It’s a remarkably unremarkable story. Poor men with hard lives and unpleasant jobs look for a quick high only to become the victims of adulterated liquor that costs them their lives. The search for a temporary reprieve from life turning into a permanent break from it.
In one of the worst hooch related tragedies in the country, on June 18, 106 men were admitted to hospital after drinking hooch at Rs.10 for a glass or pouch. To date 106 have died and a few have been recently discharged, though impaired for life. The highest death toll in the last decade because of illegal liquor was in Kolar, Karnataka in May 2008, where one hundred and eighty people died.
These numbers mean little to the over hundred families in Laxmi Nagar a slum colony in Malwani a northern suburb of Mumbai. The largely Marathi-speaking people who live here have lost husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and friends.
As you walk through the warren of long alleys, often less than two feet wide, you can sense the tragedy that has struck almost every one of the 1000 people living in the 2x2metre tarpaulin enclosed homes. Everyone here is used to the men drinking daily. But they are left dazed by the fact that the bootleggers would be so immoral. The colourless liquid that sells at Rs.10/- for a single pouch was the deadly industrial solvent methanol mixed with water and masked by cardamom, making every glass a lethal one.
Narangi Ragpaksa, a 45 year old woman who lives here guides us to the homes of people who have lost family members. She says, “100 se zyada log mar gaye yaha pe zeherila daru pikar, tab se yaha pe ya toh police ya toh news wale aa rahe hai”‘, (Over a 100 men were killed by spurious liquor, and since then this place is suddenly seeing several cops and journalists).”
The Maharashtra government has asked the police to conduct raids and arrested all the five accused but the mastermind–a lady called Akka is absconding. The government has charged the accused under Section 65, Bombay Prohibition Act and is reportedly planning to use the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) to charge the criminals that will make bail a difficult proposition.
A compensation of Rs.1 lakh has been announced to the families of each of the dead men but there seems to be a lack of clarity about how many families have received the compensation.
Even as the families grapple with these matters they relive memories of the men who were pivotal to their lives.