KONAR (Sasaram) / PATNA:
In December 2012, the woman of Konar, a nondescript village 12 kms from Sasaram, found that young children were drinking liquor out of pouches strewn far and wide. The Bihar government had recently permitted liquor stores in each panchayat, angering native women who said they were continuously molested by drunken men, particularly after dark.
Earlier that month, a medical student was once brutally gang raped and attacked in Delhi; as news of the violent crime reached Konar, it galvanised the woman who mostly came from marginalised communities. They organised themselves into groups and started demonstrating for a ban on the sale of liquor.
“Liquor was once probably the most reasons for the gang rape episode in Delhi. So, after receiving a lot of complaints from rural women, who were silently suffering the day by day taunts, we made up our minds to start an agitation,” said Sunita Devi, the founder of Pragatisheel Mahila Manch (PMM), a social platform floated by women against alcoholism.
The movement started in Konar spread like wildfire across the state with thousands of women and activists holding demonstrations across the state, demanding prohibition. Women came out on the roads and thronged political meetings, with slogans against liquor. “We objected the policy of the state government to issue liberally permission for liquor shops in each panchayat. This ruined the youth and children,” added Devi.
In the 2015 meeting election, prohibition was once probably the most key election issues and a central plank of chief minister Nitish Kumar. The buzz around the demand helped push up women voter turnout to 59.92%. In a minimum of 30 meeting constituencies, the turnout of women voters crossed 70%.
After Nitish Kumar — who was once with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) at the time — came back to power, he quickly instituted a slew of measures such as 35% reservation for women in state government jobs and panchayat bodies, and free bicycles and school dress to girls.
And then, in April 2016, Bihar banned the sale and storage of liquor, fitting the second one state after Gujarat to totally impose prohibition.
Four years later as another meeting election comes around, the women of Konar are ambivalent approximately the have an effect on of their movement because they feel a thriving illicit liquor mafia has undercut its achievements.
“We cannot put out of your mind the days when most of our circle of relatives income was once spent on liquor. That changed after prohibition. Alternatively, things are back to square one now, albeit illicitly. The ban has remained only on paper and liquor smuggling is rampant,” said Phudena Devi who actively organised the anti-liquor protests in 2012 and 2013.
.Shanti Devi, of neighbouring Sitabigha village, agreed. She said the village missing 100 men to illicit liquor in the final six-seven years. “The purpose of our agitation has been missing. People are now indulging in unlawful business of liquor. Some naughty children are also involved in it,” she alleged.
In four years, Bihar confiscated 41.06 lakh litres of IMFL and country made liquor, continuously hiring Road rollers to smash bottles of liquor. But experts warned that only a small fraction of the smuggled liquor was once being seized; even then, in many cases, bottles disappeared from police godowns — in 2018,police in Kaimur district claimed that rats drank 11,000 litres of smuggled alcohol.
For Santi Devi, the liquor ban yielded mixed results. “Alcohol is easily to be had for anyone who wants to drink,” she said. “Still there are instances of domestic violence. But it isn’t as brazen as it was once and it has helped families,” she added.
The improve base of women voters, which boosted Kumar in 2015, could also be sore approximately the economic crash and migrant crisis right through the nationwide lockdown earlier this year.
“Nitish only got improve from the rural women. Women belonging to middle and upper class were not with him when he announced prohibition. The rural women who backed him, have turn out to be vocal critics because of loss of jobs of their male members of the family right through the lockdown,” said DM Diwakar, former director of AN Sinha Institute for Social Studies.
Shefali Roy, professor of political science at Patna University, said the enthusiasm of women voters — visible in 2015 — was once lacking this time. “The silent force in the back of Nitish Kumar’s victory was once the women right through the final elections. In gratification to the move of banning alcohol, women outnumbered men in the voting process. Alternatively, this was once somewhat a temporary period. Very soon women realised their mistake, when unlawful consumption and sale of alcohol made headlines,” she said.
Janata Dal (United ) spokesperson Rajeev Ranjan said women voters continued to stand with Kumar.
“Women voters began associating with Nitish Kumar ever since he began empowering them. The improvement of law and order has had its effect on them in rural areas as polite. Prohibition further strengthened their faith in Nitish Kumar. We are certain, they (the women) will stand by us,” he said.
“The purpose of prohibition has not been served. Women are also disillusioned by this falsehood. They’re also fed up with rampant unlawful sale of liquor. So, we don’t see any gain to Nitish Kumar from this law,” said Premchandra Mishra, Congress MLC.