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Liquor ban scripts rural Bihar’s turnaround

A year since prohibition in Bihar, the liquor ban has stirred a revolution of sorts in rural Bihar.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2017 06:59 IST
Team HT
Cops with arrested youth who had strapped liquor to their bodies in Purnea.
Cops with arrested youth who had strapped liquor to their bodies in Purnea. (HT photo)

Bhagwatia Devi, 52, in Saidpur village of Gaya district, 110 kms south of Patna, had lost it all. First, her husband to liquor and then she almost lost her son, who survived a road mishap with amputated upper limbs, after being in an inebriated condition.

With the bread earner gone and her two sons addicted to liquor and contributing little to the household, she was struggling to make her ends meet. With little choice, an illiterate Devi tried doing something she was familiar with — selling country made liquor. But, then came the government verdict — banning all forms of liquor from April 5, 2016. Devi was now staring at an uncertain future.

Exactly a year since prohibition was imposed in Bihar, Devi’s fortunes have changed. For, despite odds, she did not lose hope.

Devi joined the Jeevika, a poverty alleviation initiative of the government of Bihar, which helped her get a bank loan and she initiated poultry farming, rearing chickens for a living. With her initial success, she helped her younger son Sanjay Chaudhari buy an auto-rickshaw on loan. Having shunned the vice of binging on liquor, her two sons and the resilient woman today lead a life of dignity.

Devi is not the only woman who shed her misfortune. Prohibition has also helped Manohar Devi, 29, unite with her husband, Ramjas Das. A daily wager in Sarottar village of East Champaran district in Bihar, Das had disowned his spouse after a drunken brawl with her three years back. Devi was forced to leave her husband’s house and reside with her father.

After prohibition, good sense prevailed upon Das, and he recalled his wife.

“He is a changed man now. I, too, work with him in the fields now and we return home a happy couple. My husband now spends more time with me in the evening than he used to do earlier. He even gets vegetables and helps in household chores,” said Devi.

The government prohibition has stirred a revolution of sorts in Bihar. People have become aware that drinking liquor is not just harmful, but also a crime. Such is the awareness that there have been instances when women and young girls have directly called up the police to get their drunken husbands or father arrested.

Cops accepted that women have been their best informers in curbing the illegal liquor trade. Purnia superintendent of police (SP) Nishant Tiwary said, “Women give us valuable tip-off on liquor smuggling. Jeevika women have helped us nab many engaged in the illicit trade.”

A deserted de-addiction centre in Muzaffarpur. (HT photo)

Last month, Lallan Tiwary of Ora village in Kaimur set an example when he got his 30-year-old son Mantu arrested for abusing his family in an inebriated condition. Tiwary, a diabetic, said, “I was fed up with the every day tamasha (drama) when my son would stumble into the house drunk and begin abusing his wife. On Holi (March 13), I informed the station house officer of the Belaon police station who came and immediately arrested my son,” recollected Tiwary.

“We left him to rot in jail for a fortnight before initiating the bail process. After his release, Mantu has changed and helps in the family business and is much closer to the family,” added Tiwary.

Tiwary’s candid admission about his son also brings forth the fact that despite the ban, liquor is still available in Bihar. A cursory look at the number of liquor seizure and arrests would only buttress the point of a clandestine racket flourishing in the state.

Liquor peddlers have evolved new ways of smuggling. The police in Purnia district detained at the Dalkhola checkpost Raju Roy, 35, and Rajesh Kumar, 32, with liquor strapped to their bodies.

In Bhagalpur, the government railway police (GRP) recently unearthed 13 bottles of liquor stashed in the false ceiling of the toilet in a bogie of the Sahebganj-Jamalpur passenger train. “We now make it a point to check the false ceiling of toilets in train bogies as much as possible,” said GRP station house officer (SHO) Sudhir Kumar Singh.

“Unscrupulous elements, posing as vegetable vendors, also try to smuggle liquor bottles, camouflaging them under vegetables in wicker baskets,” said Singh. “Of late, we have seized an average 500-600 litres of liquor every month,” he added.

In Vaishali district, hardly a day passes without recovery of liquor. The liquor mafiosi try to outwit the police. Trucks and ambulances with hidden storage space are passe. Even vegetable and husk carriers have been utilised to ferry liquor.

Vaishali superintendent of police (SP) Rakesh Kumar said, “We seized a truck in Mahua area, earmarked for carrying postal items from Noida to Kolkata, after we found in it 320 cartons of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) on March 29.”

Such is the fear of being caught while boozing that people are more than willing to accept invites of marriages being solemnised outside the state. In fact, a renowned social activist accepted that he was pleasantly surprised to find more than expected friends and relatives joining his son’s baraat (marriage party) in neighbouring Varanasi on February 24.

However, there is a flip side to the story as well. There are also allegations of officials and politicians being hand-in-glove with smugglers, leading to the liquor trade being rampant.

In Mushari village of Muzaffarpur, Anita Kumari, who had launched a spirited campaign against liquor, is critical of the government officials.

“Officials are not serious in stopping liquor sale. If they were, its smuggling should have ceased completely. One year has elapsed since prohibition but all kinds of liquor are still available everywhere,” she said.

The purpose of opening de-addiction centres across districts has been defeated too. “Some 275 people came to us, most in the first three months of prohibition between April and June last year. Hardly 30 of them were admitted to the centre. Now, only a few drug addicts come here,” said Dr Rajesh, nodal officer of the de-addiction centre at Muzaffarpur.

READ: Will ban liquor if I retain power in Bihar, says Nitish Kumar

He argued that the reason for low footfall at de-addiction centres was easy availability of liquor and people switching to marijuana, cannabis and even cough syrups with high alcohol content.

The criminal-official-politician unholy nexus may be keeping the illicit liquor trade still alive over, but women are by and large happy with prohibition.

Sangeeta, who goes by one name, an activist of Paridhi, a socio-cultural group in Bhagalpur, summed it up, when she said, “Lack of easy availability of liquor has reduced domestic violence against women and reduced incidence of drunken brawls, besides ushering in peace and prosperity in most rural households.”

(With inputs from Anil Kumar Ojha in Gaya, Avijit Biswas in Bhagalpur, Prasun K Mishra in Bhabua, Sagar Suraj in Motihari, Aditya Nath Jha in Purnea, Ajay Kumar in Muzaffarpur, Rajesh Kumar Thakur in Hajipur and Prashant Ranjan in Ara)