KARAIKAL: Of the 600 residents of Melaiyur village near Karaikal, as many as 82 are widows who have one thing in common — they lost their husbands to alcohol addiction. Though they protested and got the tahsildar to submit a report to the Puducherry administration and shut three liquor shops in the locality, daily life is a struggle for these single mothers as consistent employment is hard to come by.
One of these widows, Lilies Mary (36), recounts how alcohol impacted her husband before taking his life last year. “He never used to drink often, but once 11 arrack shops were set up nearby, he became an addict. I strove in vain to get him out of the habit, and in turn, he would abuse the kids and me. We watched the man turn into an animal,” says Lilies, who now works as a construction labourer to support her two teenagers.
Another widow, Shanthi (35), tells of how alcohol wrecked her husband’s life before claiming it in 2011. “When I married Ulaganathan in 2000, I never would have guessed he was an addict. As his nervous system was affected, we admitted him to a hospital in Thiruvarur and spent nearly `2 lakh. But he died at 30, leaving me with two kids. His fertility was affected and I bore a blind boy. To make matters worse, there are no consistent jobs,” she laments.
“Though these women work under MGNREGA, they don’t get paid immediately. The UT should rehabilitate them and provide special scholarships for their children,” says S Manimegalai, Branch Secretary, AIDWA.
Located in an enclave of Puducherry, Karaikal district has never been behind the Union Territory in terms of generating revenue from liquor sales. Though 42 shops were shut in Karaikal following the Supreme Court’s order on liquor sales near highways, small arrack shops still thrive, threatening the lives of many, claim the nearly-20 mothers aged between 30 and 40 who were widowed due to alcohol.
Through a series of protests, these women got the UT administration to decide to shut the three arrack shops. But the need now is rehabilitation.
Fearing the worst, 32-year-old Satya says, “I don’t know how long I will have my Thali.” Doctors have given up on her husband Deivasigamani, a former farm labourer who lost his job during the last drought, got addicted to alcohol and drank till his kidneys were severely affected. But women aren’t the only ones who share this plight.
Latchiyanathan (48) tells us how he lost his wife to liquor last year. “I never knew my wife Lourdhu Marry used to drink until I found her tipsy one night around six years ago. Though I begged her to stop drinking, she couldn’t, and eventually lost her live to stomach cancer. Following her example, my two boys started drinking in their early twenties.
As I lost my wife, I am determined to save my children. They have been admitted at a rehabilitation centre in Puducherry.” Among the other widows who lost their husbands in their 30s are Savuri Rani (40), Vijaya (45), Thilagavathi (40), Vasanthi (45), Susila (48) and Reeta (39). S Manimegalai, Branch Secretary, AIDWA, said, “After we led a series of protests, the tahsildar inspected our village and submitted a report on the widows to the UT government.
Following that, the liquor shops were shut. But the widows are struggling to make ends meet now.” A Vincent, Executive Committee Member, CPM, Puducherry, said. “Though the shops were shut after protests, these widows continue to suffer.”
When contacted, Puducherry’s Agriculture and Education Minister elected from Karaikal district R Kamalakkannan told Express, “When residents of Melaiyur protested, we shut three.But, I did not receive any information on the widows. I will check with the Collector and do the needful. In Puducherry and Karaikal, the UT administration provides Rs 2,000 per month as widows’ assistance. We will take the needed steps for the locals of Melaiyur.”
People have been living here since 1900
Number of Families: 150
Status of the village: Village Panchayat under TR Pattinam Commune
Employment available: MGNREGA, Construction, farm works
Number of widows: 82
Widows aged between 30-45: 18
No of women who reportedly drink: 25
Alcohol-related deaths in last 15 years: 43
Sick people: 5
People in rehab: 3