'Hooch queen' back in political action

'Hooch queen' back  in political action

Marimuthu, a former corporator who has been given the JD(S) ticket to contest the BBMP elections from Sagayapuram ward, was a key accused in the infamous hooch tragedy which claimed nearly 229 lives.

Although she was acquitted for want of evidence in that case, there is still a history-sheet against her at the K G Halli police station. The history-sheet was opened in 1995 and she continues to visit the police station and sign the register, a mandatory requirement for a history-sheeter.

Poor people from Lingarajapuram, Munireddypalya, Sagayapuram and Tannery Road had fallen victims to the hooch tragedy that took place in July 1981. Hooch, an industrial spirit used in paints and varnishes, was available against a licence. A racket was thriving with bootleggers mixing it with water and selling it as arrack.

Marimuthu and Ameer Jan were accused of running the racket. Though the police registered cases against 63 people, not one was convicted. The judicial commission report into the tragedy had revealed “a nexus between the bootleggers and important politicians”.

The brew worked like slow poison, damaging the intestines and kidneys, resulting in the early death of slum dwellers. The problem came to light tragically when 229 people died at once. Usually, the brew contained more water than spirit, and drinkers wouldn’t show symptoms immediately, but this time, the spirit content was high, and hundreds died within minutes of drinking the hooch.

Some days before the tragedy, residents of AK Colony had made a representation to the government against the sale of hooch and so had advocates, O Sridhar and C H Hanumantharaya. But the government was not responsive. The deaths occurred just a month after the government dumped their petitions into the dustbin.

When Sridhar and Hanumantharaya first petitioned the government, A K Bhattacharya, who became chief secretary later, was the excise commissioner. H T Sangliana, who rose to become the Bengaluru Police Commissioner and an MP, was then the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) for law and order. Although 300 people had died, the government officially declared the number as 229, says Hanumantharaya.

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