Hooch tragedy fails to change Keralites' drinking habits

The sale of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) crossed all seasonal records during Onam festival in August this year.Even on the horrid day when 26 people died, long queues were seen in front of retail outlets during evenings and the bars were as crowded as ever, with no perceptible fall in sale.

According to Kerala State Beverages Corporation, which enjoys the monopoly in retail liquor sales, total sales during Onam crossed Rs 160 crore, surpassing all previous records.

Statistics of the Corporation show that sales almost doubled to Rs 5538.90 crore in 2009-10 from Rs 2320.15 crore in 2004-05.

The Government had announced a judicial probe into the Hooch tragedy and enforced certain measures to ensure the quality of the brew supplied through the shops.
Significantly, the tragedy occurred when Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan openly voiced anxiety over soaring liquor sales during the festival seasons.

The history of hooch tragedies in Kerala shows that as many as 250 people have died consuming poisonous liquor in the last three decades.

The 1982 Vypeen (near Kochi) liquor tragedy accounted for the highest toll of 78, followed by Punalur (34) in 1981 and Kollam-Kalluvathukkal (32) in 2000. (MORE) PTI NM
While admitting that the craze for liquor has assumed dangerous proportions, most anti-liquor campaigners and scholars who have researched in the field feel it will be totally wrong to dub Kerala society as a whole as prone to liquor consumption.
"Slightly more than half the adult population of Kerala are women, among whom the drinking habit is much less. The same is the case with children upto 15 years of age. This would mean that huge quantities of drinks sold through legal and illegal outlets are guzzled by less than 30 per cent of the populace," a psychiatrist from a medical college hospital said.

However, according to Stephen Alathara, Secretary Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC), the situation could turn far more serious if radical action is not taken, with women and even children becoming victims of the moral degradation caused by alcoholism, especially among the less privileged sections.

"Alcoholism is not just an evil in itself but the springwell of all social maladies afflicting Kerala society like death trap, high rate of suicides, road accidents, crimes and all sorts of social, economic and psychological problems," Alathara told PTI.

He said the church had planned to initiate a dialogue with political parties to enlist their support for the anti liquor campaign as it was crucial in a politically hyperactive society like Kerala.

The Temperance Commission under the bishops’ council plans to launch a pro-active campaigns down to the grassroot level in the coming days. The commission has already set up units in all Catholic dioceses across the state.

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