Tashi Jong: The first “tobacco-free” village of Himachal Pradesh

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TASHI JONG PAVES THE WAY

By Aparna Menon

World No Tobacco Day is celebrated every year on the 31st of May. It is fortunate that people everywhere are getting more and more conscious about the ill effects of tobacco and attempts are being made at all levels to rid many parts of our country and the world at large, of one of the biggest killers of human beings – TOBACCO!!

Four years ago, in July 2011, the residents of the Tashi Jong settlement took on a unique initiative, by making the village totally ‘smoke free’. The Tibetan settlement of Tashi Jong is nestled in the foothills of the Dhauladhar range, in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is here that the 8th Khamtrul Rimpoche, Kalzang Dongyu Nyima, founded the Khampagar Monastery in 1968.

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“Tashi Jong is home to 300 monks, who live within the premises of the monastery and 500 lay people who live in the settlement around the monastery. This Tibetan settlement was established for the preservation of the rich Tibetan art and cultural heritage,” says Mr Lekshek Tsering, the General Secretary of the Tibetan Crafts Community.

“In 2011, Mr Harjeet Singh, from Ranchi, Jharkhand came to the village as a consultant for the on- going safe drinking water project. When he was leaving after the completion of the project he pointed out, that the only flaw he noticed in this peace loving community was people smoking any and everywhere; even near the monastery,” says Mr Dhondup Gyaltsen, the Manager of the Tibetan Crafts Community.

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This prompted the people of the community to take the ‘huge leap’ of eradicating smoking from their premises. The Tashi Jong Settlement Officers, the Tashi Jong Youth Association and the Khampagar Monastery monks actively lead the campaign and the local shopkeepers volunteered to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to the locals as well as to visiting tourists. On a particular day, the villagers burnt cigarettes and tobacco products, worth Rs 60,000/-, purchased from the local shops, at the main square of the village.

This unanimous decision taken by the villagers of Tashi Jong, was meant to help establish a healthier environment in and around their village. News of this act spread and very soon many officials from Shimla visited the village to check on them. When the State Government was convinced that Tashi Jong was totally rid of smoking they awarded the village with a certificate ‘declaring them as the first village in Himachal Pradesh that is Smoke Free’.

On the 12th of June 2014, the Health Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Mr Kaul Singh Thakur, was attending the Global Tobacco Control Leadership Programme in the United States. At one of the sessions he spelt out the various steps that the HP government is taking, to achieve the long term goal of making every village of the state “tobacco free”. He said, “Himachal is not covered under India’s National Tobacco Control Programme and despite that, the State has made tremendous progress in tobacco control.”

Let us hope that with the various schemes devised by the government and with the support of all the people of the State, very soon HP is declared – the First Tobacco Free State of India. Also, let us hope that taking a cue from this village more parts of India are able to achieve success in this field.

Aparna has been a freelance journalist with more than 10 years of experience in writing for various newspapers.

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