K A Shaji/Thiruvananthapuram

An extraordinary brigade in God’s own country is battling forces that have been sipping away at its beloved drink. Almost 68,000 drinkers have come together under the banner of the Kerala Alcohol Consumers Welfare Forum (KACWF), refusing to gulp down their daily humiliation at the hands of society and state.

They complain that despite Keralites consuming over twice as much alcohol as the rest of the nation, and despite the exorbitant 200 percent tax on liquor that fills the perennially cash-strapped state treasury, people struggle to even find a place to drink when they have somehow managed to afford the liquor.

Adinad Sasi, president of the recently formed KACWF and a well known TV actor, says the forum is there not to promote alcohol but for the fair treatment of people who like their drink. “There is a major difference between the two. Like any other consumer, a liquor consumer’s right must be protected.”

For some years now, the Kerala State Beverages Corporation has been only retailing liquor brands procured from major companies. A blanket ban on cheap arrack and the 200 percent tax on all brands of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) have started eating into the pockets of drinkers across the state. And there is nowhere to drink. “Where shall we go to have the drink after purchase?” asks Vavukavu Basheer, convener of the forum. “In states like Karnataka there is the facility to drink at the retail shops themselves. And because of the propaganda by religious organisations and prohibitionists, women at our homes are not allowing us to bring the bottle. Often we have to go to vacant plots or abandoned houses to consume the liquor. But this involves a lot of risk as both the police and the moral police in the locality trouble us,’’ Basheer says.

“As it is, alcohol is so expensive in Kerala,” adds A. Vasudevan, secretary of the organisation. “We have to pay Rs 290 for a bottle of regular brandy while it costs Rs 180 in other states. The price is even higher in hotels.’’

Basheer, a correspondent for Malayalam magazine Thaniniram at Oachira in Kollam district, is the brain behind the forum, and the massive response to his idea has unsettled everyone. “We are here to protect the genuine rights of liquor consumers across the state. They are being exploited both by manufacturers and government officials. The association is all out to regain the lost dignity of boozers,’’ he thunders.

A small hotel-room in Oachira, full of empty bottles, is the organisation’s state committee office. Basheer, Vasudevan and Sasi passionately make their case. “We are primarily for drinkers belonging to weaker sections who purchase from State Beverages Corporation outlets,’’ says Sasi. “No poor drinker can go to bars. It is far too difficult for us to manage the soda and the side dishes.”

According to Vasudevan, the organisation will soon submit a 17-point charter of demands to the Kerala government. They include a welfare fund for families of those who die of alcohol consumption, permission to have liquor at the retail outlets, and protection against trouble by police and the excise department.

Basheer explains the logic behind why the state should come to the aid of dedicated tipplers. “What is wrong with asking for a welfare fund? The death of an alcoholic means the death of a major taxpayer. The state benefited from his alcoholism. He even forgot his family to serve the state. It should be the duty of the state to look after his family,’’ he argues.

Other demands include availability of liquor through ration shops, pension for aged consumers, no dry days and a crackdown on adulteration of liquor.

The organisation, which enrolls members by standing in front of liquor outlets across the state, is looking for more members from north Kerala. So far, the bulk of members are from the state’s southern districts. To become a member, one has to pay a Rs 20 registration fee, and Rs 50 as annual fee.

The forum also has complaints about the quality of the available liquor. Says Sasi, “Earlier we used to get country liquor for Rs 10. We would get intoxicated and be happy. Now even if we pay Rs 200, we don’t get a high. What sort of liquor is that? It is not good at all.”

1 comment:

Anand Nair said...

Please give me their email address. I want to join.