Legend Frees Village
From Smoking

Residents of Shankarpura, a village in India’s Haryana state follow folk tradition, shun smoking. Satyawan Verma tells us about his neighbouring village Shankarpura in Haryana where no ban is needed to keep people away from smoking. Nobody in the village has ever fallen sick of tobacco addiction either. This is because for centuries villagers here have considered smoking a sin and have stayed away from that thanks to a local legend which says the village would prosper only if stayed off smoking.

Every year, 90 thousand people die in India from smoking-related diseases, including lung cancer. According to studies, more than 50 percent of these tobacco-related deaths occur among illiterate men or women, and 80 percent of those people reside in rural India.

There is a nationwide ban on smoking in public places. The ban came in force in April’2008, but the nature of ban itself gives room for people to continue smoking in privacy. As a result there are still approximately 120 million smokers in India, about 37 percent of all men and 5 percent of all women between the ages of 30 and 69.

Satyawan, a non-smoker, who headed a village council/Panchayat for five years, says that in villages across Haryana, smoking is still done by the community members almost like a ritual. When panchayats meet, or elders of the village get together to discuss a community issue, the smoke as though it is a part of a tradition.

But the tradition that Shankarpura villagers follow is one that is worth following. Because not only the tradition helps people stay healthy, but also help them excel in other fields such as sports and education.

Presently World Health Organisation (WHO) is running a global campaign to reduce cancer deaths worldwide—aiming to prevent 8 million cancer deaths by 2015—and a primary focus of that initiative is to lower tobacco use in developing countries such as India.

The reason, says WHO, is because if current trends of smoking continue, there will be 1 billion in the 21st century. WHO has already called tobacco as “ the biggest enemy we face”.

However, according to Satyawan, to make any such initiative a success and to really make India freed of smoking, we need a stricter enforcement of the current ban, not just in urban areas, but also in villages. He also feels that besides telling people of the harms of smoking, it’s also important to tell how staying off smoking would help people, such as residents of Shankarpura who have been living a healthy tobacco-free life.

To watch more videos of Satyawan on Unheard traditions, practices and issues of Haryana, click here.

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