name of caste, tribe, religion—but they have never wavered from their goal. They are fighting for a change and a cause that is very close to our hearts.

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Tanmoy Bhaduri is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He can be reached @tanmoy_pj

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