Married for 30 years
Apart from being Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla’s wife, Lal Riliani is senior advisor to the Mizoram Pradesh Congress Committee. But whenever she visits the party office at Treasury Square, Aizawl’s happening hub, her first concern is to sniff out the smokers.
There is hardly any government or private function where Lal Riliani, 70, hasn’t accompanied her husband. “If she happens to skip one, people begin to wonder if they have had a fight,” a senior officer at the chief minister’s office said. The CMO, adjoining Lal Thanhawla’s official residence in Zarkawt locality, is close to his sprawling private residence. Because of Riliani, it is a no-smoking zone.
The no-tobacco rule also applies to the central paramilitary force personnel guarding the complex.
But Riliani is not status-conscious. She wins smokers over with her brisk manner and persuasive skills, both of which she acquired during her long association with the church.
Riliani also backs her anti-tobacco campaign with statistics, the importance of which she realised during her job at the Aizawl deputy commissioner’s office, from which she retired in 1991. The VRS came two years after she became founder president of the Mizoram chapter of the Indian Society on Tobacco and Health. The crusade against tobacco coincided with the start of Lal Thanhawla’s second stint as CM.
“We involved NGOs in carrying out surveys across Mizoram and found smoking and tobacco addiction were high. Too many people were dying of oral, lung, ovarian and abdominal cancers,” said Lal Riliani.
The data collected in 2012 revealed 62% Mizo women consumed tobacco in various forms – second only to Mizo men at 72.5% – against the national average of only 2.9%. This made Mizoram the highest tobacco-consuming state in India. The consumption was attributed to ‘tuibur’, nicotine-laced water passed through a Mizo-style hookah and ‘meizial’, a hand-rolled cigarette a girl offers a young man during courtship.
“It is amazing how she finds time out of her household chores (like most Mizo women, Lal Riliani weaves the traditional ‘puan’ or wraparound, gardens and decorates the interiors) for philanthropy.
Her efforts are bearing fruit, as people nowadays seek permission to smoke, which was unthinkable two-three years ago. She also upholds the values of the church, making her one of the few Mizo homemakers capable of performing multiple roles to the fullest,” said Rev Lalchungnunga, a former church leader who now heads the Mizoram Board of Secondary Education.
How much of a say does she have in her husband’s work or in party affairs? “She does not interfere,” a senior Congress leader said. “Her only agenda is that no Congress worker should take tobacco in any form so that they can set a good example in society.”