| For a better future: Women from a Chandigarh slum stage an anti-liquor protest. (Reuters file picture)
Bhopal, April 10: Women in Madhya Pradesh are on the warpath against hundreds of liquor shops sprouting across the state with the government's sanction.
Police have registered several cases against women in the last 10 days for destroying liquor vends, many more of which have come up from April 1, when licences are issued and renewed every year.
In Kotra locality of Bhopal, hundreds of women stormed a liquor vend and smashed bottles and glasses. At Jawahar Chowk in the heart of the city, women blocked a busy roundabout.
The agitation has taken the form of signature campaigns in more upmarket localities of Bhopal, where over a dozen liquor shops have sprung up in residential areas.
The protest was particularly intense where vends were located closer to places of worship, educational institutions, hospitals, factories and residential areas peopled by the weaker sections.
It is turning into a popular movement with more and more men, too, joining in in tribal-dominated districts such as Chhindwara, Seoni and Balaghat.
The protesters in Bhopal raised slogans against Babulal Gaur's BJP government, saying it appeared keen to give licences to beer bars and liquor vends at the cost of necessities like cheap grain, water and power.
For Janwadi Mahila Samiti, an urban-centric NGO that works for women's uplift, and other women's groups, the protest is significant on many counts.
This is because no NGO in the state works specifically against liquor consumption unlike in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh or Haryana.
The protest has also united Hindus and Muslims in Bhopal, which is known to be communally sensitive. 'It is heartening to see religious heads of Muslims and Hindus joining hands to protest,' Rashmi Aggarwal of the Samiti said.
The government, however, is in no mood to reverse its liquor policy. Senior excise officials claimed that over a third of the licencees are women.
Social activists contested the claim, saying women have no control in the 'lottery' system by which liquor vends are allotted. 'In most cases, men use their women's name to bag the liquor contract,' said Saeeda Sultan, an activist from Bhopal.
Anti-liquor women activists say the government's decision is detrimental to women and children, particularly in tribal areas. The men, some of whom are already alcoholic, will now consume more and make the family poorer, Aggarwal said.
Anti-liquor protests by women have been gaining in force in several states. Some time ago, tribal women in Orissa took the lead in demanding a ban on brewing and selling liquor.
In Andhra Pradesh, women destroyed hundreds of thousands of litres of arrack, the liquor extracted from palm trees.
In Haryana's Mohamadpura Majara village, they threatened to beat up drunks unless the 'thekas (liquor dens)' were shifted from the national highway.