Caste panchayats that are known for issuing diktats against inter-caste marriages, mobile phones and of late noodles, could take a leaf or two from a caste panchayat in Raisen district.
A caste panchayat of the semi-nomadic Banjara community in Gopisur village of Raisen district (Sanchi block) has imposed a ban on the brewing of mahua liquor, something the excise department has dreamt of achieving but never managed to do.
It took a tragedy for the residents of Gopisur village, about 40 kilometres south east of Bhopal, to wake up to the ill-effects of liquor.
At the fag end of the monsoon, Kalla (55), a resident of the village, was returning home after drinking the liquor at a friends’ place.
Kalla was so high that he dozed off on the banks of a rocky nullah and couldn’t reach home.
It rained heavily that night, creating a flash flood in the small nullah.
The water forced Kalla downstream, where his head hit against the rocks and he died.
In February, Kalla’s brother Mansaram (50) was attending a celebration in the village at night.
“Mansaram had a lot to drink and was going back to his house when he fell into an unguarded well,” said Premnarayan, president of the Gram Van Samiti, Satkunda, a village next to Gopisur.
Premnarayan added that Mansaram initially kept shouting for help but eventually drowned and died.
His body was found the next morning.
The deaths compelled the residents of the village to convene a caste panchayat to discuss excessive drinking.
“We realised that the availability of locally brewed liquor from mahua was a part of the problem. If liquor was not easily available in the village, instances of drinking would go down,” said Gopilal, former sarpanch and muqaddam (head) of the Banjara community in Gopisur village.
The villagers decided to completely ban brewing mahua in the village and impose a fine of Rs 11,000 on anyone caught violating the diktat of the caste panchayat.
In the last two months, Gopilal claims that the brewing of mahua liquor has stopped in the village.
“I am not claiming that people have stopped drinking, but there is no brewing taking place in Gopisur, so much so that very few people ventured out to collect mahua flowers this summer,” he said.
“There are some people who are opposing the order of the panchayat but the fear of social ostracism is such that people dare not go against it,” said Dayaram, a resident of Gopisur.