MUMBAI: It may be a story lost amidst the reports of rising alcohol consumption and soaring excise revenues, but as the urban youth takes to the cup of Bacchus, these women in rural Maharashtra are pioneering a spontaneous silent revolution of sorts, exercising their franchise to shut down liquor vends which they say had adversely affected their family lives and social fabric.
Since 2008, a total of 107 liquor shops have been shut down by women voting against them or through resolutions passed by the local gram sabha (village council), according to figures available with the state excise department. Kolhapur accounts for the largest number (33) of such vends shut down, followed by Pune and Satara at 13 each in what local women feel will help wean their husbands away from the brew.
So much so, that activists say a woman from Vikhale in Satara’s Khatau taluka who was locked in her house by her husband to prevent her from voting actually climbed out after removing the tiles on the roof to exercise her mandate.
“The government only bothers about excise revenue but what about the social costs of these addictions?” questioned Vilasbaba Jawal from Satara, who is part of the Vyasanmukta Yuwak Sanghatana (Organisation of Deaddicted Youth), which mobilises people in this regard. Jawal should know the perils of alcohol. He watched his mother suffer at the hands of his alcoholic father and even make an unsuccessful suicide attempt; his father died on the streets after a drinking binge.
Jawal worked as a head load worker in Mumbai before returning to his village in 2000 and getting drawn to varkari (bhakti) sect leader Bandatatya Karhadkar, whose association weaned him away from his gutkha and tobacco addiction.
Jawal mooted changes in the law to ensure that the women in a village give their mandate before opening a liquor vend. “It is not enough to just shut down these shops but rehabilitation of families destroyed by alcoholism must also be undertaken,” said Jawal, adding that the anti-liquor movement also faced a grave challenge in the proliferation of illegal hooch after the licensed vends were shut down. “The liquor shops are controlled by goondas and henchmen of politicians and hence the system tries to save them,” he charged.
In Siddheshwar Kuroli village in Satara district, women who had been at the receiving end of their alcoholic husbands’ abuse voted in favour of the local bar being shut down. “This has made a vast difference to women in their domestic lives and public brawls have also reduced,” said local resident Shashikala Deshmukh, who was among those leading the opposition. Deshmukh, who claimed she has braved threats from the power liquor lobby to continue her work, rued that local policemen were lax when it came to cracking down on illicit hooch.
Independent MP from Hatkanangale in Kolhapur and farmer leader Raju Shetti said that the laws, which allow for the liquor outlets to be shut down after public opposition, needed to be further relaxed in favour of women. “The government does not want this to happen so these laws are tweaked in favour of the shop owners,” rued Shetti, whose Swabhimaani Shetkari Sanghatana activists have led the opposition to these vends and hooch.