Boy killed amid caste tensions as prohibition in Bihar starts showing ugly side

It was feared that a 24×7 blanket ban on all kinds of liquor by the Government of Bihar could give rise to bootlegging and associated crimes; as was seen in Gujarat during 70s and 80s where prohibition led to bootlegging and smuggling, which in turn led to rise of criminals and terrorists like Abdul Latif.

It’s been not even a year since the Mahagathbandhan (JDU-RJD-Congress) government imposed total prohibition in the state, but these negative side-effects are becoming visible.

Last Friday, two brothers were shot at in Ara district of Bihar when they protested sale of liquor. Both the brothers are currently in hospital while the culprit is absconding. It is worth noting here that the culprit was a history-sheeter and chose to get into this illegal business of selling liquor after getting out of jail i.e. the ‘industry’ is now becoming ‘attractive’ for criminals.

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While those brothers were fortunate, a 20-year-old college student named Chandan had to pay the price of opposing liquor business with his life. On Sunday, Chandan was brutally killed in Phulwari Shareef, Patna by suspected liquor sellers as he had reportedly been tipping off police about their business.

What made the matters worse was a caste conflict that erupted after Chandan’s murder. Those outraged by the murder of the boy attacked a colony of Mahadalits (incidentally a caste terminology created by Nitish Kumar) as the liquor sellers were suspected to be harboured by them.

According to local reports, Chandan was playing cricket and had gone to the area inhabited by the liquor sellers to fetch the ball. That’s when the liquor sellers caught him, pierced him with spears, and threw his dead body in a ditch. Chandan’s friends had meanwhile tried to locate him but they were chased away by the sellers.

Later when police visited the area, they found the dead body and cache of illicit liquor. This led to the assumption that inhabitants of the area – the Mahadalits – were aware of the illegal business and were harbouring the criminals. The angry crowd attacked their homes and belongings.

This was soon followed by pitched battle between Mahadalits and the crowd that led to mayhem, road blockade, arson, and tense atmosphere in the locality. The stalemate continued for hours. Police too had to face crowd’s anger as many suspected them of leaking identity of Chandan to the liquor sellers. And it seems that their suspicion was not misplaced as a police driver has been arrested in this case.

The unfortunate incident shows that the prohibition is not just a challenge on law enforcement front, but it’s also a major socio-political challenge. It should be noted that former Chief Minister of Bihar and a Mahadalit leader, Jitan Ram Manjhi had opposed prohibition laws. He had termed it against the interests of Mahadalits, who not only consumed desi liquor like toddy, but were also earning from its sale.

As recent as last month, Manjhi had refused to join the human chain in support of prohibition, even though it received support from BJP, which is an ally of Manjhi and the main opposition party in Bihar.

While the state government is only making the prohibition rules stronger and stricter with each passing day, such as banning bureaucrats to drink even outside Bihar, the practical challenges back home appear to be growing.

Next month, Bihar will see its first Holi under prohibition. Holi has traditionally seen people consuming liquor, and reports suggest that smuggling and bootlegging has increased as the festival dates approach.

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