In the first months of 2015, India was shaken by another tragic tragedy of illicit alcohol – so called hooch – killing hundreds of people. Most of the hooch tragedies are due to high levels of illiteracy and low levels of awareness. Marginalized communities (geographically isolated, minorities, tribes, economically and socially deprived communities) are very severely affected by harm from alcohol consumption including illicit and spurious liquor.

In these areas alcohol is introduced in to the system for quick profits, exploiting the vulnerability and ignorance of the community. It is also often projected as an escape from the deprivation they are exposed to. Sometimes employers pay wages in alcohol rather than in cash. Some tribal communities brew alcohol at home leading to diversion of food grains to alcohol production, further aggravating hunger and poverty. It is estimated that two thirds of alcohol consumed in India is illicit. The WHO estimates that 1300 deaths from 2001 -2012 are due to this menace that has blighted my country for years.

Media reported hooch tragedies in India 2008 – 2015

Place

Year

Deaths

Malwani Mumbai. Maharashtra District

June   2015

102

Lucknow and Unnao districts of Uttar Pradesh

January 2015

32

Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district

October 2013

40

Mahidharpada area of Cuttack in Odisha

February 2012

35

Sangrampur village in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district

December 2011

170

Kaalwan village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district

October 2010

12

Kerala’s Malappuram district

September 2010

26

Ghaziabad and Bulandshahr districts of Uttar Pradesh

March 2010

35

Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi

February 2010

13

East Godavari district of coastal Andhra Pradesh

January 2010

14

Ahmedabad, Gujarat district

July 2009

136

Karnataka

May 2008

180

As aggressive as ever in its pursuit of giant profits in India, the alcohol industry makes a point in every such situation for its benefit – it routinely claims that it is hooch tragedies occur due to heavy taxation imposed on “their alcohol products”. The argument is: the poor cannot afford legal alcohol and so are turning to cheap, illicit liquor.

But in fact alcohol is intoxicating and the person who get addicted would buy it at any cost. We cannot blame high taxation. The law enforcement itself is faulty. Corrupted officials play their part in these tragedies. Uneducated and often illiterate, poor, socially underprivileged and marginalised people, who often already got addicted to alcohol, are exploited for quick profits. In such contexts these heart-wrenching tragedies recur often. But for the alcohol industry to make these claims about alcohol taxation being to blame is not only incorrect, but also immoral. Families have lost loved ones. Communities miss members. Already vulnerable people have become even more exposed to harms.

The alcohol industry does not care for those people and their fate, obviously. The alcohol industry simply doesn’t want to pay taxes for their harmful products – they want to rake in profits and leave us in India with the costs for the harm their products cause.

The sustainable and humane way to prevent hooch tragedies is to address corruption of local officials, improve law enforcement, increase social protection for marginalised groups and help people with alcohol use disorders – no matter where they live – to access treatment. It’s no silver bullet solution as Big Alcohol proposes, but it’s evidence-based and morally right.

There is an urgent need for Government and authorities as well as the NGO sectors to address this issue right from grassroots to eradicate this menace.

Get to know Vijaya

Vijaya Vangala

Namaste and very welcome to my blog corner!
I am Vijaya and I am associate with Amardeep India, which is a Member Organisation of IOGT. I’ve been part of the movement for over two decades. Prevention work especially with students is a matter of heart for me. By profession I am a Biology teacher working in one of the most reputed school chain in India. It is one among the prosperous schools in India committed to transforming lives.
I take deep interest in observing and understanding people especially children. I feel I relate many things with my subject in daily life. I do practice Yoga and meditation as part of my daily life. I like reading books and I had the privilege to work with the Indian Alcohol Policy Alliance and the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, advocating for using alcohol policy measures to foster development and promote health.
Alcohol use not only impacts the health of individuals but also has social and economic consequences for the society at large. Countries like India cannot afford this menace as 65% of population is youth.


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