Shut the Liquor Shops: Widespread Struggle in Tamil Nadu

FOR the past one week, the people of Tamil Nadu raised their voice against TASMAC liqour shops, which have become a huge threat to the entire society. A shut down was observed, demonstrations and picketing were held, and people laid siege to liquor shops in many places. Left and democratic forces are leading the protest. The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), owned by the Government of Tamil Nadu, has monopoly over wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in the state. It controls the Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) trade in the state.

Widespread liquor sales and consumption in the state have directly contributed to the rapid increase of murder, assault on women, sex crimes and road accidents. Not a day passes without drunken men beating their wives and indulging in violence and murders. The entire social fabric of the state has undergone a deep change for the worst. Disturbing news of drunken teachers molesting girl students, drunken fathers misbehaving with their daughters and drunken men causing accidents and killing innocent passers-by on the roads has become too frequent. With liquor consumption increasing in the state at an alarming level of around 20 per cent per annum, Tamil Nadu’s future itself is at stake.

In this background, the All India Democratic Womens' Association (AIDWA) has been organising huge struggles for the past one year to shut down TASMAC outlets near schools, places of worship and markets. Gandhian and anti-liquor crusader Sasi Perumal (59) died on July 31 during a protest atop a 120-foot mobile phone tower near Marthandam, demanding immediate closure of a Tasmac shop at Unnaamalaikkadai in Kanyakumari district. Perumal's death triggered widespread protests across the state. The CPI(M) and other opposition parties said the death of Sasi Perumal was caused by the lethargic attitude of the government. All parties except the ruling AIADMK, which were in protest against the particular TASMAC shop in UnnamanalaiKadai, condemned the government officials in Kanniyakumari district for Sasi Perumal's death and called a total hartal in the district on August 4.

Five parties -- CPI(M), CPI, MDMK, VCK and MMK – which had earlier joined hands to take up the people’s issues, gave a total shutdown call against liquor shops across the state. After this announcement, spontaneous protests erupted in various places. Particularly DYFI-SFI-AIDWA jointly organised protests against liquor shops. In many towns, police confronted the protesters and lathicharged them.

In the meantime, the family members of Sasi Perumal sought police permission on August 1 evening for starting an indefinite fast in front of the Gandhi statue in Salem city, the home town of Sasi Perumal. A police team handed over a letter denying them permission for the midnight agitation. The family members, however, decided to go ahead with the protest. Perumal’s eldest son S Vivek and daughter S Kaviarasi, a school student, along with members of various organisations opposed to the liquor policy, attempted to sit in on a fast in front of the Gandhi statue. Their demands were that the government should close liquor shops near places of worship, educational institutions and residential localities. The family members made it clear that they would not receive the body of Sasi Perumal till this demand was met. The police rounded up them, attacked and forcibly arrested.

On the same day, a protest started in Kalingapatti, the home village of Vaiko, general secretary of MDMK in Thirnelveli district, led by Vaiko’s brother and panchayat president V Ravichandran and his 94-year-old mother Mariammal. During the protest, people tried to lock the liquor shop in their own village. When police tried to arrest a few protesters, the villagers blocked the roads. The agitation continued till Vaiko reached the village around 9 PM. The protest came to an end at 10 PM after he appealed to the villagers to assemble again on the next day to lay siege to the liquor shop.

Vaiko told that the liquor shop was functioning despite the panchayat passing a resolution for its closure. On the next day, August 2, MDMK cadre and villagers gathered in large numbers. A section of protesters entered the liquor shop and threw the cartons containing bottles on the road.  After this the police personnel started their violence. They lathicharged the people and fired ten rounds of tear gas shells. Condemning this atrocious attitude of the AIADMK government, the five parties including CPI(M) called to intensify the protest against the liquor shops.

On August 5, responding the call for total shut down, almost in all districts various markets closed. In Kanyakumari district it was a total hartal. In Chennai, more than 1,200 persons, including political leaders and DYFI activists who organised protests across the city demanding prohibition were arrested by the police. Protests were organised in nearly 36 places across the city and over 10,000 policemen were deployed to prevent them. In Koyambedu, a main market in the city of Chennai around 50 members of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) cruelly attacked by the police and arrested and remanded for demonstrating near a TASMAC shop.

Political leaders including CPI (M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnanan, CPI state secretary R Mutharasan, VCK leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, MMK leader M H Jawahirullah, along with hundreds of cadres, were arrested for holding protests in Mylapore.

They demanded the government to close the liquor shops instead of arresting people seeking closure of Tasmac shops. Thirumavalavan said the opposition parties were clear in that the bandh should not affect normal life but the police have taken many into custody in the name of preventive arrests. Many college students including those of New College and Pachayappa's College also joined the anti-liquor protest in the city. Dr. Ambedkar Law College students organised protests. Across the state, the SFI organised demos and pickets. A group of disabled protestors who staged a demonstration near the Labour Statue on Marina Beach were detained by police. In Salem, Madurai, Tiruchi and Coimbatore, DYFI-SFI-AIDWA cadres fought and faced police excesses. (END)

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