Preethi Nagaraj, Senior Journalist examines the reasons why nearly 4000 women from north and central Karnataka marched to Bangalore in early January and uncovers the heart rending stories of alcohol addiction they had to narrate and relates it to the perpetual dilemma of popular governments – to ban or not to ban… in this case alcohol!
Governments always say they work for the welfare of people. That’s their primary claim to anything that they do – whether it is a policy change or a new law or a stringent measure that needs to be imposed that may cause inconvenience to people.
But have we ever thought of a situation when people demand something to be done by the government, and the state would hesitate to do so because it has many factors riding on such a demand?
More often than not, perks are something common people look forward to receiving from the government. Sometimes they can be life-saving measures as well. But there are times when whatever the government deems as ‘useful’ may actually work against the interest of people, damaging society at large.
One such grand display of both viewpoints happened in Karnataka. During the last week of January, nearly 2500 (the numbers then grew to 4000 as they were joined by others on the road) women from parts of north and central Karnataka walked to Bengaluru under the banner of Madyapaana Nishedha Aandolana -- a collective of women’s organisations working in villages. The jatha was to press the government to ban liquor across the state because the liquid was contributing massively to ruined households, lost families, increased poverty, failed health, and an unending list of problems that rose out of men staying inebriated owing to liquor consumption. The jatha was initiated by women from most dry lands such as Bidar, Kalaburgi, Raichur, Koppal, Chitradurga and other districts. But later they were joined by women from Mandya, Mysuru, Ramanagara, Chamarajanagar and Tumakuru pressing the government to issue an order on liquor ban. They walked 210 kms over 12 days, even losing one of their activists Renukamma (55) of Raichur district was killed near Nelamangala by a speeding bike.
Before we wonder whatever happened to the jatha, CM Kumaraswamy seemed to have perceived this as some sort of ‘conspiracy’ against him and his coalition government which is always hanging in balance, what with elected representatives often disappearing to give him shocks, this jatha did not get as much focus from him as much as it should have.
He, like always, thought this was something that people had against his government and ruled out any policy to ban liquor. “How can we ban liquor all of a sudden?” he asked and further said the excise revenue is high and state needs that financial source to be able to take up developmental projects.
“The CM told us that the GST had affected state revenues badly and banning liquor would further harm the revenue sources and hence this cannot be done since this is the question of providing for 6.5 cr people in the state,” said Vidya Patil, who was part of the delegation.
But the women weren’t going to leave the capital with nothing. They continued their dharna near Vidhana Soudha too. They were detained, and let off later.
Fair enough. So basically state is running on liquor for most parts. He may not be completely off key when he says this. Because according to statistics, the consumption of liquor in Karnataka is said to have grown by 77% contributing a staggering 273% revenue generated to the excise department.
Sale of alcohol surged from 468.8 lakh boxes in 2007-08 to 830.6 lakh boxes in Karnataka 2017-18 with an increase in revenue from Rs 4,812 crore to Rs 17,948.5 crore in the corresponding period. Which puts the sale for a consistent increase by 7% every year and revenue by 25% every year. Is there anything else that grows at the same pace? Nope. Not even real estate. Nothing appreciates like liquor does.
With government selling liquor directly, the target set for the sales has also seen a consistent increase with every passing year. Sometimes, the targets are revised twice a year too. In the last four years, the INCREASE in target sales is at least Rs 800 crores. This is overheads and not even the actual revenue which is many times more than this.
Chandramma of Mulabagal lives with her daughter and son-in-law who is a painter by profession. She tells the story of woes with her son in law splurging everything he earns with his hard work on liquor. “He is a hardworking fellow. Now even day jobs have good payment. But then this never reaches home because he drinks even before he reaches home after a day’s work,” she says.
Ravindra (name changed) of Gubbi has a wine store that sells all sorts of drinks across range. “Men come here regularly to drink. This goes to state taxes too. We sell only certified liquor and not stale or spurious one. This does not ruin the health of anybody if they drink within a limit. For that matter, people lose health with various things and bad health choices. How can you blame liquor alone for everything? This store employs five people and helps many liquor contractors earn a living. Why are we seen like some sort of criminals?”
He has a point. He has a business. Something that HIS family is dependent on. Something that the government has licensed him to do. So when the role of government comes into the picture, one realizes that we are trying to shame someone who is doing something ‘legally’ right. Is that morally right too? That’s another question altogether.
Because going by that, even something as innocent as lifting/buying sand for constructing a house can be a criminal offence, if not more. It can damage ecology and dry up rivers, in the long run, leaving the river beds dry and parched. This could lead us to dreary future too.
Avvakka of Raichur has a story that can wrench the guts. All her three grown up sons are addicted to alcohol and she needs to fend for them. The sixty two-year-old, has to earn to feed three sons in their 40s or less. This could be the most heart rending story of a mother who wishes that death for her is a bigger relief than life. Her husband died very young owing to excess alcohol consumption. His liver was enlarged owing to constant drinking and that caused his death. The young Avvakka was feeding her last son when she got the news that her husband Basappa had collapsed on the field where he had gone to work.
“That moment I knew I was alone in this. I was hoping that my sons didn’t take to this. But unfortunately for me, none of them could stay out of this vicious circle,” she says with the fear of losing her sons writ large on her face. “This is our last resort. Please don’t give us compensation, instead ban the liquor and save our families,” she says in an almost begging tone.
The march was attended by men too. Like Ningappa, Ramajja and Papanna all healthy septuagenarians who joined the women in their march. Their wives stayed at home tending to alcoholic sons while the men walked long hours to tell the government their ‘excise’ focus is flawed and that the people were fed up with alcohol ruining their lives.
A 2017 report, ‘Farmer suicides — An all India study’, commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Government of India, mentions drug abuse/ alcoholic addiction as one among the “prominent causes” for farmer suicide (4.4%). The other causes are bankruptcy or indebtedness (20.6%), family problems (20.1%), farming-related issues (17.2%), and illness (13.2%). (*Source: The Hindu)
As per the experts, alcohol consumption is the main reason for families to be driven to the brink often already burdened with the complexities of debts and crop loss. The farmers feel instead of spending on loan waiver, governments would rather have the political will to free the state from liquor, emulating the Bihar model which has shown favourable results after the NItish Kumar banned liquor in 2016.
The women are angry and will definitely hope to see a government that listens to their woes. It is imperative for the states to understand this could endanger the collective health of villages. Future is bleak if the governments don’t realize it is their duty to hear people out, and act in time. Hopefully, the CM will pay heed to them sooner or later.
Theatre personality Prasanna, Seer Basavajaya Mruthyunjaya Swamiji from Koodala Sangama, Former minister Rani Satish and volunteers take part protesting rally from Malleshwarm Ground to Freedom Park to demand ban liquor in Karnataka State held in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
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