For 14 years, Suhagiya Devi, 60, had not draped herself in a new sari. What she had was in tatters.
“Life had been in a mess for a long time. It had been so for many other in the village,” says Suhagiya Devi from Musahar Toli at Subhai, a tiny hamlet near Hajipur town of Bihar’s Vaishali district.
“Marriage for me meant trouble — cooking food, tending to children, suffering vile words from father-in-law and facing domestic violence by an alcoholic husband who spent his entire earnings on buying liquor,” she says.
Suhagiya Devi is from a Musahar family, the most depressed among depressed and the story of other women of her caste in the village was no different till a few months ago.
The women folk, mostly illiterate, now take pride in having been a catalyst for change now sweeping Bihar. Liquor-related ill-effects, like domestic violence, are being reported in much less numbers post-prohibition.
“I can see my son does not beat my daughter-in-law anymore and we have been able to pay off a little of our debt,” says Suhagiya Devi, who joined Nirmala Devi and Bhagwani Devi in 2013 to pick up brooms and attack liquor vends around the village.
Even before chief minister Nitish Kumar’s prohibition policy was implemented in April 2016, acts of women like Suhagiya Devi had driven fear into liquor vendors. With more women joining them, the movement spread to more villages. Then 57, Suhagiya Devi, turned a hero.
“All of them have been reformed. My old man has given up drinking and now works like a responsible bread earner,” Suhagiya Devi says with a smile.
“We are happy with prohibition. It’s a gift the CM has given us,” adds Nirmala Devi, who recounts how her two sons have given up drinking and are working hard to bring home Rs 4,000 per month.
“Earlier, we did not know where our next meal will come from. All that has changed now,” says Reena Kumari, a housewife in her early twenties.
Call it winds of change sweeping Vaishali or inspiring tales of how liquor ban has brought smiles back on the faces of the economically backward sections, the general mood of people in these parts is tilted heavily in support of the government’s prohibition drive.
A section of skeptics, however, point to the now roaring trade of liquor made from mahua (a nectar-rich flower). “It is called munh phodwa (mouth blaster) here for the brew gives rashes after heavy consumption. Yet people drink, for it is easily available,” says one of them, adding IMFL too can be bought at “four times the original cost.”
“Why does the government not seal the borders? People are drinking local alcoholic brews and IMFL bought at a premium,” rues Rajendra Rai of Lalganj, just 10 km from the landmark Vaishali stupa.
Shikha Kumar, a school teacher posted at Model high school, Podhai, on Sarai-Lalganj road, talks of how the liquor ban has brought peace in surroundings of her village. “Quarrels were common. People then could do anything under the influence of liquor. No more now. Women can travel fearlessly in these parts today,” she says, adding, “law and order is much better now.”
Suhagiya Devi and those like her cherish the freedom from liquor, but now aspire for more —five decimal land, a toilet and some regular employment.
“Liquor is gone. But when you are in your senses, you yearn for a decent life,” says Lakhindra Manjhi, a resident of Lalganj, pointing to the roof of his house, part of which has caved in.