Boys start drinking early. Young widows. Loans piling up. Will the government budge?

Haunted by alcoholism Ktakas young widows and wives rise up to demand prohibitionImage: Nirupama, Hunur village Lingsugur Taluk/ Nirmala Tammineni
news Alcoholism Monday, October 03, 2016 - 20:37

Shakuntala, a Devadasi from Harijanwada village in Raichur district, comes from a family of widows and young children.

She has lost three of her brothers and two nephews to consumption of liquor. “Today there are literally no grown up men in our family. We work in oil mills and ginning mills and run the family. I get Devadasi pension and my sisters-in-laws get widow pension,” she said.

Coming from a Dalit household, the men from Shakuntala’s family drank spurious liquor made of CH4 powder- commonly called the CH powder. While liquor itself weakens the system, spurious liquor can be fatal. This problem is rampant in poorer households as spirit or spurious liquor is cheaper than the liquor brands sold by the government.

Problems due to excessive consumption of cheap or illegal alcohol have plagued the poor in many districts of Karnataka. Many households in the state are either run by widows or by women whose husbands suffer from ailments derived from alcoholism.

Thousands of women from Raichur district on Sunday, took part in a state-wide movement organised by Madhyapana Nisheda Andolana (MPA), demanding prohibition. The movement was spread out in other districts too including Mysuru, Bidar, Haveri, Belagavi, Dharwad and Udupi.

Picture from the campaign/ Santhosh Sagar

Women run households 

Thirty-four-year-old Uligamma from Hunur gram panchayat in Lingsugur, is a breast cancer patient. She dreads the thought of what would happen to her four children if she died.

“My husband uses all his earnings for liquor, he beats me badly; I have breast cancer, it is very painful, but I have no money to get medical help. I have four children. The youngest son goes to an anganwadi, two girls have dropped out of school and help me with chores. My eldest son, who must be 20 years is a daily-wager. I have a loan of Rs 15000 on me and I cannot go to work,” she said.

Uligamma and her youngest son

Nirmala Tammineni, an activist, has done case studies on the effect of liquor (legal and illegal liquor) consumption in rural Raichur.

Nirmala says that most of the households in Navalkal village in Manvi taluk are run by women, mostly young widows. Many widows are in fact in their early twenties and have at least two children to take care of.

This is a village that, about two years ago, came together to eradicate alcoholism and was even successful in closing down bars and liquor shops. However, the men didn’t mind travelling to nearby taluks to get their daily dose, says Nirmala.

“Life expectancy in rural areas may be around 50-55 years only. Over 70% of the men suffer from liver and kidney ailments. Many families spend over 50% of their earnings on liquor,” she said.

“Some of the men become so weak that they stop going to work. They ask their wife to fund their daily dose of alcohol”, she said.

Children become alcoholics

In 2014, a national survey on substance abuse revealed that the state topped the country in alcohol consumption among children, followed by Andhra Pradesh (84.7 per cent), Haryana (80 per cent) and Chandigarh (79.3 per cent).

The survey showed that children aged between 5 and 18 years consumed alcohol.

Nirupama’s husband Yenkappa is now bedridden. She has a girl and two boys and all of them dropped out of school a year ago.

“We have around 50 sheep. My sons go out to herd the sheep. I work as a daily wager. Until I am back, my daughter, who is the youngest of the three children, takes care of the father,” said Nirupama, who is from Hunur village in Lingsugur taluk.

Teenage boys, who are out of school, are also forced to work to add to the family’s earnings. This has led to financially independent minors or very young men taking to drinking, Nirmala said.

“More than their son’s alcoholism, the one thing that really bothers these women is the money that is spent on eating meat delicacies from the roadside dhabas. Many of these dhabhas have come up in the last few years. Boys, who start seeing money at a very young age, tend to go to these places to eat and drink,” Nirmala said.

The other liquor

Nirmala says that that there is a worrying trend in the poorer households in the village.

“They consume illegal liquor made out of CH4 powder which comes from the areas bordering Andhra Pradesh. While consumption of liquor itself is unsafe, if more of this powder is mixed, it can prove to be fatal. A man can be as fit as a fiddle, but can die if this is consumed,” she says.

Twenty-year-old Eeramma, from Elekudlagi in SIndhanur taluk has lived as a widow for two years now. Her husband, was only 21 when he died of consuming CH4 powder liquor.

“I was married off early. My husband and I had a three years age gap. The day he died I was in my parent’s house, which is about six kilometres from Kanihal where my in-laws stay. On the fourth day of my stay I told him that I wanted to spend another night. My husband on his way back home got drunk on powder liquor and had fallen on his head. The doctors said that he died as his BP shot up and his body was too weak to handle it. I was only thankful that I didn't bear any children,” she said

Eeramma now lives with her brother’s family and works as a daily-wager. She has been getting proposals for remarriage, however, she refuses.

“I have seen many families fall apart because of alcoholism. If I marry again the same story would repeat. My nephews who are younger than me by a couple of years have started to drink. So I don’t have a feeling this will end too soon,”she added.

Prohibition

Over 20% of Karnataka’s total tax revenue comes from excise duty. In 2014-15, Karnataka made Rs 15332.88 crores as excise duty.

An official from the Karnataka Excise Department, on condition of anonymity, said that nearly 80% of the excise revenue comes from sales.

Thus, any state might lose out on a large chunk of revenue by implementing prohibition. However, a study by NIMHANS points: “Indian Government spends Rs 240 billion every year to manage the consequences of alcohol use, which is more than its total excise earning of Rs.216 billion.”

Abhay Kumar, another member of MPA, said that the state must look into the impact on society rather than seeing the impact of prohibition on economy.  

"When we ask the police whether they can take any action on small shops selling liquor, they say that most of them stock up the permissible amount of liquor, which is four litres, for their own consumption. They should be caught, but most police officials are hand-in-glove with them,” he says.

“We can take examples from our own neighbours. If money is not spent on liquor, it will be spent on something better. Otherwise, if this trend continues, it is sure to hit Karnataka adversely in a decade’s time,” he said. 

 

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