Gangapur mohalla in Rajasthan’s Alwar district holds the unsavoury distinction of almost every household having lost a man to liquor.
After years of suffering at the hands of their intoxicated menfolk, Prem Lata Sulania took up the mantle to lead their fight against liquor in Alwar city.
And so the Gulabi Team was formed — inspired by Uttar Pradesh’s Gulaab Gang and so named because of the pink sarees and matching slippers its members wear. Their target: Liquor shops in the area.
“When he drinks he turns into the devil,” says Sunita Devi, 30, a member of the team. “He fights, abuses and thrashes. He hardly eats, and skips work.”
Most households have similar stories of violence, abuse and death.
“The men blow up all their money on country liquor... The women have taken on the responsibility of their families and work as domestic helps,” says Sulania.
Sulania’s husband, who retired from the army, doesn’t drink but her four sons couldn’t resist the bottle and became wife-beating alcoholics. But what really pushed her over the edge was losing her brother-in-law to liver disease on March 7.
“That was the turning point,” she says.
On March 13, she gathered the women at a temple and the rest, as they say, is history.
“We marched down to kotwali and gave a representation that three houses where liquor was being sold illegally be shut. The administration acted promptly and closed them down,” she says.
After the initial success, the Gulab Team forced the closure of four shops on Vikas Path. Their agitation sustained with the support of local traders and civil society organisations.
Their next target is a liquor shop in Andawali Gali in the city, 150km north of Jaipur.
“We are not against the women. But how are we wrong? We are not running the shop illegally,” says Satyendra Saini, owner of the shop. “I got the license...after paying excise duty of Rs 95 lakh.”
With the shop being closed for the last couple months amid protests, his debts are mounting. “We don’t mind if they close or shift the shop, but they should decide,” he says.
The government, which heavily relies on excise revenue, has so far been non-committal on prohibition. In 2014-15, the excise department earned Rs 5,585.76 crore.
However, the Rajasthan Excise Rules allow shutting liquor shops if 51% of the residents agree, and the Kachchbali gram panchayat in Rajsamand district banned liquor sale in March.
Activists are now readying 10 other villages for a similar referendum.