Karnataka

Our battle against the bottle won’t stop, say women who marched to Bengaluru

About 3,000 women from across Karnataka walked about 210 km from Chitradurga to Bengaluru recently to demand complete prohibition.

About 3,000 women from across Karnataka walked about 210 km from Chitradurga to Bengaluru recently to demand complete prohibition.   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

They are undeterred by their recent padayatra to State capital not yielding concrete result

It was a year ago that Rangamma, in her late 60s, lost her son to alcohol. The woman from Molkera village in Humnabad taluk recently lost her daughter-in-law as well following health complications. Now she and her aged husband are left to look after their six-year-old grandson. She works as a daily wager while her husband grazes cattle.

Nearly every household in the village in Kalaburagi district has a tale to tell on how alcoholism has ruined their families. Shridevi, a labourer who lost her alcoholic husband, is left with three children — with the eldest one being 10 year old — to look after by working in a poultry farm for ₹3,000 a month. Sunita, 40, an ASHA worker, is inconsolable as she talks of how her husbands sells anything he lay his hands on to buy liquor and beats her up when he can find nothing of value.

12-day padayatra

“For many men their very job is consuming liquor and arranging money for it by any means,” said Swapna, an activist of Grameena Kooli Karmikara Sanghatane, a rural labourers’ organisation. This organisation was at the helm of the recent padayatra of about 3,000 women from across Karnataka to Bengaluru to demand complete prohibition. Fifteen women from this village were part of the march. They marched about 210 km from Chitradurga for 12 days to reach the State capital.

“I decided to walk because no woman in the world should face the hardship I face,” said Renuka, a farm labourer from Togarikatti in Harapanahalli taluk of Ballari district. Her husband, a small farmer, has sold almost everything, including 2.5 acres of land, to sustain his habit. A village of about 100 households, Togarikatti has five liquor shops. “Even some school-going children are getting addicted,” said Bhagya, an activist in the village. She mobilised hundreds of women affected by alcoholism in about 10 villages. Lakshmappa, 60, from Angondahalli in Mulbagal taluk of Kolar district, walked with the women for the cause because his 30-year-old alcoholic son has subjected him to physical and mental abuse. Chinnakka, also from Angondahalli, said the village of about 150 households has four liquor shops. “It is bad for men too because people know about the addiction issue in this village and do not want to give their daughters in marriage to anyone here,” she said.

Swarna Bhatt, a leader of the sanghatane, said alcoholism was the root cause of several other problems and therefore needs to be treated on priority by any government serious about welfare of rural India.

“Alcoholism has led to unprecedented exploitation, oppression, harassment, and assaults on women in rural areas. In the absence of income from the male members of their families, women are forced to borrow money to run their families. They are getting into a cycle of debt. We have reached such as stage where we cannot address other issues unless we resolve the core issue of alcoholism. If the government is really concerned about the welfare of the people, it can start with smaller steps such as curbing illegal sale of liquor and not issuing new licences,” said Ms. Bhatt.

The march to Bengaluru did not yield any result, with the Chief Minister only saying he will “look into the matter”. But they are not willing to give up.

“I am disappointed that the government did not assure us anything. But we are determined to go on. We will gherao the politicians when they come to us for votes,” said Virupamma from Udbal village in Raichur district.

About 3,000 women from across Karnataka walked about 210 km from Chitradurga to Bengaluru recently to demand complete prohibition.

About 3,000 women from across Karnataka walked about 210 km from Chitradurga to Bengaluru recently to demand complete prohibition.   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

When asked about the future direction of the movement, Abhay Kumar, another leader of the campaign, said they were planning to intensify the struggle. “A number of religious leaders have joined the movement and we welcome more of them. We are also planning a legal battle against the policy of issuing liquor licences against the wish of gram sabhas. Promotion of alcoholism for enhancing the State’s income is also a violation of Article 47 of the Constitution that directs the State to have the policy to minimise alcohol consumption. Since it is largely a women’s demand, we want to link the issue with adequate representation of women in Legislative Assemblies and Parliament,” he said.

Economics of it all

The demand for complete prohibition is usually met with the economic argument that revenue from liquor sales is crucial for the State exchequer.

Mr. Kumar dismissed this claim saying that it is the liquor lobby that makes it sound like an impossibility. “Liquor barons and middlemen in the distribution chain earn several thousand crores from the liquor business every year and most of it comes from the pockets of the poor and the middle class. What goes into the State exchequer is not even 30% of this,” he said.

He sought to know the logic of claiming that this money was necessary for welfare spending when several times this sum was being “robbed from the poor” by making liquor freely available. He argued that prohibition would automatically mean welfare since people would spend money on consuming nutritious food or on children’s education. “It also saves a huge amount of medical expenditure that alcoholism brings with it,” said Mr. Kumar. “The only section that would be affected badly by prohibition is liquor businessmen,” he said.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 5:45:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/our-battle-against-the-bottle-wont-stop-say-women-who-marched-to-bengaluru/article26164546.ece

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