Adivasi women wage spirited battle against liquor sale in agency areas

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ADILABAD: Women are the real victims of their men’s liquor addiction. Liquor not only leads to financial crises in the families but also ruins the future of many women and children in the erstwhile Adilabad district.

Widows, who lost their husbands to liquor, face a lot of hardships to run their families, especially raising their children and looking after their welfare with a meagre income.

In the families which lost their breadwinner, children drop out of their schools to work as child labour in the wake of financial crises. In some cases, children have become orphans after the death of their parents.

Devubai, a resident of Kasipatelguda of Jainoor mandal in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district, said the burden of running the family fell on her after her husband Mesram Devrao had died of health complications caused by liquor addiction. Left alone after her husband’s death, Devubai continues farming which is the sole income source for their family.

She said it is but naturally that wife and other family members would feel insecure with the loss of a family elder. He wondered if men feel a little more responsible for the welfare of the family.

Many Adivasi men died of health complications caused by liquor addiction. While the list could pretty long, some of those include Mesram Devender of Kasipatelguda, Government teacher Mesram Manku of Dabholi in Jainoor mandal, Soyam Jugadirao of Ragapur, Thodasam Lachu of Seethagondi and Pusam Bojju of  Burnur village in Sirpur (U) mandal in the last two years in the Komaram Bheem Asifabad district.

In non-agency and plain areas, the so-called village development committees are indirectly encouraging people to consume liquor by allowing more and more people to set up belt shops in their villages.

In wake of constant migration of people to the agency areas, non-tribal people have increased considerably in numbers and are controlling the illegal and legal liquor business.

While liquor sales could swell the state government’s coffers, women and children face mental trauma at home with their male members creating a nuisance after consuming liquor.

WOMEN FIGHT FOR LIQUOR BAN

The mental trauma caused by their men’s addiction to liquor made Adivasi women protest against the liquor sale in the agency areas. They organised themselves under the banner of ‘Adivasi Mahila Sankshema Parishad’ to fight against the liquor sale and liquor shops.

In the last two years, they smashed several belt shops (illegal liquor shops), and thrashed the persons who were making gudumba and selling it in the Jainoor mandal.

The Adivasi women have succeeded to some extent as the excise department refused to give permission to liquor shops in some areas. However, the liquor ban in the agency areas led to the sale of distilled liquor (gudumba) and cheap liquor which affected the health of those who consumed it.

Though the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA Act) mandates

the government to take the opinion of the local Adivasis before calling for the tenders to set up liquor shops and liquor sales in the agency areas, this legislation was regularly violated by state officials.

However, the reservation introduced in the allocation of the liquor shops by the state government has affected the anti-liquor agitation that was active till the recent past in the agency areas after some of the Adivasis got the liquor shops under the reservation policy in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district.

Godam Jangubai of Jainoor mandal, who led the anti-liquor agitation, said the non-tribals have been running belt shops in all villages in the absence of liquor shops and causing huge losses to the Adivasi families. She felt that there is a dire need for the effective implementation of reservation in employment, education, and politics for women.

It is learnt that there were a total of 45 belt shops (illegal liquor sale outlets) in the Indravelli mandal. Among them, five were by tribals and the remaining were run by the non-tribals in the last two years.

In some instances, non-tribals are using the tribals to act as a front for them to win liquor shop licences and offer them some money as a quid pro quo.

DOES GOVT ENCOURAGE LIQUOR?

In fact, there are allegations that the state government’s liquor policy was designed to encourage people to consume liquor, so that it could get more excise revenue to fill its exchequer.

Excise revenue is a key component of the state government’s income. The state government is said to be dependent on the revenue that it gets from liquor sales to implement welfare schemes for the public.

However, people, especially men, have been spending money that they get under the welfare schemes for consuming liquor.

The revenue from the sale of all forms of alcohol has doubled in the past seven years in Telangana state and the revenue was recorded at Rs 12,703.56 crore in the financial year of 2015-16 and it has increased to Rs 25,584.94 crore in 2021-22. The revenue from liquor sales was up 101 percent.

The Adivasi women fought against setting up liquor shops in their agency villages after they realised that their families were being ruined by the consumption of liquor by their husbands and sons.

The men spend a large part of their hard-earned money to consume liquor and  lose their lives in road accidents while riding vehicles in inebriated condition.

Thudum Debba (Adivasi Hakkula Porata Samiti) Adilabad president Godam Ganesh said nearly 2,000 Adivasi men and youth, who were addicted to liquor, died of health complications caused by liquor and some of them in road accidents in the last 10 years in the erstwhile Adilabad district. He said it is shocking to know that some of them were first-generation educated and government employees.

He said the consumption of ‘Gudumba’ (Illicitly distilled liquor), spurious liquor, cheap liquor, and spurious toddy (Thellakallu) by the men hit many poor and below middle-class families of non-tribals and Adivasis.

Godam Ganesh said it was unfortunate that many Adivasi youth have become addicted to liquor in the last ten years and liquor consumption has increased manifold due to the availability of liquor in the villages through proliferation of belt shops (illegal liquor outlets).

MOBILE LIQUOR OUTLETS

In an apparent attempt to circumvent protests against liquor shops, the excise department had invented a new concept called ‘mobile liquor outlet’. It uses a tractor to sell liquor to customers near Goyagam village in Kerameri mandal in November 2019.

The mobile liquor outlet was introduced only after the excise department cancelled the liquor shops in three agency mandals following the Adivasis agitation against the liquor sale in the agency areas.

The move was perceived as a move to boost the liquor sales to compensate for the loss that was incurred after the cancellation of liquor shop auctions in three mandals.

The Adivasi men of the three mandals come to Asifabad or Kerameri to buy  liquor at a mobile liquor outlet on the roadside at Goyagam.

WOMEN SECURITY

The Adivasi women have also expressed fear about outsiders misbehaving

with their women in inebriated condition.

Atram Anasuyabai of Lohera of Adilabad Rural mandal said their girls and women, who generally in their agriculture fields in the secluded area, were facing risk with outsiders visiting beautiful places including the ghat area, hilly area and waterfalls.

BREWING LIQUOR FROM MAHUA FLOWERS

The Adivasis use Mahua flowers for their own consumption and also sell them to Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC). The Adivasis eat the Mahua flowers directly and use them after drying in preparing chapati, Laddus and Kumulu, and juice.

The Adivasis consider the Mahua tree and flowers sacred. They also brew liquor with Mahua flowers and offer it to their Gods and Goddesses on special occasions.

Sheshrao of Narnoor said the Adivasis will get some additional income by selling the dried Mahua flowers but the minor forest produce is declining due to deforestation.

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