A woman mukhia creates history

First Bihar panchayat to say no to liquor

Amit Kumar Pandey

Indira Gandhis are not born every day nor are Jhansi-ki-Ranis. Their births are historic providence. But, here is a crusader whose role model is the late Prime Minister. The frail lady has moved a mountain and banished boozing and gambling from her panchayat in Bihar’s Madhepura district. She is 38-year old Madhumala.

Madhumala is the mukhia of Mithai panchayat. Incidentally Mithai has become the first and only gram panchayat to initiate steps to end the scourge of consumption of liquor and gambling by men folk. Not only that! The panchayat has also banned playing or exhibiting obscene songs/films. Any violator will have to fork out a penalty up to Rs 5001 for boozing and Rs. 501 for playing dirty songs, the bold mukhia said.

‘Import’ of liquor from other areas was frustrating the historic decision. But Madhumala is not a lady to rest on the oars. She has approached the district administer to ‘shift’ liquor shops and vends, legal or clandestine, located in the neighbourhood of her Mithai panchayat villages. “The boozers use to bring liquor from these shops and consumed in the banned zone. Since I have no jurisdiction to get the wine shops closed in another panchayat, I moved the Madhepura district magistrate (DM)”, the beaming mukhia said.

It may be noted here that liquor business is a big money-spinner for the Bihar government. There has been a geometrical rise in its earnings. The Excise department’s revenue rose by 47 per cent to Rs 1098 crore in 2009-10. It almost got doubled to Rs 2,045 crore in 2011-12 and target has been fixed to collect Rs 2,715 crore in the current financial year. Vijay Mallyas are eager to set up breweries in Bihar. In addition to growing markets, the presence of large sugar mills is additional bait for investors.

The crusader mukhia, to a question, said: “Who am I to ask other mukhias to put a cap on liquor consumption and gambling in their panchayat? It is for them to stamp out the social scourge”. The women in Bihar are already scrambling for a blanket ban on sale and consumption of liquor as they have to finally bear the brunt. Muzaffarpur women had recently vandalised wine shops for days together. The agitation had caught the people’s imagination. Even a nonagenarian former legislator was badly assaulted on road by the goons of liquor traders.

No witching please!

Madhumala scored yet another first when her Mithai panchayat in Madhupura district decided to impose a fine of Rs.21,000 on anyone branding a woman as a witch. The crusader mukhia said: “Laws alone cannot fight this social evil of branding a woman as a witch. There is a need of social action against it.”

The practice of branding women as witches and torturing them, more often than not to death, continues unabated in Bihar and Jharkhand. A recent survey found that 1,157 murders, committed between 1991 and 2010, were due to this evil practice.

Over dozen women were branded witch and killed in Bihar. Last year, the Bihar Human Rights Commission had directed the state government to expedite probes and trials in cases related to offences under the Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 1999. (BJMC)

The Madhumala cue has been taken up by Bhojpur women too. Over a hundred women of Ara’s Bind Toli locality staged a day-long dharna at the of Town police station campus to protest against open sale of illicit liquor and gambling in the area and failure of the police to stop it. They said that they had submitted a petition to the police requesting them to stop liquor sale and gambling in the area some three weeks back but the police did not take any action. The women alleged that gamblers and kiosk-owners were doing business by greasing the palm of the police.

Meanwhile, tracing the genesis of ban in the Mithai panchayat Madhumala said: “We were forced to take this decision as villagers mostly women were frequently beaten and harassed by their drunken relatives. On an average 15 people die each year in the Mithai panchayat due to excessive liquor consumption”. A meeting of the panchayat was held and the decision was taken at initiative of Madhumala and her footballer husband and social worker Devraj. “The decision is yielding positive results”, she added.

The Mithai panchayat, oldest in Madhepura district, has a population of over 25,000. A Railways engine factory is coming up near it. Madhumala does not come from any highly educated families. “I am not a convent educated as is the case with some people’s representatives in the district. I have never been enrolled to any reputed educational institution. But I seek help from my husband in my work”, she confided.

Madhumala’s husband Dev Raj Arsh, a former athlete and social worker, said that he was proud of his wife, who has launched a drive to save the lives of many people. She said that committees had been set up at village level to keep an eye on the boozers and gamblers. Madhepura Excise superintendent Harendra Upadhyay said going by the quota of foreign liquor, country liquor and beer, it is evident that liquor consumption has escalated in the district.

Madhubala’s three siblings, two sons and a daughter, are proud of their mother. They feel elated over the panchayat’s move. Her eldest son Suman Kumar, who is leaving for Karnataka to take part in National Ball Badminton championship, said: “Such a step will prove a milestone in the life of hundreds of women folk .”
Madhumala’s daughter is a Class X student while her youngest son is studying in a Ranchi based public school. “Our main focus is to make them a responsible citizen. We are trying to inculcate sanskar in them also. And for that education is a must”, said Madhumala’s husband.

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