Women lead the battle to ban alcohol in rural India

As dusk falls across the village of Paraghat in Chhattisgarh, women from the community gather around in large groups. Armed with long sticks and whistles, they walk around inspecting every corner for suspicious activities. This daily vigil has become an integral part of making sure that no one consumes alcohol in the village, a ban they have fought long and hard for.

Till about four months ago residents of Paraghat, women in particular, had been agitating to shut down four local breweries in the village. The easy access to alcohol (and drugs) had wrecked havoc on their sense of security.  “They get abusive in that inebriated state. They block the roads and verbally abuse us. Children learn bad habits from these people”, says Shakuntala Sahu, one of the 300 women who took part in the seven continuous days of rallies in held the village. Vrinda Azad, a veteran activist and a Community Correspondent with Video Volunteers, supported their efforts to put an end to this state of affairs.

Being the worst affected financially and emotionally by alcohol consumption, women across the country are starting small but effective campaigns to ban liquor in their villages. At a recent state level convention in Raipur, the Chhattisgarh Nasha Virodhi Manch (anti-alcohol forum) quoted data from the National Crime Records Bureau stating that 70-85% of crimes against women, including domestic violence and kidnappings could be linked to alcoholism.

13,609 cases of crimes against women were reported in Bihar in 2013; it also one of the states with highest per capita alcohol consumption. Women like Longia Devi live out the real stories that result from these figures. A septuagenarian, Longia Devi was working on her farm when she was brutally attacked with a sickle by unknown men. While she survived to tell the story, the men who did this to her are still nowhere to be found. Asha, a community correspondent for Video Volunteers, who reported this story links the high prevalence of crimes against women directly to the open sale of alcohol in her village.

 

 

For women like Asha and Vrinda, who are supporting various campaigns in their own ways, the small victories are beginning to amount to something bigger. Vrinda, a woman with more than a decade’s worth of experience working on women’s issues, explains how the women of Paraghat organised themselves to shut downthe breweries in the middle of the village.

“When the village council refused to take action against the breweries despite the community asking for it, we decided that we had to take stronger steps to have our protest heard. So for seven consecutive days we gathered outside the Police Station and gave applications to Superintendent of Police as well as District Collector. We were loud and we kicked up a racket— we had to,” says Vrinda.

Three months later, Paraghat is a different place as Vrinda explains: “The women all have the Superintendent of Police’s number. If they catch anyone, they are reported. Not even relatives are spared.”

In the neighbouring state of Jharkhand, the local brew Mahua is increasingly being seen as a threat. What was once a drink that flowed freely during festivals or an evening drink among friends has turned into an all-consuming habit. A report in The Hindu quotes data from the National Sample Survey Office and estimates that the consumption of country liquor in Jharkhand is between 200 and 500 ml per person per week.

In Dhanbad district, another campaign which has roped in local self help groups, health workers, housewives and activists is beginning to show some results. JankiDevi, has been working with various women in the community since 2013 explains:

“One issue was that the husband’s entire earnings got spent on alcohol and gambling. Apart from this, they came home and beat up their wives and ruined their children’s peace. So we women decided to get together and started organising rallies. We went from one village to the next and inspired women to come forward.”

To convince many of these women wasn’t easy. They refused to go against their husband’s wishes, afraid that it would make their situation worse, explains Halima a local health worker and also a community correspondent.

“We had to emphasise to these women that our strength lay in our unity, that we’d stand by each other if things became difficult in our homes. And it worked,” she says.

 

 

In the year since she made this video, things have improved for the community of about 5000 people. “While alcohol consumption hasn’t completely stopped, it has visibly reduced, as have incidents of domestic violence”, says Halima.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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