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Indian female voters queue to cast their ballots at a voting centre in the final stage of state assembly elections in the Bihar village of Thakurganj (DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images)


Rural women in India take alcohol ban into their own hands

April 17, 2017

In Bihar, one of India’s poorest, most agrarian regions, the success of a new prohibition on the sale and consumption of alcohol is being credited to the region’s women, many of whom have banded together to prevent the local men from spending their wages on alcohol and impoverishing their families.

Nearly two years ago, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was on the campaign trail when he was confronted by a woman demanding that he ban alcohol. Kumar, enmeshed in a difficult fight for re-election with the Prime Minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party, promised the woman that he would ban alcohol if elected. A day after his surprise victory in the race, Kumar put together a law that imposed a maximum sentence of seven years for consumption of alcohol — with a potential sentence of a lifetime in prison for those caught making it.

Since the bill’s passage, murder and gang robberies in the region have decreased by almost 20 percent. Household spending, meanwhile, is up — cheese sales increased 200 percent, sale of two-wheeled vehicles rose by more than 30 percent, and electric appliances sales have increased by half.

According to Raj Kumar Prasad, chief of the Halsi police, 60 percent of the alcohol-related tips he gets are from women. On a recent Saturday, he recalled, dozens of broom-wielding women from the village of Bandol sent a man fleeing through a rice field after uncovering his secret cache of fruit alcohol. At another nearby farm, a group of women unearthed a vast trove of moonshine hidden underneath a cornfield and guarded the area until police arrived.

Omprakash Ram Chandrawanshi, 35, said that he was approached by a gang of women demanding that he cease his alcoholic ways even before the bill passed. Intimidated by the news that a group of 100 women had personally shown up and shut down a local alcohol seller the week before, Chandrawanshi caved into the pressure.

“If I earned 500 rupees, I would spend 200 on alcohol,” recalled Chandrawanshi. “I often wouldn’t bring any money home.”

Now sober, Chandrawanshi works with the women’s vigilante group to identify and stop illegal alcohol manufacturers.

While more than 30 million Biharis — about one-fourth of the region’s population — joined hands in support of the alcohol prohibition in January, the measure does have its detractors. Some critics have condemned the bill for making alcohol production a greater crime than armed robbery, while others have cited the 42,000 people arrested and awaiting trial under the new law.

The bill remains popular locally, however, and state legislators from across the country have visited the region in recent months in an attempt to understand its success.

Kumar, for one, had a simple explanation.

“Only when you have the women behind you can you succeed,” he said.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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