Women of Dhawachita panchayat in Dhanbad rally against hooch on Thursday. Picture by Gautam Dey
Behind every successful man there is a woman, they say. Behind every sober man there are 200 women, says Dhawachita — a reformed panchayat 25km from Dhanbad district headquarters — where fair crusaders have gone a long way in curbing sale of spurious liquor.
That their feat is universally unique is accentuated by the fact that most of these campaigners are poor homemakers, not elite housewives, who put up with addicted and often abusive husbands.
The women — led by one Radha Devi (40), the semi-literate wife of a BCCL employee — launched a 10-day crackdown from July 15. They raided several booze dens and helped police and excise officers confiscate thousands of litres of mahua and other brew. Rallies were also taken out against atrocities meted out to women by their husbands in drunken stupor.
Such has been the impact of their brief but bold campaign that women in neighbouring panchayat areas like Nagarikala, 5km from Dhawachita, are following in their footsteps.
On Tuesday, Nagarikala mukhiya Subhadra Devi and her fair soldiers helped police seize 1,000 litres of hooch. They also gheraoed Tetulmari police station for seven hours, demanding strict action against those who manufacture and sell spurious liquor.
Dhawachita’s 1,000-odd families either depend on agriculture or eke out a living by working in the coal industry. Life was peaceful until mahua joints mushroomed in 2000. Over half a dozen people — all men aged between 18 and 60 years — died in hooch tragedies since.
Para-teacher Pravin Mahto said the addiction had become so entrenched that children could not go to school because of their fathers’ drinking habits. “The families had no money to buy the children copybooks while uniforms were not washed even once in a fortnight,” he recalled.
Firebrand leader Radha Devi pointed out that liver and kidney ailments became chronic in families. “That is when we felt that our silence was abetting this self-destruction,” she said.
Dhania Devi (40), wife of a former BCCL employee, said the mahua menace had ruined their happily-ever-after dream. “We were a happy family when my husband was not an addict and used to work in a Katras colliery. Everything changed after he made friends with some drunkards. He began skipping duty and lost his job,” said the woman who now works in a hard coke factory to sustain her family of seven, including four daughters and a son.
Dhania said she was sanguine their campaign would help end the scourge that has ruined many families like hers. “For us, it was not easy breaking social taboos, stepping out and fighting against an evil patronised by our own men. We also feared retribution because a section of police is hand in glove with manufacturers of spurious liquor,” pitched in Radha.
The women mustered courage and mooted their campaign proposal before Dhawachita mukhiya Manram Murmu who agreed and July 15 became a red-letter day in the otherwise nondescript panchayat’s history and that of Dhanbad.
“We submitted an application at Rajganj police station the very next day, demanding action against the liquor dens, but in vain. So, we started our own raids,” Radha said, adding that administrative cooperation followed after they hit the streets.
The crusaders have pledged to continue their campaign until the malaise is weeded out not just from Dhawachita, but every nook and cranny of Dhanbad.