news Monday, January 05, 2015 - 05:30
Every bus that run in the Attappadi-Anaikatti route run in full capacity after 6PM, and most of the travelers are drunk. The buses are turned into bars. Few drink inside the buses, others sing and enjoy. This is the scene that one can witness daily. People cross the state border and travel to the nearest liquor shop in Anaikatti, Tamil Nadu everyday to drink daily. Yes, they cross the state border because this place in Kerala is "liquor-free." It was in 1996 that the then Chief Minister of Kerala A.K. Anthony declared Attappadi a liquor-free zone. On November 18, 2002 the then President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam made the Attappadi Declaration, which declared the area as liquor and drug free. "Let us take a pledge today to abolish use of liquor and Ganja cultivation that is rampant in this most-backward tribal belt", the President had said administering an oath to a large gathering of tribals. However, the attempts and awareness programmes have had no effect. People still get liquor easily from the neighbouring towns of Mannarkkad (Kerala) and Anaikatti (TN). Surprisingly, there are four de-addiction centres functioning in this "liquor and drug free zone."  The bus service from Attappadi to Anaikatti has made access to liquor very easy. "It has been very convenient for the men because the bus stops wherever they want to get down. The bus conductors also make money, they do not give the balance amount to the drunk men," said Kaliammal, a promoter of the Integrated Tribal Development Programme. Even the auto-rickshaw drivers who work in this region help people get liquor. "Every time auto drivers come back from Mannarkkad (nearest town in Kerala where there is a liquor store) they bring liquor bottles. They are sure they will get buyers. They charge a nominal amount as commission too," said a local shopkeeper. (The places encircled in black are the three panchayats of Attappadi and the ones in red are the closest places immediately outside the liquor-free zone where people get liquor from)  However, it is not the bottled liquor alone that is in vogue in the "liquor and drug free zone." Tribals also make illicit country liquor inside the dense forests of the Silent Valley National Park. Ganja farms too are in plenty. "Youth of 18-21 age group get addicted to Ganja and the adults prefer liquor. It has been two months since we started this centre here and we have had 20 people who have come for treatment," said Anjana of the Swami Vivekananda De-addiction Centre. She said that most of the people who come for de-addiction are sent forcibly by their family. However, few who have reached a level where they are not able to have food because of pain come voluntarily. Not all who complete the 20-day course of detoxification and counseling become successful in abstaining from the vices. "There have also been cases where the same people have been here for the second time for the course," Aravindakshan of the de-addiction centre said. The staff working in the de-addiction centre are of the opinion that the establishment of Community Kitchen in the area which provides free dinner to the tribals has given a push to the habit of drinking. The tribals are now able to save the money that they would have otherwise spent on food, and this saved money they spend on drinking, they said. But a case that ended very successfully was foiled by other villagers. An auto-rickshaw driver from Mukkali village, after completing the course, started talking to his friends in a bid to bring them out of the habit. He was beaten up by his friends and his auto rickshaw was vandalized. The usage of Ganja among school children has become very common in the place. The Ganja produced in Attappadi is being sent to the neighbouring towns also. It seems as if the government has turned a blind eye to this issue. It is now giving attention to the upliftment of tribals in the area, an attempt which is again going in the wrong direction. The fiasco of prohibition in Attappadi should in fact have been taken as a case study before the state government declared its controversial prohibition policy. Where it could not enforce and bring the desired results of prohibition in three panchayats, the government spoke and even attempted to scale up the policy throughout the state. It is shocking that it did not learn from its bitter experiences.    Tweet Follow @thenewsminute
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