Shanti Devi, a poor, scheduled caste sanitation worker employed as a sweeper with the Red Cross in Bhabua, was in seventh heaven on Friday.
Her husband Nanhak Ram, an alcoholic who once began his day with 400ml of country liquor ‘pouch’ and suffers from a serious liver disorder, is displaying withdrawal symptoms and had to be rushed to district Red Cross chairman Dr RP Singh for treatment.
But she was happy — Ram has not abused or assaulted her for money after country made liquor went off the shelves with the enforcement of a partial prohibition in Bihar.
“The alcohol menace had made my family life hell,” a tearful Devi said. “I have no words to thank chief minister Nitish Kumar for saving poor families like ours.”
She is not alone. Thousands of poor women in Kaimur and Rohtas, especially in southern hilly villages, are exuberant with the ban on country made liquor and limited and restricted sale of Indian-made foreign liquor.
Women’s rights activist professor Kamla Singh of SVP College termed the ban a historic step in the field of women’s safety and empowerment. But she is unsure of its success.
Rani Jha, an instructor at Mithila painting institute in Madhubani, said she was worried the ban would give rise to clandestine trade of illicit liquor, which could be potentially lethal.
Nonetheless, school and college girls, who had grown to expect catcalls from drunkards while walking in Jamira and Sanadiya in the outskirts of the Bhojpur district headquarters town of Ara, are visibly happy.
“This is the sweet smell of success, on the back of our successful campaign to force the closure illegal liquor vends at Jamira and Sanadiya,” said Anita Gupta, secretary of Bhojpur Mahila Kala Kendra.
In fact, women in Muzaffarpur are firmly in favour of a complete prohibition, said Ritu Raj, a social worker.
Indu Bala, who launched a campaign against illicit and country made liquor with the help of Mahila Samakhya in rural parts of Ara district, described the ban as the logical conclusion to her campaign in Tarsen village of Kurhani block.
“I think my family, particularly my children, will no longer suffer as all the male members who were addicted to country liquor have now taken a holy vow never to touch it,” Sugia Devi of Mohanpur said at an anti-liquor awareness rally in Gaya on Friday.
“I am hopeful my marriage will be revived now that my alcoholic husband has promised to kick the bottle and is in touch with doctors at a de-addiction centre inaugurated at JPN Hospital in the city,” said a school teacher in Gaya.
At a Dalit Tola near Pitamaheshwar in Gaya town, both men and women have vowed to shun alcohol.
“Not only men but the women of this Tola are also addicted to liquor,” said Vidya Devi, a member of a social group. “But now that the ban has come into play, residents appear determined to keep their vow.”
Similar jubilation among women is visible in Hajipur, where alcohol addiction caused many family discords, said Sarika Shukla, a social activist.
“For the first time, my husband came to join me in selling vegetables,” said Rekha Devi, a street vendor.
But the ban has come too late for some.
“Liquor has already ruined my life,” said Phulo Devi, 38, a Dalit woman who ekes out a livelihood by working as domestic help.
“My husband, an alcoholic, used to beat me up so badly it broke our marriage,” she said. “We have lived separately for the past 20 years and I brought up our two children. Of late, my 18-year-old son has taken to drinking.”
Nonetheless, the move is largely lauded as landmark decision.
Women will express their gratitude by re-electing the government, said Mamta Singh, who runs a woman welfare organisation and SHG in Lalganj.
(Inputs from Bhabua, Ara, Muzaffarpur, Gaya, Hajipur, Bhagalpur and Darbhanga)