VELLORE: They are all young, just entering the teens, yet to graduate from shorts to trousers and should ideally be inside classrooms. But in the villages bordering neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, these boys are busy not with science projects but something lethal - brewing illicit liquor.
Even for Vellore, a district infamous for bootlegging and illicit liquor, this is a shocking instance wherein boys as young as 13 from villages including Kallipettai, Ranganpettai and other neighbouring hamlets have been turned into a ‘workforce’ by notorious moonshiners.
There are several out-of-school kids who seem to have fallen prey to the bootleggers’ lure of quick and relatively easy money, as is evident from a series of photographs available with Express.
They show the boys working shoulder-to-shoulder with grown-up men in distilling arrack, which has been banned in the State for several years.
For several families in the village, brewing arrack has been a family business for decades and it is run like a cottage industry atop the Kottacheri hills. The youngsters are roped in to carry firewood from the plains to the hill and to ferry illicit liquor. This is a road on which there is no turning back once they fall prey to the anti-social elements.
The bootleggers who employ the children pay about `750 to `1,000 for assisting them in the illegal activity, said a villager in a petition to Collector R Nanthagopal. “Many boys, including those studying in Class VIII, are employed for undertaking menial work such as carrying firewood after school hours and during holidays,” said a local source, adding that even women and young girls were actively involved in the activity.
Admitting this, a police officer said, “There are cases where father, mother, sons and daughters work jointly in this business. They justify it claiming they have no other option for making ends meet.”
Activists charged that these illegal activities are being undertaken without any hindrance. “It is like a mini-cluster industry atop the hills. Over 75 per cent of the families in Kallipettai village and neighbouring villages are involved in this organised crime,” alleged T Basheeruddin, an activist from Pernambut.
A section of the villagers, who have been resisting the anti-social elements, alleged that they had appealed to the district administration and police department on numerous occasions to act sternly against the racketeers, but in vain.