In Chatra district illegal opium (Afim/Posta) cultivation is on a fast rise in most of the forest land, in connivance with the local police, the forest department, Maoists and the mafia. The trees are uprooted by machines; acres of agricultural land are being ruined by this cultivation. Almost 15% of forest coverage is being affected by the cultivation.

To control this menace, on 29th, 31st January and 1st February, Chetna Bharati organization, with the help of the Gram Sabha, the C.B.Os, and the Bridge camp children had a series of awareness programs in four out of the numerous affected villages. Finally, about 200 people (including children and youth) lead by the women, entered the opium field and destroyed the plants. They then explained to the people the dangers and the after effect of it particularly on the youth.

This was followed by a big rally (around 2000 people from 70 kilometers radius) in Chatra town. “People of Chatra, break your culture of silence, speak against opium cultivation”; “Save Chatra, save our youth” were some of the slogans. A public meeting was conducted at the collectorate; various citizens spoke about the dangers of opium, warning the government not to convert Chatra into another Afghanistan. A memorandum was submitted to the deputy collector and the superintendent of police. (Without the knowledge of the police and the forest department the cultivation CANNOT take place.) The same memorandum was forwarded to various government officials including the Chief Minister. Both the Police Superintendent and the Deputy Commissioner promised to take up the issue on a war footing.

The very next day of our intervention, the police superintendent accompanied by all the police of the area, (about 50) with their machines destroyed 25 acres of opium cultivation. The Deputy Commissioner called all the forest officers to discuss the issue. He has already provided a sophisticated machine to destroy the plants on vast tracks of land. But he admitted that without people’s support he cannot do much. The police officer after witnessing the huge rally thanked the women and children for the bold step they had taken. The district administration has been holding meetings with the forest officers and the police of the affected villages. The media, local newspapers, and various TV channels participated in both the events (destroying the plants and the rally) giving wide coverage. The rally was lead by the women and children.

Sister Joel SCN (Jyoti Bahen)