‘I’ll never drink again’: A father’s vow as TN wakes up to devastation of alcohol abuse

Prohibition activists tell TNM that Dinesh's death is a murder by the state and his father a victim of government policies.
‘I’ll never drink again’: A father’s vow as TN wakes up to devastation of alcohol abuse
‘I’ll never drink again’: A father’s vow as TN wakes up to devastation of alcohol abuse

The death of an 18-year-old medical aspirant in Tirunelveli district last week has put the spotlight on Tamil Nadu's battle with alcohol addiction once again. Dinesh Nalasivan's suicide due to his father's alcoholism, came as a rude reminder to the state government that had gone into slumber as far as its poll promise of phased prohibition is concerned. 

In a heartbreaking suicide note addressed to his alcoholic father on Wednesday, the young man said, "You should not drink after I die. You should not light my pyre because you drink. You don't shave your head. To put it openly, you don't do my last rites. This is my wish. Only then my soul will rest in peace. Stop drinking at least now Appa.” 

And for 48-year-old Madasamy who can hardly hold back his tears as he attempts to talk, this letter was the last sign of love that his son has left for him. 

"I will never drink again," says the daily wage worker, crying, "never again," he repeats.

Dinesh was found hanging from a railway bridge by passers-by at Vannarpettai, an hour away from his home in Sivankovil. Dinesh was a bright student and had scored 463 out of 500 in his 10th standard board exams . Infact he was to appear for NEET in a few days to fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor. After his 10th standard he went to a school in Namakkal district. He had lost his mother nine years back and relatives say, he loved his father dearly.

"He had a heart of gold," says Madasamy, his voice choked with emotion. "He used to keep calling me from his school even during exams and I would tell him he should focus on his studies. He loved me very much and studied so well," says the father.

Madasamy had arrived from Kerala, which he frequents for work, on Wednesday night to take part in his son's last rites.

"I did drink but never created a problem after consuming alcohol. Everybody told me I shouldn't do the last rites. But I won't drink anymore. I was at the hospital and did my duty as a father in terms of the last rites," he says.

And while Madasamy is mourning his son's death, activists who have been protesting for prohibition in the state say, he is merely a victim of the state's policies .

Dinesh seems to have recognised this too, for in his suicide letter he asks whether his death will finally lead to the closure of TASMAC shops.

"Dinesh's case is just one that has come to the attention of the people. Everyday there are hundreds of such children and women who are suffering and even die because of alcohol abuse by the men in the family," says Nandhini Anandhan, a law student who has been protesting for prohibition for over five years now.

"This young man's death is infact a murder that the government should take blame for. His father was addicted to alcohol and this is recognised as a sickness that needs to be treated. The father is also an affected party in this scenario. And who is responsible for his addiction? It is the government which has not kept its word about shutting down TASMACs in a phased manner," she adds.

Nandhini has been detained at least 71 times for agitating in public spaces and outside TASMAC outlets. "Dinesh's letter is indeed a powerful one. We can't expect it to change the government's stance. But it will definitely jolt the society we live in," she says.

The activist is not mistaken in her allegation. Fisheries minister D Jayakumar, when commenting on Dinesh's death, in fact put the onus of change on the alcoholics.

“Implementing complete prohibition is also what we want. That’s why Amma (J Jayalalithaa) shut down 500 shops initially. Then the highway rule came into force. This is a social problem. Only if thieves change their ways can theft be eliminated. Similarly only if alcoholics turn a new leaf can alcoholism be eliminated," he had told the media.

But Senthil Arumugam, General Secretary of Satta Panchayat Iyakkam points out progress has been limited following the shutting down of 500 outlets and says easy access to cheap alcohol is a major problem. He further alleges that the government's awareness programmes have failed to address the root of the problem.

"The government's programmes are directed against the consumption of spurious liquor. Which means, they are telling people don't drink hooch, go to TASMAC instead. They don't spend even 0.1% of the revenues that they get from alcohol sales on raising awareness against it. When politicians across party lines are the ones who own distilleries that produce the liquor, why would they raise awareness?" he asks.

Minister Jayakumar himself seemed uncertain of the effectiveness of the awareness programmes while addressing the media. “We have been running an awareness programme for families to address this issue of alcoholism. However we are yet to see if it’s effective," he said.

Activists recall the death of Sasi Perumal an anti-liquor crusader who first began protests for prohibition in 1971. "He died in 2015, while protesting outside a TASMAC shop. After that all parties included prohibition as one of the promises in their manifestos. But till now, there has been no change on the ground," says Senthil.

Back in Tirunelveli, Madasamy agrees with his son's demand for closure of TASMAC outlets.

"They should be closed," he says, his voice fading. "All children will be happy then."

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