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Hooch Tragedy Amid The Covid-19 Cataclysm

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The ‘hooch tragedy’ shows the proclivity of people to consume alcohol either in the form of hand sanitizer in Andhra Pradesh or toxic methanol in Punjab that was lethal enough to take the lives of more than 100 people. This comes as an irony in a state which is already under the tyranny of drug abuse for a long time.

Moreover, India’s moonshine market wreaks tremendous destruction in the form of blindness, kidney failure, tissue damage and death as the commercial alcohol becomes expensive and elusive for the less affluent and the tipplers end up consuming spirit, sanitizer, and hooch, completely ignorant of the consequences. In addition to the hardships faced due to the ubiquitous COVID-19, people are not ready to stay fine fettle at their homes but rather are finding new ways to end their lives.

States At A Loss

In the tug-of-war between the states and Central government for cash to fight the coronavirus outbreak, liquor became the latest battleground. A well-known teetotaler, Modi banned alcohol sales during the country’s national lockdown to contain the virus, blocking a crucial source of direct tax income for the states.

The loss of liquor tax revenues — an estimated Rs 700 crore a day prompted calls from states like Punjab to lift the ban.

In mid-April, Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s chief minister from the opposition Congress party, said “Liquor is a major source of revenue for all states. How will I make up for that? Will the people in Delhi give it to me? They don’t even give Re 1.

Paradoxically, now he is shouting in his highest pitch that the cahoots will not be spared in the hooch deaths. Liquor sale in Punjab started on May 7, 2020, in the form of standard and sub-standard brews like spirits, hooch, and methanol freely given and this combined with the eagerness of people to consume alcohol in any form has caused this misery. Why didn’t anyone suggest the Punjab government to follow the example of the states, following a complete or partial ban on alcohol?

Well, he may be quick to answer, “The shoes don’t fit”, and how he can ever imagine walking on that path. A few years ago the then Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was quick to file a PIL in the Supreme Court against the cultivation and sale of poppy husk in Madhya Pradesh but he nor any other Punjab leader has ever raised a voice against the rising level of alcoholism in Punjab hitherto.

Alcohol is a subject in the State List under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. Therefore, the laws governing alcohol vary from state to state. In spite of legal restrictions and declaring a few states as dry states last year, alcohol consumption in India has risen over 72.5% over a period of 20 years (according to OECD figures), as the laws are generally not followed.

The WHO study on alcohol does not include high spirits. Indians have been drinking more in the past decade, as the country’s per capita alcohol consumption has increased fourfold since 2005.

What Do The Statistics Say?

  • 5.7 litres : Alcohol per capita(15+ yrs of age) consumption in India for 2016, up from 2.4 liters in 2005.
  • 44.4% : Of the drinker population in India (51+ yrs) are categorized as episodic drinkers (consuming at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol on at least one occasion in the past 30 days)
  • 2.64 lakh : Deaths in India during 2016 due to liver cirrhosis, road accidents, and cancer, attributable to alcohol abuse.
  • 22.64% : Are heavy drinkers who are more prevalent amongst young drinkers (15-19 years of age).

Banning alcohol and declaring a few states as dry states namely Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, and Nagaland, and the union territory of Lakshadweep has cut no ice on the sale of alcohol. Yes, this compulsion has been met with resistance.

Truckloads of liquor are smuggled in from the neighboring states. An army of bootleggers divvy up the big cases and ensure the distribution. It is not hard to see why bootleggers flourish. Many tipplers cannot afford the so-called Indian Made Foreign Liquor. Hooch, of course, is cheaper. One has to shell out only 10-20 rupees for a 200 ml pouch of transparent concoction.

Lately, the State party chief of AAP, Mr. Mann alleged, “While the mafia is openly selling poison, the government continues to be in slumber. The mafia is enjoying the patronage of the government.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh flayed the opposition as the State police have nabbed Ludhiana-based businessman Rajeev Joshi who supplied 3 drums of methanol to prepare spurious liquor. But the real solace sought by the public would be met only by the controlled use of alcohol, a revamping of the excise administration on a high priority basis, reducing corruption in bureaucracies that give way to illicit traders, and ending the flow of toxic brews that kill scores of people almost every year.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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