Anti-liquor protests: Will Uttar Pradesh turn dry like Bihar ? | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Anti-liquor protests: Will Uttar Pradesh turn dry like Bihar ?

Women in Uttar Pradesh are up in arms to get liquor vends shut in their localities.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2017 16:32 IST
Sunita Aron
Residents of Vaishali area of Ghaziabad are seen staging a protest against the permission issued to open a liquor shop in their locality a few years ago.
Residents of Vaishali area of Ghaziabad are seen staging a protest against the permission issued to open a liquor shop in their locality a few years ago. (HT File Photo)

Uttarakhand’s woman crusaders have been fighting liquor and timber mafia for years. The first brings home drunken men each evening and the other denudes its forest cover.

To fight the first menace, they have done it all-- chased the toughies, publicly stripped them, blackened their faces and demolished shops.

But in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, women have only sporadically campaigned against liquor and that too never at a large scale. Their protests mostly were incident based after a hooch tragedy.

Now for the first time, women have fearlessly taken the lead in getting liquor vends shut in their areas. And they are getting violent too, notwithstanding the cases slapped against them and the arrests made.

Ostensibly, the movement is not organised as majority of the activists are housewives -- victims of domestic violence, disconnected from each other.

This has sparked speculation about a possible hidden agenda behind the sudden spurt in anti-liquor demonstrations in the state, which had been by and large nonchalant to the problem.

Is it a build up to Uttar Pradesh going dry like neighbouring Bihar? Is the RSS mounting public pressure on the government to ignore the financial loss and save lives? These are some of the questions doing the rounds.

At stake is an annual revenue of Rs 14000 crore.

Though the state government, weighing the pros and cons of prohibition, is silent on the issue, involvement of BJP supporters in the anti-liquor campaign in some parts of the state, including Kanpur, is further fuelling the speculation.

Social activist Madhvi Kuckreja says, “More than liquor, alcoholism has been a menace. But never before women took to streets on such a large scale. It is not even an organised movement that we saw coming. Perhaps the agenda behind it is to impose complete prohibition on the lines of Bihar and Gujarat.”

The common belief is the protests have flared up after the Supreme Court’s order on highway liquor ban that required relocation of the shops.

The state government failed to react to the situation and thoughtlessly shops were shifted 500 metres away from highways, right into slums and villages.

Kundakini Sharma from Agra who has been active in getting liquor shops shifted away from schools and temples, says, “Shops at their doorsteps infuriated the women as they feared this would provide their menfolk easy access to liquor. They could have easily shifted shops to uninhabited areas instead of dense bastis.”

However, she is not confident if Yogi Adityanath-led BJP regime would enforce prohibition as it will hit government revenues. But Manu from Allahabad is hopeful. “We want complete prohibition in the state on the pattern of Bihar. But our immediate need is to ensure highway shops are not shifted to villages and slums.”

Murtaza Ali, president of Sharab Bandi Sangharsh Samiti, insists it’s a social movement now hijacked by the women, who are willing to bear the brunt. “We have been holding awareness programmes in the state for the past one year – after Bihar enforced prohibition from March 1, 2016,” he says.

Murtaza claims support of 28 social organisations. However, according to him the movement got a big fillip after the SC’s order on highway liquor vends. He demands immediate release of women arrested in these cases.

Interestingly, when Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was demanding UP to enforce prohibition in the run up to the recently concluded assembly elections, voters, including women, looked hardly excited. While the then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav preferred to get the matter studied, other parties also decided to ignore Nitish’s fervent appeal.

Faced with a mass movement, chief minister Yogi Adityanath is playing safe, remaining non-committal on prohibition demand but directing administration to ensure shops are not relocated close to villages, schools and temples.

The Akhilesh government had first written to all district magistrates seeking blanket ban on fresh licences for liquor shops on highway way back in 2015. The diktat was prompted by hooch tragedies that rocked different parts of the state, including Lucknow. However, no concrete action was taken and most of the licences were renewed till 2018.

His government hurriedly renewed licences to 27,039 shops in December 2016 in view of the elections. In addition to that there are scores of illegal outlets. In fact they outnumber the licensed shops.

However, it is the country made liquor, manufactured in villages that take most of the lives. Surprisingly, no one is demanding their closure!