Watch: How Adivasi hadiya sellers in Ranchi are grappling with the pandemic

The Covid crisis has rendered many Adivasi families almost entirely dependent for livelihood on brewing and selling hadiya, a local rice beer.

ByAnna Priyadarshini
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It’s 3 pm on Tuesday, and the smell of fermenting rice hangs heavy in the air at the Shalimar market in Ranchi’s Dhurwa. It is from hadiya, a local rice beer.

Twice a week, hundreds of mostly Adivasi women bring hadiya to sell at the Shalimar market. Hadiya, also called handi or handia, is popular among Adivasis in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Bengal. It’s especially consumed on festive occasions such as Sarhul and Karma Pooja. Some Adivasi communities like the Santhal and the Munda consider it a sacred drink, and both of them claim to have invented it.

The drink is made from boiled rice and ranu, a mixture of sun-dried rice and 20-25 herbs also known as mullica, mulikia, or bakhar. Many hadiya brewers prepare ranu at home, but it is also available in the market, in the form of pellets the size of a marble.

Though making and selling hadiya is a secondary source of income for most Adivasis in and around Ranchi, some families are entirely dependent on it. In the main, the business is run by women.

It’s not an easy undertaking. "We are often chased away by police, they say we are not supposed to sell this,” said Sudha Munda, who sells hadiya at the Shalimar market. “But what else can we do?”

Though local alcoholic drinks such as hadiya and toddy aren’t illegal in Jharkhand, NGOs and Adivasi women’s groups have been seeking a ban to tackle the problem of alcoholism. A consequence of such advocacy is that selling hadiya has come to be looked down upon even among some Adivasi communities.

“I cannot speak on camera. If my children get to see their mother selling alcohol they will be ashamed of me,” said a woman selling hadiya at the Shalimar market. “But do we have any choice?”

They have to contend with stares and lewd remarks from preying customers as well. “After all, this space is dominated by men,” said a hadiya seller who asked not to be identified. “The men abuse and howl at us sometimes, and pass lewd remarks. My husband makes sure to pick me up after five in the evening.”

Jharkhand has 30 Scheduled Tribes constituting around 26.2 percent of the total population as per the 2011 census. And nearly half the Adivasi population depends on minor forest produce for livelihood, data from the state’s industry department shows.

Jharkhand’s Adivasis have always suffered poverty and the pandemic has only aggravated their miseries. Indeed, it’s what has forced many of them to take to selling hadiya.

Fagni Lakda, who sells hadiya by the roadside at Sahjanand Chowk, said the lockdown forced the Adivasis to sit idle, depriving them of any income and leaving them to survive on government rations. It isn’t much better even now, she added.

“There’s hardly any sale because of corona. If I manage to sell this whole batch, I will earn Rs 300-400 a day. But with few customers, there’s hardly any income.”

Watch.

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