This election, Punjab's 'Belan Brigade' to battle drugs, liquor (Election Special)
Posted on Mar 21 2014 | IANS
By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, March 21 : The rolling pin has always been part of every household. But now an NGO wants to use the 'belan' as a symbol to fight against the growing menace of drugs and liquor abuse in Punjab.
The 'Belan Brigade Punjab' is not positioning itself to be an alternative to the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAPs) election symbol 'jhaadoo' (broom), but wants to fight against social evils that have affected scores of families across Punjab.
In the run-up to the April 30 Lok Sabha elections for Punjab's 13 parliamentary seats, it wants to take its message to every household to fight against drugs and liquor abuse.
"The 'belan' is the symbol of a lady's strength. It is one thing with which every woman starts her day. We want women to use this symbol and speak up against social evils," Aneeta Sharma, who has set up the 'Belan Brigade' in Punjab's industrial hub Ludhiana, told IANS.
Activists and supporters of the brigade carry 'belans', wooden and metallic, to carry home their message.
"Women should not mind using these to ward off social evils. They can also use these for self-defence," Sharma said.
Though the 'Belan Brigade' wants to use the campaign period to spread the message against drugs and liquor, they do not want political parties and leaders to be part of it.
"These very political parties and leaders are the ones who encourage these evils to influence votes. We are against such activities. We don't want to associate with such parties and leaders," Sharma said.
The brigade wants to take its campaign to other districts in Punjab. It has also sought a hotline telephone number from the election commission.
Sharma, 42, who is an architect by profession, says that the idea of 'Belan Brigade' came to her through the NGO Navkiran Women Welfare Association, which she set up in 2003 to help women.
"Drugs and liquor consumption is a major problem across Punjab. I think that except for a few households, every family in Punjab has one or more people who are hooked to drugs and liquor. Be it slum colonies, villages or residential areas, there are hardly any households without drug addicts. We want to associate with other NGOs and activists to take our campaign to the affected households," she said.
"There have been allegations that some political parties and leaders clandestinely issue 'parchis' (slips) for drugs and liquor to people to influence them for votes during elections," social activist Swaran Singh said.
Studies done in recent years have shown that over 70 percent people in rural Punjab could be hooked to drugs and liquor intoxication.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had referred to this during a students' rally on Panjab University campus here in 2012.
Even the Election Commission of India (ECI) has acknowledged that drugs abuse during elections was a major problem peculiar only to Punjab.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org)