Tamil Nadu hooch deaths: In grief-stricken village, anger against official ‘apathy’

Of the total 34 deaths, 23 are from Karunapuram village.

WrittenBy:Shabbir Ahmed
Article image

As you walk down the streets in Karunapuram village of Kallakurichi district in Tamil Nadu, you see pandals cover the front of house after house. Families and acquaintances gather in grief in front of nearly every street in the village. Of the 34 total deaths linked to liquor poisoning deaths, 23 were from Karunapuram, an area where around 1,500 families reside. “There is a death in each house,” Kumar, an angry relative of one victim tells TNM. “In just this area alone, so many people have died. There are more than 105 people admitted in hospital. The doctors are telling us that they cannot be saved,” he says.

Just a little over a year ago, a similar tragedy had unfolded in the nearby districts of Villupuram and Chengalpattu. At the time, 22 people lost their lives to illicit liquor leading to massive outrage across the state. 

On June 19, news came in initially of four deaths in Karunapuram due to alcohol poisoning. The death toll rapidly rose to 33 overnight, with over a 100 people admitted in JIPMER Puducherry and government hospitals in Kallakurichi and Salem. 

As TNM went from home to grieving home in Karunapuram, families narrate similar stories. Within hours of consuming the illicit liquor, the victims had blurred vision, developed intense chest and abdominal pain, and nausea. They made frantic visits to hospitals, where the victims passed away or were declared dead on arrival. 

Angry residents repeat one accusation over and over again — the illicit liquor was sold openly with the knowledge of the local police. 

Reacting to the suspension of the Kallakurichi Superintendent of Police Samay Singh Meena (SP) and transfer of the District Collector Sravan Kumar Jatavath, a resident tells TNM, “It would have been better if the state government had taken preemptive action instead of responding after the tragedy. What can you do after all these lives have been lost? I don’t know what the Chief Minister can do now. People here are in deep mourning.”

Kuppan, whose wife Indra is one of the victims, recalls, “Around 5 pm [on June 16] my wife and a few other women bought one packet of alcohol. She came home at about 6:30 pm and told me she had gone elsewhere. I was away from the house after that until 11:30 pm. Our grandchildren were at home. When I came back, she was in a lot of pain and had fainted. We went to the Kallakurichi GH where they gave her primary care and told us to take her to a hospital in Puducherry. She died 20 minutes after we admitted her there.” 

Posters and pin-ups of the ruling DMK adorn the outer walls of several homes, but there is understandable anger and disappointment with the state government among the people of Karunapuram. A lot of their anger stems from the open sale of illicitly made liquor, for as cheap as Rs 5 a packet, on their streets. What adds to their outrage is that the police were allegedly completely aware of this. 

Karunapuram resident Sumathi tells TNM that she hadn’t initially understood that her neighbour Indra’s cries of pain were due to consuming the illicit liquor. “Later, Indra developed pain in her abdominal area with swelling on both sides. We called her husband, telling him to come home and take her to the GH,” she said. 

Alleging that a man named Kannukutty was behind the illicit liquor sales in the area, Sumathi emphatically insists that the police take bribes to allow the illegal business. “Their apathy is the reason for these deaths. In another home, both husband and wife have died. Their children have been brought to the streets now,” she says. 

She also alleges that even after such a tragedy, the illicit sales would likely be stopped only briefly before being allowed to commence again. 

The state government has transferred the case to the CB-CID for investigation. But many will recall that so was the case of the illicit liquor deaths in Villupuram and Chengalpattu. What has been uncovered in that investigation since May 2023 still remains unknown. 

This report was republished from The News Minute as part of The News Minute-Newslaundry alliance. It has been lightly edited for style and clarity. Read about our partnership here and become a TNM subscriber here.

If you’re reading this story, you’re not seeing a single advertisement. That’s because Newslaundry powers ad-free journalism that’s truly in public interest. Support our work and subscribe today.


We take comments from subscribers only!  Subscribe now to post comments! 
Already a subscriber?  Login

You may also like