Gopalganj hooch tragedy exposes the sinister after-effects of prohibition
Barely 4 months after complete prohibition was imposed in Bihar, 13 people have died because of consuming illicit liquor. This has exposed chief minister Nitish Kumar's claims of making Bihar liquor-free.
All the deceased are from Gopalganj, which is the home district of RJD president Lalu Prasad. Out of the deceased, 7 are from Noniya Tola. Most of them are from impoverished backgrounds.
After the tragedy, chief minister Nitish Kumar has instructed the authorities to submit a report.
"The number of dead could be more than 20. Many were critically ill and have been sent to Gorakhpur," said a doctor from Gopalganj Sadar hospital on the condition of anonymity.
The relatives of the deceased say that despite prohibition, liquor was being sold at Khajurbani adjacent near Hakhua Road.
On Monday, all of them consumed liquor from Khajurbani. Situated near the railway crossing, this area is notorious for the sale of country liquor. Even after the imposition of prohibition, the sale of liquor here continues unabated.
"The patients complained of vomiting, headache and uneasiness. Six of them who were critical were sent to Gorakhpur, where all of them died one by one," said the doctor.
According to the administration, all of them died under suspicious circumstances. "We have sent the blood samples for testing. We are waiting for the post mortem report. We can comment on the cause of the death only after examining the report," said Gopalganj DM Rahul Kumar.
The doctor claims that the administration is trying to hush up the matter.
"What do they mean by suspicious circumstances? They were not unwell, nor is there an epidemic in the area," the doctor said.
The truth is that given the hasty manner in which the Bihar government imposed prohibition, such incidents were bound to happen.
Though Nitish Kumar announced his aim to make Bihar "liquor free" very little was done to shut down the units manufacturing illicit liquor nor were steps taken towards de-addiction of alcoholics.
It was assumed that Bihar will become liquor free merely by enacting a law.
Some say that the sale of illicit liquor has actually increased after prohibition.
Illicit liquor is the main cause of liquor related deaths and its production continues in many parts of the state.
Instead of uprooting this menace, the state government passed a law that entails punishing the entire village community for the production and consumption of liquor.
The first place to be affected by the new law was the CM's district Nalanda. The district administration penalised the entire village for violating the new law. Many Dalits began leaving the village after the administration's Tughlaq-like diktat.
Despite this, the trade of illicit liquor continued in the area.
If experts are to be believed, liquor trade is thriving in Bihar's areas bordering Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Nepal.
Gopalganj, for instance, shares a border with UP. In the past few months, police have conducted raids and recovered large quantities of alcohol.
According to the doctor, the government is imposing the law without doing enough to create awareness and address addiction.
He said that the people who died in Gopalganj were addicts. They were either vegetable vendors or daily wage labourers. There were no attempts by the authorities to remove their addiction.
Also, the government has no control on the movement of people to and from neighbouring states as well as Nepal. People easily cross the border, consume liquor and come back.
Recently, the government removed toddy from the ambit of prohibition, which is a blow to the cause of making the villages addiction-free.
It seems that just to fulfill his election promise, Nitish Kumar imposed prohibition without doing the necessary groundwork. Therefore, incidents like the tragedy in Gopalganj cannot be prevented.
Under the new law, the person who caused deaths through the sale of illicit liquor, can be given the death penalty and a fine of Rs 10 lakh. Despite this, illicit liquor has caused the deaths of 13 people in Gopalganj. Clearly, a tough law isn't enough.
Translated and edited by Aditya Menon