Hooch tragedy fails to dampen Keralites’ spirits

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - 12:44

Thiruvananthapuram: Despite its claim of
being a progressive society with high social consciousness, the
phenomenal increase in liquor consumption continues to be a
serious malady afflicting Kerala, raising moral, political and
economic concerns.

While sales of Indian Made Foreign Liquor crossed all
seasonal records during Onam festival in August, the state was
shocked by a hooch tragedy which claimed 26 lives in
Malappuram district this month.

The deaths, spawned by toddy laced with poisonous chemical
material supplied from licensed shops in Malappuram district,
exposed the weakness and corruption in the Excise Department.

The reality on the street, however, remains unaltered. The
same long queues before retail outlets during evenings...
crowded bars and hotels. Even on the days when 26 people
died after consuming contaminated toddy and many more were
hospitalised, there was no perceptible fall in sales.

On predictable lines, the Government announced a
judicial probe into the tragedy and enforced certain measures
to ensure the quality of the brew supplied through the shops.

Significantly, the tragedy occurred when no less a person
than Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan openly voiced anxiety
over soaring liquor sales during the festival seasons.

According to Kerala State Beverages Corporation, which
enjoys the monopoly in retail liquor sales, total sales during
Onam crossed Rs 160 crore, surpassing all previous records.

Statistics of the Corporation show that sales almost
doubled to Rs 5538.90 crore in 2009-10 from Rs 2320.15 crore
in 2004-05.

The history of hooch tragedies in Kerala shows that as
many as 250 people have died consuming poisonous liquor in the
last three decades. The 1982 Vypeen (near Kochi) liquor tragedy
accounted for the highest toll of 78, followed by Punalur (34)
in 1981 and Kollam-Kalluvathukkal (32) in 2000.

Though arrack was banned in Kerala since mid-1990s when A K
Antony was Chief Minister, huge quantities of spirit continued
to be smuggled in through illegal channels, a bulk of which
goes into illicit distillation.

While admitting the craze for drinks has assumed dangerous
proportions, most anti-liquor campaigners and scholars who have
done research in the field feel it will be totally wrong to
dub Kerala society as a whole as prone to liquor consumption.

"Slightly more than half the adult population of Kerala
are women, among whom the drinking habit is much less. The same
is the case with children upto 15 years of age. This would mean
that huge quantities of drinks sold through legal and illegal
outlets are guzzled by less than 30 per cent of the populace”,
a psychiatrist from a medical college hospital said.

However, according to Fr Stephen Alathara, secretary, Kerala
Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), the situation could turn far
more serious if radical action is not taken, with women and
even children becoming victims of the moral degradation caused
by alcoholism, especially among the less privileged sections.

"Alcoholism is not just an evil in itself but the springwell
of all social maladies afflicting Kerala society like death
trap, high rate of suicides, road accidents, crimes and all
sorts of social, economic and psychological problems.

Any campaign against liquor should be based on this larger
perspective, Fr Alathara said.

"Our stress should be on the concept of temperance. There
should be a sustained campaign to make people aware of the
evil. Women and children should be equipped to take this
message to each family," he said.

Fr Alathara said a pastoral letter was read out in churches
a few months back, calling on the faithful to stop serving
liquor during celebrations like weddings or birthday parties,
which elicited a positive response.

He said the church also planned to initiate a dialogue with
political parties to enlist their support for the anti liquor
campaign as it was crucial in a politically hyperactive
society like Kerala.

The Temperance Commission under the bishops council plans
to launch a pro-active campaigns down to the grassroot level
in the coming days. The commission has already set up units in
all Catholic dioceses across the state.

PTI



First Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - 12:44

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