Indian wives revolt as election liquor kills husbands

Politicians' vote-catching ploy backfires fatally
Indian wives revolt as election liquor kills husbands

Picture: Belan Brigade/Facebook

When Rajju Lal found her husband stumbling around in a drunken stupor on voting day in their Indian village five years ago, she corralled him at home and let him sleep it off on the floor. He never woke up.

Shortly after he died, she discovered a stash in the house of more than 20 bottles of whiskey and local spirits that he’d hoarded after receiving them from political parties seeking votes in their village in the northern state of Punjab. Since then she’s struggled to put her three children through school on her maid’s salary, and recently moved in with her relatives.

“With my salary I’m barely able to provide food for my children,” Lal, 34, said by phone from her home in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district, adding that her husband normally couldn’t afford to buy alcohol.

Lal is now featured in a video message by a Punjabi women’s group that’s campaigning to stop politicians from handing out liquor and drugs in the state, which tops India in opium and heroin consumption and comes second in alcohol sales. Punjab is an example of how Indian politicians are worsening substance abuse, even as they promise to open more rehabilitation centers.

“It’s out of control,” Ranvinder Singh Sandhu, emeritus professor of sociology at Punjabi University in Patiala, said by phone, referring to substance abuse in the state. “In Punjab, taking a lot of alcohol is not seen as a bad thing – it’s simply a male characteristic.”

Anita Sharma, 42, started the Belan Brigade a few months ago, named after the rolling pins used to flatten dough that members brandish during neighborhood protests against alcohol distribution in elections. The group travels to villages like the one Lal is from to encourage housewives to berate men who accept booze and demonstrate against party workers who distribute it.

“Don’t let your husbands vote for someone because they gave out liquor or drugs,” Sharma said on April 27 to a dozen middle-aged women gathered for a meeting in a cramped living room in Ludhiana city in Punjab. “Every one of you has to take a stand and aggressively stop this liquor distribution in your neighborhood.”

Two days later in a working-class neighborhood less than a mile from where Sharma’s group met, half a dozen men stood after 9 p.m. beside a flatbed mini-truck at a dimly lit intersection. Men from the neighborhood would walk up to the group and chat for a few minutes, and leave with one or two bottles of a local brand of whiskey.

“When the party guys give money and liquor, I’ll take it,” Jeet Kumar Deo said after he walked away from the group with a bottle of whiskey he said was given to him by campaigners. “But when I go into the booth tomorrow, I can vote for anyone I like. They have no control over that.”

Full Story: Wives revolt as election liquor kills husbands

Source: Concord Monitor


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