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In the Himalayas- Shutting the Door on Liquor

The financially back-breaking practice of serving liquor to all and sundry in the many villages of Uttarakhand- the responsibility invariably falling on the bride’s family- is now being opposed and checked by the villagers themselves. Senior police officers of the region have welcomed the move.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Something heady is brewing in the Himalayan villages and towns of Uttarakhand. No, not liquor but a sustained resentment against liquor and its all-pervasive ill effects on the social fabric of the hill state. We are not talking about “prohibition’’ here, which usually starts and ends as a political ploy of mass deception, but a weapon of resistance picked by the residents themselves.

Just two months ago, a small, almost unknown village in the Bageshwar district lit a spark which- if it’s allowed to spread unhindered- can well pave the way for other regions to take similar steps. The village, Ratir Kethi, holds just 80 houses, and therefore may not even figure on the Google map.

But that did not matter to the people of village. After all, a map is not the territory.

LIQUOR BRINGS MISERY AT MANY LEVELS

Till November 2020, the people of Ratir Kethi were following a very strange custom. It was that during a marriage ceremony, not only was the bride’s family obliged to offer liquor to all the members of the groom side, but even to the local residents who would help in the arrangements of various marriage ceremonies.

This often turned out to be a double whammy for the girl’s father. In fact, most of the times in Ratir Kethi, the poor families would end up paying more on the liquor than on all other expenses put together!

Things finally came to a head two months ago when Mahesh Singh, a primary school teacher of Ratir Kethi, arranged marriage functions of his two daughters as well as his cousin sister. The three ceremonies went off smoothly, but they broke Mahesh financially. To keep up his promises to the locals of the village, he arranged liquor for them, coughing up Rs 15,000 in the process. The amount may seem insignificant to some, but it’s quite large in those hilly regions of Uttarakhand where employment of any kind is very hard to come by and crops fail with an eerie regularity.

FINALLY, THE VILLAGE PUTS IT FOOT DOWN ON THE PRACTICE

What the school teacher suffered left him aghast, but it shook the conscience of the village. On December 29, Ratir Kethi passed a resolution that banned the sale, distribution and serving of liquor at wedding ceremonies. This ban on liquor also stands extended to all religious as well as social gatherings in the village.

Interestingly, it was the women of Ratir Kethi who triggered the resolution. They ensured that it was passed in the presence of at least one member from each of the households of the village. Not one person raised a protest, according to the village `pradhan’ Surendra Singh Mehta.

 A copy of the resolution was later handed over to the local police station and authorities, seeking their support in executing the move.

Despite its many scenic attractions, Uttarakhand is home to large number of people who have to struggle a lot to make two ends meet

POLICE SUPPORT

Bageshwar’s Superintendent of Police (SP), Mr Manikant Mishra later told the media: “The villagers have requested us to ensure that the sale and consumption of liquor do not take place during marriage functions and other events. The police cannot stop that legally, but their resolution deserves appreciation. I will visit the village soon to speak to the villagers and discuss how they can stop this. A social evil can be stopped only with the cooperation of society.”

MORE ANTI-LIQUOR MEASURES

The spread of Covid19, and the way it triggered severe financial setbacks in large parts of Uttarakhand, also acted as a catalyst for the anti-liquor movements. Sometimes in March 2020, women from the Tharali block of Chamoli district and Didihat division in Pithoragarh district, both in Uttarakhand, decided to ban liquor in their villages. They feared that consumption of liquor was badly affecting scores of youth in the region.

Declaring the ban, the president of of Hunera Viilage Mahila Mangal Dal in Pithoragarh district, Suman Devi, had said, “We have decided to impose Rs 1000 fine on anyone who consumes or serves alcohol and related substances during community celebrations in the village or consumes it individually too. Alcohol is an evil which destroys families and it should be eradicated from society completely.”

These acts, like wild fire, tend to spread their message fast. Not surprisingly therefore, the women of Cheopado village in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand also joined the bandwagon- but with a much bigger bang. Here, anyone found serving liquor in any form would attract not just social boycott but also a fine of Rs 5,000.

 So friends, next time you want to get “high’’ in the hills, you know where not to go.


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