Anti-liquor protests are not new to Tamil Nadu, but the scale and intensity of protests have grown greatly in recent months.

When govt runs the liquor business Why TN is erupting now in anger against its TASMAC shops
news Protests Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 17:57

National attention may be focused elsewhere, but there’s a powerful anger growing in Tamil Nadu against government-run liquor stores or TASMAC stores. On Wednesday, another video emerged from Mudalipalayam village in Tiruppur district, in which a protest mob of over 1,000 people turns violent, vandalising and tearing down a TASMAC store there.

In the video, both men and women protesters can be seen tearing down barricades and frontage of the store, and pelting stones at the doors of the store as well. According to witnesses, women in the protest also expressed their anger by breaking bottles of alcohol.

But, this is not the only violent protest to occur in recent times, as popular anger has been boiling to the surface in a number of districts across the state. On April 4, a scuffle developed between protesters and the owners of a TASMAC store in Serinchamalai near Sulur. When a police official tried to intervene, he was assaulted by protesters too.

On April 12, a major controversy broke out in Tiruppur, after Additional SP Pandiarajan slapped a woman anti-TASMAC protester. The ensuing disturbance resulted in protesters throwing stones at police vehicles and the police resorting to a lathicharge.

Anti-liquor protests are not new to Tamil Nadu. As retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam observes, there has been growing anger against the Tamil Nadu government, for its state-sponsored encouragement to the liquor lobby.

Even as the Jayalalithaa government doled out freebies such as mixers, grinders and so on, he says, “Women were the ones suffering the most from this easy availability of alcohol. Men would spend half their earnings on liquor and then beat up their wives and children at home. Lots of women have been widowed because their husbands slow-poisoned themselves with alcohol. Several others were forced to separate from their spouses.”

However, while popular anger continued to simmer, successive governments kept it from erupting to the surface, he explains. “This is because the Government earns close to Rs 35,000 crore due from liquor sales. Plus the AIADMK's Sasikala and DMK's TR Baalu dominate the field in Tamil Nadu, as far as production is concerned.” In Tamil Nadu, retail liquor sales is exclusively in state control, except in pubs and bars, and licensing of production is also tightly controlled. This nets the government the massive revenue of nearly Rs 35,000 crore. 

Despite this, popular discontent has been strong enough that all of the major political parties had to include prohibition as one of their poll planks for the 2016 Assembly elections. Coming to power, Jayalalithaa announced the phased closure of TASMAC stores, seeking to maintain a careful balance between lost revenue from alcohol sales and popular anger.  

What has changed in 2017 is the intensity of protests, which have begun to erupt in every other neighbourhood across the state. This, says advocate Ramalingam, is thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling banning liquor stores from setting up anywhere within a 500 m distance from all national and state highways.

As a direct consequence of the ruling, TASMAC stores are being forced to shift away from highways and into residential neighbourhoods.

But this has excited popular anger, says Ramalingam. “This is not a sudden phenomenon. It has just gained momentum because of the SC verdict. With the government trying to shift shops to residential areas, the anger against this social evil has come out in display. They don't want their children to see what alcoholics do or be influenced by it.”

Devasahayam says that the uncertainty within the current government has also encouraged protests. “Moreover, the video of a DSP slapping that woman has led to complete outrage among the common folk, especially women, who have been forced to deal with the menace for decades now," he adds.

Even children have got involved, with a seven-year-old schoolboy protesting outside a TASMAC store in Padur, and getting the store shut down for two hours. Days later, Aakash and 22 other school children presented a petition to the Kanchipuram Collector P Ponnaiah against the store.

Aakash’s father Anandan told The News Minute that his son’s protest was the latest episode in pitched protests by local residents, including himself, against the store.

Anandan, like protesters in many other rural and urban neighbourhoods in Tamil Nadu, say that they are rising up in protest because TASMAC stores are moving into the heart of their neighbourhoods.

“We are protesting now because the shop is in the middle of the residential area and it is affecting the people there. Drunken people misbehave with women and are always lying on the roads. Even the only toilet of the village is near the shop. Women are unable to use it now. What else should we do other than protesting?" asked Aakash's father Anandan.

Much like the jallikattu protests earlier, many hail these anti-TASMAC protests as a growing show of strength from citizens who have been quiescent for many years. “This shows people's strength in a democracy. Even the police are helpless and the Government will have to bow down to the people's diktat," declares Ramalingam.

Watch the video of the Tiruppur protest here: 

(With inputs from Priyanka Thirumurthy and Pheba Mathew)

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