Agencies: Anti-alcohol groups spearheaded by women have found a new resolve to press for the removal of bottle shops in residential areas, after the Supreme Court banned liquor sale within 500 meters of national and state highways.
Protesters have poured on to streets to stop the highway booze dens from relocating to residential neighbourhoods, a crafty ploy to beat the distance ceiling set by the top court.
Besides slogans, petitions and the occasional muscle-flexing, the residents are seeking divine intervention to ward off the evil — installing deities of gods and goddesses outside relocated shops.
Drinking is considered a social evil in traditional India, and women have been at the forefront of the fight against alcohol abuse as many marriages and families have been blighted by drunkards.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who kept his 2015 poll promise of banning the sale and consumption of alcohol in Bihar, suggested that “prohibition” is the best way out.
“The shops will shift to towns and villages (from near highways). The states should think of prohibition,” he said.
Like Bihar, several states in India are “dry” or don’t allow people to sale, buy and drink alcohol. But the majority are reluctant to go for total prohibition, as the liquor tax called excise duty is the second biggest revenue-grosser for most states.
The revenue volume can be gauged from the fact that India boasts of the world’s largest whiskey market.
Several states are unhappy with the Supreme Court’s ban, and have asked the Centre to file a review petition. Union tourism minister Mahesh Sharma said the government is looking at a middle path.
But women are on a warpath already, encouraged by the court order.
Residents of Tiruvallur, a village 50km west of Chennai, assaulted a policeman on Tuesday during a hot-tempered protest over the shifting of a liquor shop from near the main road to close to their homes.
That was one of many protests happening across the state, where a public sector undertaking runs all liquor vends that, conversely, giving a livelihood to around 12,000 people.
The central state has been recording mounting protests against liquor shops of late. People ransacked a shop in Sagar when the contractor refused to shift the outlet to another location.
In a Raisen village, a makeshift shop was set on fire. The residents have been demanding its closure.
Protests have been reported from the Bundelkhand region, Satna, Indore and Vidisha, the parliamentary constituency of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj.
More than 20 women, some carrying infants, have been guarding the small town of Kanwat in Sikar to prevent the opening of a liquor shop. Similar protests by women have been reported in Barmer, Kota and Bharatpur.
People in Bareilly held protests against liquor shops being moved to their localities on Monday. In Shahjahanpur district, protesters blocked traffic on national highway 24 over plans to shift a shop to their village. In Meerut, women put deities outside a liquor vend as a mark of protest.
Protests stonewalled the excise department’s plan to shift 103 shops to new locations. In Champawat, women marched with axes, sticks and stones, and refused to move from a proposed site of a shop. In Rudraprayag, protesters vandalised a shop and emptied liquor bottles in the Mandakini river.
Women from Thapli village in Panchkula poured liquor from a newly-opened shop and set the liquid on fire. In Kedarpur near Pinjore, a shop was razed.