A year ago, the natives of Kailash Nagar village in Bahraich taunted Geeta Prasad as a ‘piyakkad’ (drunkard). Every morning, when the villagers got ready to work on their fields, Prasad trudged to the nearby kiosk to gulp down ‘kachhi daru’ (country-made liquor) and sauntered in the lanes in an inebriated condition.
When his wife Rajwati objected to his drinking, Prasad thrashed her and often pushed her outside the hutment. The drinking bouts and wife-beating became a routine affair. Soon, the family was in debt trap as Rajwati took loan from the local money-lender to feed the children and meet domestic expenses. Prasad’s alcoholism virtually ruined the family.
But today, Prasad is the leader of the anti-liquor campaign organised in the rural areas of Bahraich. Each day, he moves from one village to another on his bicycle to create awareness among the villagers about the adverse impact of liquor on health, economy and social life. The van-grams (villages located in the forest area or in the buffer zone of the forest) inhabited by the tribals, dalits and backward communities are on his radar. “The production of illicit liquor has virtually become a cottage industry in the villages located on India- Nepal border,” he said.
The number is swelling as more and more tipplers are joining the movement against liquor. The group sports ‘kanthi-mala’ (bead-necklace) to indicate that they have bid adieu to alcohol. The villager who pledges to quit drinking is offered kanthi- mala in a public meeting held in the village.
Around 350 tipplers have quit liquor and joined the group, according to Prasad. Once called refuge of tipplers, Kailash Nagar is now a liquorfree village. Consumption of liquor is prohibited within the boundary of the village and alcohol addicts have to face social boycott. Prasad has purchased three bigha land and opened a joint account with his wife in the bank as well.
How did the tur naround happen? A social organization, Development Association for Human Advancement (DEHAT), led by Jitendra Chaturvedi, that is working in the rural areas of Bahraich motivated the villagers to quit liquor. Talking to HT, Chaturvedi said, “I moved an RTI over revenue collection made by the excise department from a liquor shop located in Mihinpurwa block. The excise department replied that it collected Rs. 40 lakh per annum from the shop”.
Later, a meeting of the villagers was held to prepare a list of the tipplers. A total of 278 tipplers was identified including elders, children and women. The tipplers calculated that they spent Rs. 21 lakh per annum over liquor. “I told the villagers that they money they ought to spend on education, health and food of family members, as well as on agriculture, was wasted on liquor,” he said.
Then gram pradhan Bansi Dhar also pitched in. He told the villagers that the state government had sanctioned Rs. 2 lakh for the development work in the village whereas the villagers were wasting a large amount on liquor that was making an adverse impact on their health and social life.
To give thrust to the antiliquor movement, Chaturvedi urged the gram pradhan to hand MNREGA job card to the tipplers and ensure that they got jobs as well as daily wages. Soon, the people were engaged in the job. Later a ‘yagna’ was organised in the village in which the villagers poured liquor into the fire and vowed that they would never consume liquor.
“Earlier, cops raided the villages to check production of illicit liquor and to settle the dispute between the villagers. Now they rarely come, as Kailash Nagar is a crime-free village. The villagers are scripting a new story of success in the agriculture sector, increasing production with new techniques”, Chaturvedi said.
Talking to HT, Jitendra Chaturvedi and Geeta Prasad expressed concern over the death of 46 people in the hooch tragedy in Lucknow. “If the district administration requests us, our group is ready to launch anti- liquor campaign in Lucknow and neighbouring areas as well,” the duo said.