Basavva Goodachi (50), a daily-wage labourer from Bachinagudda village in Bagalkot district, holds her hand over her head on Wednesday afternoon outside Freedom Park in Bengaluru. Even she has trouble explaining just how she marched 200 km in 12 days demanding a statewide ban on alcohol.
"We have come here to close the bar in our village. We should find a way to do it somehow or someway," she says after a pause. Basavva is among a group of hundreds of women who marched from Chitradurga to Bengaluru, a 200 km journey, holding public meetings on the way calling for prohibition in the state. The journey, organised under the banner 'Beer Beda Neer Beku', was completed on Wednesday in spite of the tragic death of Renukaamma, one of the protestors, due to an accident.
"We were planning to go back home after that but in spite of that, we have come here. She is dead but we decided that we had to fight and we are here to raise our voices to remove the bar in our village," says Basavva Goodachi.
Basavva Goodachi (pictured left) has come to the march from her village in Bagalkot
In Basavva's village, the majority of the men flock to the solitary bar positioned at the entrance to the village next to a sugarcane field. "The women are earning and the men are drinking," she says before adding, "Once they are drunk, we have to search for them near the sugarcane fields where they are invariably sleeping and bring them back home. Their presence affects everybody in the house. We do not have the peace of mind to eat our food or do anything because our husbands are drunk and whiling away their time".
Several women gathered at the protest echoed Basavva's sentiments and complained that alcoholism has disrupted their livelihood and pushed them deeper into poverty. "We earn wages of around Rs 100-200 every day and if a part of this amount is spent on alcohol, there is no money to buy food or think about buying a house or sending our kids to school. We are tired of earning and seeing our money being spent on alcohol, so we have come to the government asking for a solution. We will vote for any politician who decides to take this up as an issue," Shivamma, a daily-wage labourer from Raichur says on the sidelines of the protest.
Shivamma recalls that she was part of a 71-day hunger relay strike demanding prohibition in Raichur in the run-up to the State Assembly Elections last year. She says that many women who gathered have held protests over closing the bars in their villages. They have now come together to give a collective voice to their anguish and demand a statewide ban on the sale of alcohol under the banner of the Madhya Nisheda Andolana (MNA), an organisation formed in 2016 to demand prohibition.
Although Karnataka's Minister for Cooperation Bandeppa Kashyampur visited the spot, the protestors refused to engage with him and demanded a meeting with Home Minister MB Patil or Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy. In a tense moment, the protestors clashed with the blockade of police personnel in an attempt to force their way to the Vidhana Soudha, however, they were quelled by around 500 police personnel, mostly women deployed to contain the protest.
The protestors chanted slogans "Beer Beda Neer Beku", (We don't want beer, we want water), "Aagale beku Aagale beku Madhya Nisheda Aagale beku" (It must happen, it must happen, alcohol prohibition, it must happen).
There were also speeches by a number of activists including Mokshamma, from Raichur and prominent theatre personality and Gandhian Prasanna. Mokshamma previously led a 71-day relay hunger strike demanding prohibition in Raichur in the run-up to the State Assembly Elections last year. Prasanna, meanwhile was involved in a 250 km march last year demanding a better price for handmade goods.
A nine-member delegation from the protest was detained by police for staging a protest at the Vidhana Soudha. They were later released after the news of the arrest was announced at the site of the protest.
Amid the drama, the deadlock between the protestors and the government continued even at the end of the day in spite of a meeting organised with the Chief Minister at Vidhana Soudha. "We have not been given any assurances yet that this issue will be looked into. We have only been told that action will be taken on liquor shops operating without a license," Reshma, an activist at the protest told TNM.