RAICHUR: In Annapoorna’s lap, a nine-month-old child lies deep in slumber. Eight months ago, the young mother lost her husband to alcoholism, only six years into the marriage.Braving the scorching heat of Raichur that hovers between 390C and 410C, Annapoorna sat on a dharna for 71 days starting February 20 — International Day for Social Justice — demanding prohibition on sale of liquor.
She is among the many women in Raichur who have been campaigning against its sale for two years, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, they decided to up the ante and women who are part of Rajya Mahila Okkoota and Gramina Kooli Karmikara Sangha have organised this sit-in in front of the Gandhi statue to catch the attention of political parties campaigning for the coming polls.
Mokshamma, who leads the group, explains why they have united against liquor: “Alcohol is destroying rural India. It causes poverty, illnesses, domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, rape of children, accidents… the absolute collapse of poor families.” She is breathless and loud from agitation. The women have heavily invested in this. They cooked at the sit-in site with pulses and vegetables brought from houses of other affected women.
It is not easy to sit waiting under the blazing sun but Basamma says that women are willing because they suffer every day at the hands of drunken husbands. “We are hell bent on the ban. The next government should listen to us. We will make them listen,” she says, though she adds that none of the political parties have included liquor ban in their election manifesto.
At the dharna site, while the core team sat through the day for the entire duration, other women came visiting.Shankramma’s two children were pushed into child labour after her husband died. “It is easy for the government to say that children should not be sent to work but, if we don’t work, how will we get our meals?”
Shankramma recalls daily beatings by her husband who demanded that she give him her earnings from working as a farm hand. “My husband used to take advance from where he worked to drink in the morning hours and then go to work. He used to empty his pockets by evening and would start pestering me to drink in the night. I don’t want other women to be put through this and therefore showed up for the protest.”
She says that when she met a senior leader of a party to present their case, he had replied: “If I campaign saying that I will ban liquor, then who will vote for me?” Mokshamma laughingly asked him if he does not know that women vote for his party too. She says, “We don’t want free rice, loan waivers or subsidies. Impose a liquor ban and the rural economy will boom.”
Vidhya Patil says that the agitation will be stepped up after the elections. Women from across the state will march raising slogans against alcohol and converge at Vidhana Soudha. “They will not budge until the state promises prohibition of sale of liquor,” she says.
SUPPORT ALL ROUND
At the dharna site, while the core team sat through the day for the entire duration, other women came visiting. Every day, around 150 women spent their day here while 10,650 in all have shown their solidarity with the protest. So far, women from 424 villages in Raichur sat and from 13 districts have participated in one way or the other.