No tipplers here please, warn women at Kachhabali, a small panchayat comprising 12 villages in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district.
The panchayat, part of the Bhim tensil, became the first in the state to vote to shut down its lone liquor shop, driven by a dedicated campaign by local women who said they bore the brunt of the addiction problem.
“The anger against liquor among village women was brewing for the past 15 years. Men and youngsters were drinking a lot,” said Sita Devi, one of the women heading the anti-liquor campaign.
“The situation was worsening — abusing and beating women, creating scene in mohallas, urinating openly on roads made it difficult for women to walk on roads,” she said.
Sita Devi and panchayat chief Geeta Devi came together to stop alcohol sale in the village, saying over 150 people lost their lives due to liquor in the last couple of years.
“Somebody had to take a stand. There has to be a limit. When Geeta Devi stood to contest in sarpanch elections she assured to close down the liquor shop and make panchayat alcohol-free,” Sita Devi said.
The referendum saw 67.11% people vote ‘No alcohol sale’ in the village.
“My 28-year-old married son lost his life to alcohol. He was drunk and met with an accident riding a bike. He has left behind two children — one is mentally challenged and other is weak and his wife,” said Ankhi Devi, in her late 60s.
Thirty-year-old Geeta Devi said she promised to shut down liquor sale as addiction affected all, especially women.
“Convincing women and men of panchayat was the first step, once this was done than we never looked back.”
She said women of the panchayat submitted a memorandum signed by 1,500 people, to district collector Archana Singh on February 27.
“We were clear to never take law in hand, and approached all authorities, met the collector, superintendent of police (SP) and zila pramukh who were positive but it was the excise department who made us run post to pillar. The excise officials were not interested and stated that we cannot do anything. They even did not tell us the process of voting,” she said.
The Kachhabali sarpanch gave credit to former education officer Mohan Singh, who drafted the memorandum and informed the women about the voting process.
The women were worried about 10-12 liquor sale branches that were illegally running from houses.
“When we approached the SP, he got it done in a day,” Geeta said.
She aims to make the panchayat tobacco-free next. “Tobacco free Kachhabali is the next objective. Sarpanch of Mandawar, Pyari Rawat, had come on the final voting day and stated that ‘you have done it now we will do it in our panchayat’,” she said.
The move found support among local men as well.
Supporting the ban, 20-year-old Vikram Singh who aims to be an army officer, said the women did what the entire village wanted.
Kachhabali resident and retired army captain Bhanwar Singh said the initiative was good. “Even I am not in support of a shop in the panchayat but it is also true that it would not be an easy task to maintain, especially for people who are addicted,” he said.
But the women aren’t daunted by the prospect. “First we will try making them understand or else will go strict,” said Sita Devi.
The move is set to spread to five neighbourhood panchayats that have female chiefs who believe making their villages liquor free will be beneficial.