By Vyom Anil:
The alcohol ban in Bihar plunged its populace into the depths of despair. After all, it was the elixir that brought friends and foes together. It was the perfect expedient for social bonding and political musings over ‘murga bhaat’. After the ban was imposed, the Government of Bihar started investing in de-addiction centres and the alcohol consumers started looking for ‘effective’ alternatives. Bootlegging became much more prominent in the state and many found the perfect substitute in ganja.
I was disappointed too. I deserved my drink. I didn’t deserve this moral policing by the state. Many experts on the matter joined the debate condemning the blanket ban on alcohol for it caused revenue losses, created space for illegal trading and the influx of spurious alcohol.
But away from the policy circles and debates on its economic and legal outcomes, I had the chance of conversing with a daily wage labourer, Phuliya Devi in Siwan, Bihar (my hometown) on the same. And unlike the male folk I knew in town, she was quite elated by the move. She said it was the most joyous phase of her life. She was showering all of life’s blessings on Nitish Kumarji, for the promises he had fulfilled.
Phuliya’s husband is a rickshaw puller for whom alcohol was the go-to thing after a laborious day at work. But beating Phuliya after getting drunk had become a daily ritual. She recalls how she had saved money to buy new clothes for her daughter and how the money was squandered away by her husband on alcohol. The ban changed Phuliya’s life completely.
Her husband tried to get alcohol from the state borders, but it was too risky and tiring. In her own words, “Pahli baar apna majdoori laa ke haath mein diya hai. Ab roz shaam ko saat baje ghar aa jata hai, kyunki kahi daaru peene ko nahi milta.” (This is the first time he has given his wages to me. He now comes back at seven in the evening because he has nowhere to go to drink alcohol)
Phuliya Devi said that her health is improving too now. “Roz daaru pee ke maar peet karta tha, abhi shant hai…admi log ka nahi pata lekin aurat log ko bahut araam hai.” (He would get drunk every day and then beat me. Now he is much more calm. I don’t know about men, but this has made life much better for women)
Phuliya Devi and other women of her community do not shy away from claiming that the alcohol ban has had a positive effect on their lives.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) report indicates that 46% women have experienced violence after their partner consumed alcohol. Phuliya Devi and her likes represent that section of society which are being missed as a stakeholder while framing policies on serious public health issues like alcoholism.
A ban on alcohol has seldom been successful in bringing the desired outcome and is likely to prove the same here too. What it has definitely done is to allow Phuliya Devi to experience an alcohol-free household, which would not have been possible otherwise.