Not a single day passes without her campaigns against liquor; former Sanskrit department head of Malabar Christian College, Kozhikode, OJ Chinnamma has grown to be the face of the fight against the liquor mafia in Kerala.
“Four mothers, in tears, appealed to the minister concerned to help them stop their adolescent children from drinking. They told him they could not bear the beatings of their adolescent sons anymore, for they were already being tortured by their drunkard husbands. They begged the MP of the place to use his power and shut the beverage outlet of the area. But nothing happened. The women were from Balussery in Kozhikode district and these are not isolated cases in the state,” says Chinnamma, recalling one of the instances that pushed her to take up the fight against alcoholism.
“I started my mission against alcoholim almost 30 years ago, inspired by my mother-in-law, who was able to bring her alcoholic husband back to normal life and then inspired many women from her neighbourhood to follow suit. My husband is a big support too,” says Chinnamma.
Chinnamma and her husband have succeeded in closing down 20 toddy shops and a few foreign liquor outlets in the state.
“The mission was not easy. We had to resort to all sorts of protests and even endured physical violence to accomplish our target. Sometimes, we have had to shelter the women victims of alcohol abuse in our house,” she says.
Family is no longer a safe place for women, but they are scared to give written complaints against their abusive husbands,” says Chinnamma, who is also the State President of Kerala Madya Nirodhana Samithi (female wing), recalling her experience during a campaign to close down beverages outlets.
Chinnamma rues the state of affairs where although drinking in public spaces is an offence, nobody prevents people from drinking at home and abusing the women of the house and spoiling the children. What mostly begins as fun, gradually conquers the social and family life of a person, she observes. As the liquid poison slowly conquers its prey, the victim fails to realise he is an addict, she says. These people then lose their social standing and their alcoholism ruins the love and understanding in their marriages. leading to such relations dying an early death, she says.
One of the present concerns Chinnamma is trying to address is children indulging in drinking. Most start as young as 12. “Children collect leftover liquor from glasses abandoned by adults in bus shelters and other open spaces. They collect a drinkable quantity, gather in groups in toilets of schools or at beaches to share the drink. Some are aged below 10,” she laments.
Chinnamma conducts awareness programmes and holds demonstrations seeking the closure of liquor shops. The State government has honoured her with the ‘Best Social Worker’ award for her activism. Her biggest satisfaction, Chinnamma says, is when an alcoholic decides to quit.