Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Don’t let your husbands vote for someone because they gave out liquor or drugs,”

Wives Revolt as India Election Booze Leaves Trail of Widows

May 12, 2014

The Belan Brigade Campaigning
Anita Sharma, founder of Belan Brigade, fourth from right, stands with residents as they campaign to stop political parties's practice of wooing voters with liquor handouts in the Shivpuri neighborhood of Ludhiana, Punjab, on April 27, 2014. Liquor, drugs and cash are distributed by most political parties to lure voters in Punjab, according to watchdog agency Association for Democratic Reforms. Photographer: Adi Narayan
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 because she couldn’t afford to fix her crumbling brick house that was on the verge of collapse.
“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 on his wages as a day laborer hauling sacks of rice. “For a woman to lose her husband is the worst thing possible. And it’s not just about the income -- everyone in society looks at you in a very bad way after that.”
Lal now features 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 that is destroying families, even as they promise to open more drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers.

‘Out of Control’

“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. During the election period people get liquor for free, and that turns light drinkers into alcoholics.”
Today is the last of nine rounds of voting in India’s election, with exit polls released tonight and results on May 16. Most opinion polls predict Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party will win the largest number of seats while falling short of a majority, with the ruling Congress party’s popularity eroded by inflation, a slowing economy and corruption scandals.
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.

Wives Gather

“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.”

Parties Deny

India’s ruling Congress party and the BJP, projected to be the two largest parties, deny handing out liquor and drugs such as heroin, and have promised to build rehabilitation centers and new hospitals.
“We won’t allow our youths to be destroyed,” Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, said during a speech in Punjab on April 25, according to Press Trust of India. “The priority of BJP government will be not to allow inflow of drugs into our territory from across the border,” he said, referring to neighboring Pakistan.

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