Reclaiming Mahatma Gandhi: Adhering the public voice against alcoholism

I stood guard gazing at the camera of a regional news channel as the protesters stormed into the office of deputy commissioner-Excise, Mysuru.

The times they are a-changin.

Leaders are embracing the fact that the time has come to look for money elsewhere. The tug of war between the lobby groups of foreign liquor brands and local bar owners’ associations which benefitted political parties has to end.

The crimes are on rise and death toll have hit the roof. Sexual assault, aggravated assault, intimate partner violence, and child abuse are all pointing to alcoholism.

Never have we seen a widespread political support for the crackdowns on alcohol like what is evident today. Although, Gujarat and Nagaland were the only Indian states with prohibition. The black-market always existed. Local politicians were obviously involved. However, since the last 3–4 years the prohibition is real. The governments at the state have made it their agenda to ban it in a phased manner with true spirit.

Late Jayalalithaa was firm in sending the message by shutting down 500 liquor stores on the first day of her fourth term as the chief minister. On August 2014 Kerala restricted the sale of liquor to five-star hotels. Nitish Kumar banned the sale, production, and consumption of alcohol in Bihar from April this year. Not to dismiss the fact that He is a strong contender to be the primary face of a third front if the tides are strong.

All the numerous research and studies carried out by various health departments, NGOs, social establishments have clearly shown both men and women supporting prohibition.

Domestic abuse being cited as the primary reason.

On the 16th of February, an agitation in protest of widespread sale of liquor in Karnataka was flagged off. Karnataka Madhyapana Nisheda Andolana, asking for a total ban on the sale of liquor in the state of Karnataka led by Dr. R. Balasubramaniam, Founder Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement.

The march from Mahatma Gandhi statue in front of the Mysuru district court premises to deputy director of excise’s office.

The march was joined by women groups and representatives who have been the victims of alcohol abuse in the family. The social evil of alcoholism have ruined the daily life of families and also the generation to follow. The narration of their hardships and events were heart-wrenching.

Why this march was not just one among the many campaigns carried out by social groups across the country?

Firstly, it was not just an awareness campaign. The focus was to bring a policy level amendment in the excise act. The demand, however, was to abolish the department of excise.

As witnessed in the research and survey, clear support from the public makes it a poll subject. The protesters have asked the political parties to include alcohol ban in their agenda and only then knock their doors for votes.

Now that the states and eminent leaders across the country have made alcohol ban part of their campaigns and also won polls on the basis. The decision cannot be dismissed right away.

However, 20% of the Karnataka state’s revenue currently coming from the excise sale is a major factor to consider.

The data from national crime records bureau data shows a 70–85% influence of alcohol in the total crime against women. Sexual exploitation, kidnaps, rapes, and several other violence and crimes were associated with it.

Firm determination and a promise of further agitation, bigger and state-wide protests are being planned which will be joined by representatives of NGOs, CBOs, self-help groups, college students, and women groups from across the state.

The protest’s agenda was to reclaim the photograph of Mahatma Gandhi from the excise office.

The explanation of the protestors was loud and clear. They did not want to shame the father of our nation, who served the country and preached all through his life to stay away from the social evil of alcoholism. They objected the functioning of excise department under the nose of Mahatma.

If this turns out to be a large scale agitation forcing an unlikely policy change in the state of Karnataka. This is a nationwide movement. This may result in reconsideration of policies of the nation as a whole.

Old Mysore region was historically the epic centre for unaccounted liquor manufacturing, trade and sales. The British confessed to the fact of failing to get the liquor business under control and impose duty. The natural abundance of coconut and palm trees helped liquor business boom locally, in every household. Unlawful supply of money in large figures helped businesses. Businessmen found it a lucrative means to transact.

After the British left, old Mysore provenience had Bangalore as the capital and the businesses got organised. Vital Mallya leading the baron producing whiskey, brandy, and rum. He coined the term Indian made foreign liquor. IMFL was widely available in market and the revenue earned helped in building newspaper companies, schools and colleges, hospitals, and the whole city ran on this money. Although the city transformed from a pensioner’s paradise to an intellectual’s city by the emergence of new age entrepreneurs. It then made way for the IT boom with a tag of silicon city attracting people from across the globe.

The city until recently ran on the money made by selling liquor. The state’s IPL team is owned by the liquor baron. Bangalore’s most iconic landmark, the UB city is built of liquor money. Apart from IT. It the liquor business that fuels the city. Koramangala, M.G road, Indiranagara and recent entrant HSR are the gold mines for these liquor brands.

If the ban is imposed on a city which started brewing and selling liquor in the country.

The nationwide end is near.

Being a part of protest in Mysuru, witnessing things unfold.

FLY ON THE WALL-Yellow boxed

All this while I was the fly on the wall. The sufferings were real and I was convinced of the fact that alcohol has ruined the health and homes of many. I considered it a health issue and not a moral one.

So

I gathered my courage and asked a senior activist, “Sir, I understand the sufferings and ill effects on the lives of the poor, the daily wage worker. But, I don’t see it affecting the rich. I don’t think it is an evil for the urban dweller”.

His response was elevated and it took me a while to contemplate. But, that was a gem.

My friend.

The poor live in houses so small and close that when they stretch, sometimes their hands unintentionally go into the neighbour’s house. Good or bad. It is known to everybody.

However, the rich have thicker walls and higher compounds.

Everything stays inside those walls.

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