In villages like Kachhabali, Thaneta, Barar, and Hamela Ki Vair, located in Rajsamand district, women became the face of a grassroots campaign to ban the sale of liquor.
In villages like Kachhabali, Thaneta, Barar, and Hamela Ki Vair, located in Rajsamand district, women became the face of a grassroots campaign to ban the sale of liquor. (File pic)

International Women’s Day: How Rural Women Lead the Way to Liquor Ban in Many Villages of a Patriarchal State

Through community organizing, advocacy, and sheer perseverance, these women mobilized support for their cause, harnessing the collective will of their villages to demand action. In historic referendums, they secured overwhelming support for the prohibition of alcohol sales, marking a watershed moment in the fight against alcoholism.

Udaipur- In the heart of Rajasthan, where patriarchy has long held sway and women traditionally confined to the four walls of their homes, a remarkable transformation is underway. Over the past decade, rural women in villages across the state have emerged as a formidable force, spearheading movements for change and challenging entrenched norms. One of their biggest triumph: a resounding victory in the battle against alcoholism.

Villages in Rajasthan are increasingly utilizing a 49-year-old excise law to gradually close liquor shops. However, achieving a "liquor-free" status proves to be a challenging task in a state heavily reliant on revenue from alcohol sales.

In villages like Kachhabali, Mandawar, Thaneta, Barar, and Hamela Ki Vair, located in Rajsamand district, women became the face of a grassroots campaign to ban the sale of liquor through voting.

The story began in 2016 from Kachhabali, a small panchayat comprising 12 villages, where women like Sita Devi and the then-Sarpanch Geeta Devi decided that enough was enough.

For years, they had witnessed the devastating impact of alcoholism on their families and communities. Men and youngsters were drinking with alarming frequency, leading to domestic violence, accidents, and social upheaval. Over 150 people lost their lives due to liquor in the last couple of years.

"The anger against liquor among village women was brewing for the past 15 years," says Sita Devi, one of the leaders of the anti-liquor campaign. "We couldn't walk on our own streets without fear. Something had to change."

In villages like Kachhabali, Thaneta, Barar, and Hamela Ki Vair, located in Rajsamand district, women became the face of a grassroots campaign to ban the sale of liquor.
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Joined by other women in the panchayat, Sita Devi and Geeta Devi launched a tireless campaign to shut down the lone liquor shop in their village. They organized rallies, circulated petitions, and lobbied local authorities, refusing to take no for an answer.

Their efforts paid off when, on March 30, 2016, in a historic referendum, 67.11% of the villagers voted to ban the sale of alcohol. It was a decisive victory for the women of Kachhabali, but it was only the beginning.

Inspired by their success, women in neighbouring villages like Barar and Hamela Ki Vair followed suit, mobilizing their communities to vote for prohibition. With over 90% of the villagers supporting the ban, these villages became symbols of a larger movement sweeping across Rajasthan.

On 22nd February, 2018 the village panchayat of Phoga Bharthari, in the Churu district , made a significant decision by voting overwhelmingly to shut down Ganpati Wines, a licensed liquor shop along with its branches.

Situated approximately 270 km north of Jaipur, this village marked its place as the fourth liquor-free village panchayat in the state.

In November 2021, residents of Barar and Vair panchayats in Rajsamand also exercised their voting power for liquor ban in their areas.

Ramesh Kumar, the Sarpanch of Hamela ki Vair, reflected on the stark reality that plagued his village before the liquor ban: husbands squandering their hard-earned wages on alcohol, leading to domestic strife and tragic accidents. He says, after the ban, there has been a notable improvement in the lives of the villagers, signalling a promising shift towards a safer and more prosperous community.

The Mooknayak spoke to Prof Gayatri Tiwari, an academician in Human Development and Family Studies at the College of Community and Applied Sciences in Udaipur, who underscores the multifaceted strength of women, going beyond physical prowess to encompass resilience, compassion, and transformative potential.

"Woman power is not just about strength; it's about resilience, compassion, and the ability to nurture change. When women come together, their collective energy can move mountains and transform societies." Tiwari said.

The movement that originated in Rajsamand didn't merely stay confined to its boundaries; it ignited a spark of change that spread like wildfire across the state of Rajasthan.

In a remarkable display of courage and determination, Bhanuwati Devi, a 43-year-old woman from Nandpura village in Dholpur, emerged as a beacon of hope for her community in 2019. Faced with the scourge of alcoholism that plagued her village, Bhanuwati took it upon herself to lead a crusade against the liquor shops that had become breeding grounds for abuse and suffering.

In a village where the majority of male members from 380 families were ensnared by alcohol addiction, the consequences were dire. Wives and children bore the brunt of their husbands' and fathers' addiction, enduring abuse and neglect while precious earnings were squandered on alcohol. Determined to break this cycle of destruction, Bhanuwati Devi embarked on a mission to shut down the six liquor shops that had cast a shadow over her community for far too long.

In September 2019, Bhanuwati mobilized her fellow women, uniting them in a powerful display of solidarity and resilience. Together, they confronted the authorities, met with police officials, and sought the support of self-help groups. They took to the streets in anti-liquor rallies, boldly smashing liquor bottles outside the shops as a symbol of defiance and liberation.

Their actions sent a clear message: the women of Nandpura would no longer tolerate the ravages of alcoholism tearing apart their families and their community. Through their collective efforts, they forced six of the liquor shops to shutter their doors, reclaiming their village from the grip of addiction and violence.

" The success of these movements represents a significant shift in power dynamics, challenging traditional notions of gender roles and highlighting the agency of rural women in effecting change. By leading the way to prohibition, they have not only addressed a pressing social issue but also paved the path for a more equitable and just society in Rajasthan" asserts Dr Rajkumari Ahir from Department of Sociology, Mohanlal Sukahdia University, Udaipur.

The Rajasthan Excise (Closure of Country Liquor Shop by Local Option) Rules, 1975: Empowering Villages to Decide

As of April 2021, India's fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) stated that 15 percent of male respondents living in rural areas consumed alcohol almost every day. In comparison, over 14 percent of male respondents living in urban areas consumed alcohol almost every day in India.

The Rajasthan Excise (Closure of Country Liquor Shop by Local Option) Rules, 1975, is a statutory law enacted by the government of Rajasthan. These rules provide a mechanism for the closure of country liquor shops based on the local option, meaning the decision is made at the local level by the residents of the village panchayat.

According to these rules, if 51% or more of the registered voters in a village panchayat vote in favour of closing a liquor shop, then the shop must be shut down. This provision empowers the local community to make decisions regarding the sale of liquor in their area based on their preferences and needs.

The law reflects a democratic approach to addressing issues related to alcohol consumption and its impact on local communities. By allowing villagers to decide through a voting process whether or not to keep liquor shops operational, the law ensures that the decision-making power is decentralized and rests with the people most directly affected by the presence of these establishments.

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