Musings: Hooch has defied change

Punjab Hooch Tragedy | Chandigarh Bapu Dham | Musings

Punjab Hooch Tragedy: It was a little more than 40 years ago that I reported first of several hooch tragedies that I covered as a crime reporter of The Tribune.  In April 1980, four people died after consuming illicit liquor in Chandigarh’s one of the oldest rehabilitation colonies, Bapu Dham. The victims, all migrants, and daily wage earners bought the killer drink from another migrant, a woman, who allegedly used to operate in connivance with some politicians and the police. Even at that time, the police tried to play down the tragedy.

Though a lot of water has, since then, flown through flood gates of Chandigarh’s man-made Sukhna Lake, yet the modus operandi of those engaged in selling “poison” in name of cheap and high kick illicit liquor,  has remained the same. They look for vulnerable sections of society to make quick money by selling “poison”. And all sales are against cash payment, a substantial portion of which goes to the men who matter in the area.

Intriguingly, all the reports emanating from tragedy struck the Majha zone of Punjab are just a simple repeat of the tragedy that had hit the Bapu Dham colony four decades ago. Bapu Dham is the same colony that has been in news in recent times for being on Red or Hot Zone of Corona cases.

Hooch tragedies strike when illicit products like a denatured spirits (methyl alcohol), mixed with some chemicals, are offered as a cheap substitute for strong liquor through a chain of runners or agents. Immediate targets are general laborers, daily wage earners, and farmworkers who, otherwise, cannot afford to buy “pukka” or regular liquor from an approved vend because of spiraling prices.

Home distilled or the processed denatured spirit has not only remained major killers of unsuspecting consumers but have also been leaving many blind or crippled with their severe side effects.

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After initial hooch tragedies in the region in the late 70s and early 80s, governments did make an effort to prevent misuse of denatured spirit. Normally used in paint and polish jobs, this stronger and the lethal version of alcohol was then ordered to be colored to caution consumers against its misuse.

Though science and technology have made significant advances, but still there are no safer and cheaper intoxicants available to the poor. Since the States use Excise as a trump card for topping up their coffers, the poor are left with no choice but to look for cheaper and even unsafe or poisonous intoxicants. Needless to emphasize, intoxicants remain the cornerstone of occasional entertainment of the poor.

Interestingly, traditional intoxicants like opium and Bhukki are not only cheaper but also not life-threatening. The modern-day substitutes like “Chitta” and other chemical lacerated contrabands claim heavy toll of human life.

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Sadly enough, the role of police and other government departments, too, remains suspect. Call it apathy or whatever, our law enforcement agencies are trained only to react and not to pro-act to prevent tragedies like those of Bapu Dham, Tarn Taran, and Batala. Even society has not woken up to its role in preventing such catastrophes.

 *The views are those of the author*

(Written and Compiled by Mr. Prabhjot Paul Singh)

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