Vidya Josephs Blog

A democratic protest and its aftermath..

Posted on: ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 19, 2008

Yesterday, I happened to run into a woman who had spearheaded the agitation to remove liquor outlets in her hamlet. The entire picturesque Tumri village, which has been turned into in island following the construction of the Linganamakki dam, supported Saraswathamma and her Stree Shakti group s  demand that the numerous arrack outlets in their village be removed. When their agitation continued despite all odds, arrack barons decided to frighten them away by beating up the agitators and manhandling the women. Predictably this attitude only strenghtened the resolve of the protestors and the then district minister Kagodu Thimmappa finally had to give in. I cannot describe the elation that I had felt when the final decision was reached. It seemed like democratic protests by non violent means for just causes could not be brushed aside in the new millenium as well.  Peoples power, especially women’s power had emerged victorious.

But it didnt take long for my elation to evaporate. Just about a year later, I met one of the agitators who laughed at my innocence in believing that thinks could be as hunky dory as I had thought. He told me the arrack outlets were open again and were making brisk business. Shocked, I asked him what had happened to Saraswathamma. I thought that the liquor barons may have quietly done her away with or indulged in something equally horrific. My friend laughed again and said Saraswathamma was running two of the five outlets.

He explained that to get the media glare away from the issue, the government and the liquor lords had agreed to all the demands of the protestors. Once the protest died down, Saraswathamma was called for a dialogue and then offered extremely lucrative terms for allowing the outlets to functions. Saraswathamma refused monetary help and demanded that she too be allowed to share in the proverbial pie and consequently managed to get licenses for two outlets (which anybody in India will realise is EXTREMELY difficult to get).

Now several years later, I met Saraswathamma and spoke to her.  I told her I was not part of any media house now and was teaching in a college. That information seemed to satisfy her. I asked her how her liquor outlet was running. She told me she had to give it up because the business was low. I was surprised because if there is one business which is a guaranteed money spinner then this was it. But I had forgotten what had happened over the past two years. The government had very cunningly banned sale and manufacture of arrack on the so-called moral ground that the poor were falling prey to the habit. But nothing really had been done about liquor or rather IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor!!!)  which is far far costlier. Saraswathamma could not invest in the liquor business and finally victory did rest with the powerful.

She had many more things to say about the life of women in the Malnad which I will write about later…


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