Besides bringing children into possible contact with unscrupulous and criminal elements, toddy shops have wide ranging ramifications for children across the state

The toddy shops of Telangana which are ruining childrens livesImage By arrangement
news Toddy Thursday, July 07, 2016 - 13:12

A little boy dressed in a green shirt and blue jeans clambered up the cement block. He was now eye to eye with the man’s protruding belly. After paying the man, the boy clambered down to the floor with his cream-coloured bag and went out the door. He had just bought a couple of toddy bottles at a shop in a Hyderabad basti which has a very high school dropout rate. The scene – the disturbing presence of children included – could be from anywhere in Telangana.  

Simply called 'Kallu Compound, the toddy shop is located at the end of a narrow lane in Hyderabad’s Chintal basti in Khairtabad. As I stood undecided at the door, another boy scampered past me; he had been looking for something outside the shop. Walking up to the counter, he too climbed onto the cement block to buy the toddy which the shop sold in old beer bottles.

This toddy shop is frequented by many children, often unsupervised by adults. But this very culture places them in the vicinity of unscrupulous and criminal elements. Last Saturday, in Bolaram which is 25km away, a man had lured a 10-year-old girl who had come to the Sarvan Goud shop with her mother. He raped and killed her, then left her body some distance away in the same area.

But nothing seems to have changed since then.

On Monday evening, a boy aged about 12 and dressed in a red shirt cycled up to the Kallu compound. “I come here often to buy kallu for my grandmother,” he told me as I stood at the door, before going up to the counter. He carried away the toddy bottles in a red bag he brought with him and cycled away.

As I watched, a man came in, holding a little girl of about two, by the hand. With nothing to do as the man bought toddy, she too climbed onto the cement block in front of the counter.

After a few more indecisive moments I walked into the shop. The large room could have passed off as an old government canteen, were it not for the strong pungent smell of fermented toddy. Fresh toddy extracted from palm trees is considered healthy and consumed in several parts of the world, not just in India. Fermented toddy however, can pack a strong punch, to which many people are addicted.

Several men and a few women were seated on cement blocks that serve as benches while glasses of white-coloured kallu and snacks rest on the tables. A smaller room to the right – partitioned by tin sheets – is reserved for women who do not want to be seen drinking.

Sitting near the entrance with his own glass, Raju* paints a rosy picture of bonhomie. “This is the culture in Telangana. It is very common. In villages, even children drink it. It is equal to mother’s milk. People of all ages come here and this is like a family for us. Women also come with their friends and relieve their stress.”

But not everybody is comfortable with this state of affairs.

Thirty-five-year-old Saroj* has to pass by the street on which the kallu compound is located, to get to the meat and vegetable market from her house in Anand Nagar. “Crossing this street is quite irritating. After 7 pm it is more uncomfortable to walk here because drunkards hang around. It is surprising that even women consume Kallu and bring their children too. I never allow my daughter alone around this area.” She hopes the government bans such toddy shops.

Besides bringing children into possible contact with unscrupulous and criminal elements, toddy shops have wide ranging ramifications for children across the state. In 2015, a group of academics decided to study the impact of toddy shops that had come up near government schools. The study of over two dozen government schools close to toddy shops including in Chintal, had seen an increase of 15% in the dropout rate compared to previous years. Across Telangana, alcohol-related violence affected dropout rates, the study found.

Across Telangana, parents often take their children to their workplace and then to toddy shops afterward, says Achuyata Rao, President of the Balala Hakkula Sangham, an NGO which works for child rights says.

“Most parents are from low income groups such as labourers, auto-drivers, farmers etc. Because of this, children (directly and indirectly) learn to consume Kallu, cigarettes (or bidis) and gutka. These children are spoiled by uneducated parents. The government should take strict action against this and try to educate parents against this,” he says.

In a neighbourhood cricket ground, an-eight-year-old boy has some advice for the grown-ups. At the crease and focusing on the bowler’s next volley, the boy disapproved of people sending their kids to buy them toddy. He should know, he’s done it himself. His grandmother’s made him buy toddy for her.

“I tasted toddy when I was in my village, but I think it’s wrong to send us young kids to such places. If elders want to drink, they should go by themselves,” he said, but also pointed out that elderly people could not go on their own because they couldn’t walk.

He continued: “What I hate about the toddy shop is the smell. It’s unbearable.” Before I could ask his name, he scampered off to the other wicket and refused to respond further. He had a game to win.