by Swathi Subramaniam, PRIA
A famous bollywood movie -Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola – had popularized the character of Gulabo, a pink buffalo. This Gulabo was actually an annotated named given to a country liquor which had a pink buffalo as a logo. The fact that India’s country liquor is an integral part of cultural heritage of locals has been exemplified through the movie. However, what such epic dramas have often ignored is the fact that the real heroes behind production of such indigenous liquor are subjected to a far more toxic life than the much loved spirits that they are creating in their informal setups.
One such production house is located in a small slum in Patna called Chulhai Chak. Chulhai Chak has about 2,500 households and has poor connectivity to the main Patna city, located in the outer circle of Patna – Patna Urban Agglomeration and has limited road connectivity. The settlement is home to the ‘Musahar’ community of Bihar.The residents have been making liquor since over 60 years. Musahars are landless labourers living in grinding poverty and sub human conditions for centuries. Some of them even today live as bonded labourers. Many among them live in ghettos in the outskirts of the villages in Patna. The Musahar community is also known for feeding on rats due to their poverty stricken conditions.
The condition of Chulhai Chak and areas near that slum is very pathetic. The liquor in the households of slum is made by both the wife and husband. This home-made country liquor is made out of Mahua in a process which takes about 5 days to get ready.
Mahua is a flower, from which distilled liquor is produced. The flower itself has many uses for its medicinal and aromatic properties. The drink is made using granular molasses and dried Mahua flowers. The flowers are known to have intoxicating qualities and is said to affect animals.
Mahua has an important role in many communities. Mahua is a common drink for the tribes in the states of Patna, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Mahua Deo – Mahua spirit is worshipped by the Korwa tribals. Mahua liquor mixed with certain ingredients is used by some tribals to obtain abortion.
Home made liquors are illegal, lack proper processing methods and hence is highly dangerous. The intoxication level of Mahua liquor is also very high. Factory made liquors are safe to consume in appropriate quantity and are not life threatening.
In Chulhai Chak,the producers of this illegal liquor often feel advantageous with consumers being readily available within the settlement itself and they do not have to go out somewhere to sell. The buyers and the consumers themselves come to the community for buying mahua liquor.
However, in the process of making liquor the probability of losing their own lives is also very high. The husbands/men of the house make liquor and taste it before finally supplying for consumption. They end up consuming the mahua liquor in such great quantity that the cases of men losing their own lives instantly are rising in the settlement.
It is said the dangers of making mahua at home is extremely high. When not made properly, it can burn down the lungs instantly on the first consumption. And it is this occupational health hazard that Chulhai Chak has been engulfed in. Even then, the residents still feel entrapped to continue such activity due to lack of other alternative work opportunities.
Unfortunately, the State is yet to address these issues of health hazards and sufficient alternate livelihood opportunities for this community. With immense construction boom in the State, these residents who are known to be labourers could be absorbed. This community at present is not just physically disconnected with the rest of the city, but is also unable to avail the benefits of any developmental schemes which they are entitled to. State urgently needs to intervene and provide the right of a life with dignity to these residents.