A sliver of hope could be seen on the wrinkled face of Badam Devi as she strode towards a polling booth on Sunday, her sprightly steps in sharp contrast to the frail figure of this 84-year-old resident of Rozda village in Amer tehsil.
“Liquor has the power to ruin lives and families. I have come here today to cast my vote in order to ban liquor shops from our villages. At present, alcohol is like a disease as many families have lost their dear ones to the vice that drinking is,” said Devi, showing her ink-smudged fingertips after voting.
Rozda became the second panchayat in Rajasthan to conduct a polling to take the call on whether to ban the liquor shops in the area.
A similar voting was conducted in Kacchabali panchayat in Rajsamand district on March 29 last year; liquor shops were banned after a majority of the people voted for it.
The voting in Rozda was the culmination of a movement spanning 351 days by the Sharab Sangharsh Samiti to make the lone liquor shop in the village close down.
“For the past one year, be it through dharnas or awareness campaigns, we have campaigned against liquor. Lately several accidents have taken place in Rozda because of people driving under influence of alcohol. Girls also had to face harassment because the liquor shop is on the main road,” said Uttam Kumar Sharma, spokesperson of Sharab Sangharsh Samiti.
A serpentine queue of women could be seen outside the polling booth clutching identity cards in their hands and toddlers tugging at the ghunghat tucked over their heads.
“Alcoholism is a menace and we women are often at the receiving end because of the addiction of our husbands. That is why this movement in Rozda has been fuelled by women,” said Surgaon Devi Kumawat.
The polling involved 4,206 voters and four polling booths in the village, with a heavy number of police personnel deployed.
“The village will ban liquor shops if 51% of the votes are cast in favour of the ban. We are here to ensure that the voting is done in accordance of the Rajasthan Excise Rules 1975,” said Ratan Kaur, tehsildar of Amer and the returning officer.
Officials from the administration and police complained that though the polling was conducted by the excise department, not a single official turned up.
A a few hundred metres from the booth, an eerie silence looms over the house of Tejprakash Mahera who lost his life a couple of months ago.
Sitting over a worn-out cot, his father Sitaram Mahera laments how alcohol claimed the life of one of his four sons.
“We would plead with him repeatedly to stop drinking but he never listened to us. He was our primary source of income and after his death, we are uncertain about our future. My son is survived by his wife and two little kids but with no source of steady income,” Mahera told HT.
Mahera said he was in favour of the ban on the liquor shop. “I don’t want any more families ruined with the loss of their loved ones because of alcohol,” he said.
The voting started from 8am and went on till 5pm. At the time of going to the press, the counting was on.
Liquor sellers not worried
Despite the call of the village to ban the liquor shop, it seems that the people selling alcohol are not worried.
“Even if our shop is closed down, we will shift it to the other side of the hillock adjacent to the village. Customers will simply go there to get alcohol,” said liquor supplier Ratan Lal Gurjar.
Gurjar said the vote was all but a gimmick by the panchayat. The liquor shop in Rozda now also serves to people from other nearby villages -- Sardarpura, Sindulai, Harchanpura and Jaitpura.
“Everyday we sell liquor worth around ₹50,000 in this shop. If licensed liquor shops such as ours are closed, then people will buy alcohol in black from shops which are unlicensed and don’t have quality standards,” alleged Gurjar.