UP-Uttarakhand hooch tragedy: As toll rises to 92, govt must fix broken system to regulate alcohol consumption

The current rising toll from such illicit hooch consumption in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand is a cruel travesty of the effort to ban alcohol.

Bikram Vohra February 09, 2019 23:08:12 IST
UP-Uttarakhand hooch tragedy: As toll rises to 92, govt must fix broken system to regulate alcohol consumption
  • India has an ambivalent attitude to alcohol and over 70 years, no infrastructure or education on responsible drinking has been built.

  • Consequently, what we have in the country is an underground manufacture that produces torrents of poisonous liquid.

  • Meerut, Saharanpur, Roorkee, Kushinagar and several other towns and cities in UP have been hit by this poisonous batch.

If good intentions pave the way to hell, there is no more sterling example than the flip side of prohibition, which is death by illicit hooch. The current rising toll from such illicit consumption in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand, having already crossed 92 and rising, is a cruel travesty of the effort to ban alcohol. It has never really worked and men who want to drink will always find a way, and there will always be someone manufacturing the toxic liquid to eclipse, at least for a while, the life of quiet despair.

When Bihar put a blanket ban over the state in 2017 after pressure from the women’s vote bank with a punitive 10-year-jail sentence for drinking, it became a paradise for gangsters to increase output. And those afraid to take on the cops simply went across the border to Bengal or even Nepal for a drink or two or more. There is actually organised transportation to take men to the ‘legal’ depots and bring them back in the wee hours of the morning. It is happening even today.

UPUttarakhand hooch tragedy As toll rises to 92 govt must fix broken system to regulate alcohol consumption

Family members of victims of the hooch tragedy at a hospital in Saharanpur. PTI

In fact, a wedding in Bihar is not replete without a flow of booze and there are mafias involved in ensuring delivery and keeping the cops away. It is a lot more expensive but cheers, it is possible.

Meerut, Saharanpur, Roorkee, Kushinagar and several other towns and cities in UP have been hit by this poisonous batch. It is a piquant contradiction that even in the holy city of Haridwar, alcohol manages to find its way. It is quite simple really. The hotel you check into will inform you that liquor is not permitted and cannot be bought. But a helpful ‘attendant’ will give you directions where it can be purchased.

In contrast to these deaths that occur with frightening regularity, just last week, nearly 4,000 irate rural wives marched 11 days over 200 kilometres in Karnataka demanding a ban on liquor. They said it was ruining their families, destroying the health of their husbands and adding to their poverty. All of it is true.

Between deaths and bans lies the rub. India has an ambivalent attitude to alcohol and over 70 years, no infrastructure or education on responsible drinking has been built or encouraged. Merely by calling it evil, one does not deter people.

There is just no rapport between the government or NGOs and the public on this issue, which really should be right up there with potable water and sanitation for the sheer hurt and horror it causes.

By the same token, since corruption comes with the soda water and the political hierarchy is often hand in glove with the hoods, the concept of a liquor ban gets all cockeyed. A sad and sorry joke.

Consequently, what we have in the country is an underground manufacture that produces torrents of poisonous liquid and is a protected cottage industry.

Unless we wake up to the fact that men and even women who want to drink will find a way, and despite the brave march of wives and families who bear the brunt of drunkenness and then begin to create a sense of balance and inculcate a sense of awareness and culpability in drinkers, there will be no solution to both these sort of tragedies, neither more poignant than the other.

Destroy the underground distilleries, get rid of the mafias and put into a place a licensed quota system with sellers and manufacturers, ensuring they follow the rules. By that very token, make punitive the penalties for driving under influence, be it truckers or the very rich. Turn hooch-making into a class one felony, conduct proper raids and create an anti-hooch division in the local police force. Otherwise, nothing will change.

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