Saturday, June 22, 2024



Illicit liquor claiming the lives of poor labourers in Tamil Nadu is so very par for the course, that most can hardly be bestirred to protest. However, the staggering scale of the recent tragedy, which took place in the village of Karunapuram in TN’s Kallakurichi has raised eyebrows. Latest reports indicate that the illegal sale of moonshine has claimed as many as 55 lives, with over a 100 hospitalised in critical condition. 6 women are among those dead but nobody wants to talk about the fact that many women drink or are driven to drink by the drunken men in their lives who beat them up and grab what little money they have to fuel their addiction while leaving them to fend for themselves and the children as best as they can. But that is a story for another day. Meanwhile, this is not the first time, spurious liquor has claimed lives in TN, and if the past is any indication, it won’t be the last.

Around this time, last year, 416 arrests were made in Villupuram district (Kallakurichi’s neighbour), stores of hooch were seized and a flurry of transfers were carried out among govt. officials when 25 died and over 50 were hospitalized after downing illegal arrack. In June 2023,  PMK President – Anbumani Ramadoss demanded an audit of liquor outlets run by the TN State Marketing Corporation Ltd. – TASMAC (the state’s cash cow irrespective of which party comes to power) while protesting the continuous deaths brought on by the consumption of TASMAC sold booze and the death of a 35 – year old youth who had died in Salem district following a bout of drinking, facilitated by TASMAC. There are similar cases, going back over the years in TN with the usual round of protests from politicians belonging to the opposition, the call for prohibition (which is hardly the solution), the rounding up of shady sellers of arrack and seizure of their stashes of the devil’s brew and the inevitable transfers to give the impression of taking action against corrupt officials (who actively participate in and enable this ugly business), while actually doing squat. This has been going on for yonks now, with nothing by way of accountability or concrete action to avert a preventable evil. Which is why, one is forced to conclude that since we have chosen to turn a blind eye to the state’s history of deaths resulting from alcohol poisoning, we are doomed to repeat it.

This is also symptomatic of a deeper malaise within the system where politicians as well as well-heeled folks who don’t have to perform hard labour for pitiful wages in order to not be able to make ends meet, are perfectly content to let the poor and wretched remain poor and wretched. Why tsk at the Hindujas who have been sentenced to prison, having been found guilty of exploiting domestic workers when most in India are guilty of the exact same offense? In India, nobody cares that too many have been condemned to die in misery below the poverty line without access to food, clothing or shelter or that even more are denied access to basic requirements like drinking water, 3 square meals, sanitary living environment, electricity or quality education for their children. We would rather ignore the poor when not judging them for drinking themselves to death, and wile away the time, looking at pics of the Ambanis' umpteenth pre – wedding festivities.

But this cannot be allowed to go on. Politicians who talk about prohibition and shutting down TASMAC outlets before the elections without actually implementing any of their promises must be pulled up for their gross negligence and officials responsible for being a part of this godawful business must join the small fry who have been jailed after the tragic deaths at Kallakurichi. Rehabilitation must be provided free of cost to impoverished labourers wrestling unsuccessfully with full-blown addiction. Fair working conditions as well as access to a decent quality of life for all must be a level one priority as befits a developed nation. If we continue to be wilfully uncaring of the plight of the poor in this country, we are complicit every time a tragedy strikes them pushing them deeper into penury and abject misery and deserve the exact same punishment that has been handed out to the Hindujas.

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