Bootleg liquor kills more than 140 Indian workers

Local church taking anyone who may have drunk suspect alcohol to hospital for checkups
Bootleg liquor kills more than 140 Indian workers

Catholics in India’s Assam state mourn two people who died from a mass incident of poisoning from bootleg liquor. (Photo supplied by Father Caesar Henry of Dibrugarh Diocese) reporter, New Delhi
February 25, 2019
The church is assisting those affected by a mass toxic alcohol poisoning that has killed more than 140 tea-estate workers in India’s northeast.

Some 350 people continue to fight for lives in hospitals in Assam state after they consumed bootleg alcohol on Feb. 21.

A similar tragedy occurred earlier this month with bootleg liquor killing more than 100 people in northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The victims of the most recent incident were laborers from two tea estates in Golaghat and Jorhat districts.

Father Caesar Henry of Dibrugarh Diocese, that covers the affected area, told that the poisoning had killed 149 people as of Feb. 24.

“Among the dead, eight are Catholics, including two women,” Father Henry said, adding that more than 50 sick Catholics were admitted to hospital.

The death toll has continued to rise steadily since the first day of the poisoning, the priest said.

“Even one parishioner who attended the funeral of others on Saturday, and who showed no symptoms, suddenly collapsed and died the next day,” Father Henry said. “He suffered immediate loss of eye-sight, stomach pain and he vomited and then died,” he said.

“Now we are going to house to house to identify people who have consumed the suspect liquor and taking them to hospital for a checkup,” the priest said.

Salesian Bishop Joseph Aind of Dibrugarh told that the local church is working to identify the exact cause of the tragedy.

“The Church will do whatever it can to create awareness against such illicit distillation and distribution so to help avoid such tragedies,” the bishop said.

Church volunteers have also been appealing for people to refrain from distilling and consuming locally made alcohol.


Local culture

Thousands of poor Catholics are among the six million tea-garden workers who work in some 800 tea gardens across Assam.

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Journalist Digjyoti LakharIt said distilling alcohol is part of local culture. “Usually one or two families in a village are involved in this kind of business,” LakharIt said.

“Occasional deaths from spurious liquor have been reported several times in the past, but this was the biggest number in recent memory,” he said.

Diocesan vicar-general Father Lazar Kakkassery said most of the poor workers in the state are unaware of the dangers posed by consuming bootleg liquor.

“More awareness is required to end these types of tragedies,” Father Kakkassery said.

Police have arrested 27 people for brewing and distributing illicit liquor in the state since the poisoning occurred.

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