It was not long ago that 55-year-old Sabanna Gawdi would beat up his wife for money to buy liquor. Villagers recall the screams from his home and ensuing drama that had become a regular sight for the 5,000 residents of Gundgurti, nestled between Kalaburagi city and Sedam.
However, in the last five years, as the village adopted a voluntary prohibition of its own and imposed hefty fines, Gundgurti has kicked the habit, and so has Gawdi.
“A fine of ₹10,000 is imposed on anyone trying to sell liquor here," Sunil Doddmane, the former president of the gram panchayat says. Only three people have tried to restart the trade, but they were quickly caught by the vigilant villagers, fined and reprimanded. Anyone wanting a drink can visit nearby villages, but are not encouraged to bring liquor back home.
Two men are busy trying to carve a piece of wood and another man whizzes past in a bullock cart, forcing some children, playing cricket with a log, to abandon an easy catch and jump out of the way. A few hundred metres towards what appears to be the centre that is accessed through a large stone arch, and the village takes a colourful turn.
Older residents sporting dark glasses can be found lazily chatting among themselves while some others can be found sleeping on the various tombs outside the Hanuman temple, to the right of the gate. Most men are eager to talk about Gawdi and his exploits, that is nothing short of folklore here.
“I sold all 24 hours and he used to drink all 24 hours," says 45-year-old Siddaiah Guttedar, who was one of the several liquor dealers here.
Notorious for drunken brawls and domestic violence, women of this village finally approached their legislator Priyank Kharge to ban alcohol. This was around six years ago.
With some of the poorest human development indicators and one of the most backward regions of the country, people of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region have for long demanded a ban on all liquor across the state to help reduce at least some of the problems here.
“Things were getting very difficult to manage with all this drinking," says Bheem Bai, a spirited 60-year-old, dressed in a traditional Ilkal saree and sports a large vermilion on her forehead. She was one of those who helped ban liquor in the village.
Several surrounding villages have tried to implement similar bans, but few have been as successful, with communities joining hands to defeat liquor.
Similar movements across the state and country have intensified their agitation to make themselves heard in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. In Karnataka, activists have written to all major political parties seeking a ban or face voters’ wrath. “Many women in several villages of Bagalkot, Ballari and Raichur will en masse vote for NOTA," Abhay Kumar, an activist associated with the movement said.
Though demand for a total ban has been around for decades, it intensified in other parts of the country after Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar decided to prohibit it in his state and demanded a nationwide ban. In January, at least a few thousand people marched into the state’s capital, Bengaluru demanding a total ban on liquor.
Many argue that banning liquor gives rise to illegal trade but the people of Gundgurti seem to have found a way around this.
The Karnataka government argues that excise from liquor is one of the biggest revenue generators and has set a target of ₹19,750 crore for the current fiscal, up from around ₹18,000 crore in the corresponding period. The H.D. Kumaraswamy-led coalition had hiked taxes on liquor to fund his ambitious farm loan waiver scheme last year as well.
“You can look at profits but what about the well being of the village," Guttedar says, adding that he has since bought a minivan to eke out a living.
Gundgurti is now one of the most successful models of self-imposed prohibition. It is now trying to convince two other villages in the panchayat to go the same way.
Considered to have a multiplier effect on agrarian distress, residents of this village say that there is a lot of change in attitudes. Gawdi says he kicked the habit when the village did.
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