How we gave birth to hooch tragedies and why they will continue to grow

It occurs so frequently in India that we have given it a name: When lots of people die after consuming contaminated liquor, we call it a “hooch tragedy”.

Over 150 people died in the latest one over the weekend, in Assam’s tea-growing areas around Golaghat and Jorhat. Hundreds more have been hospitalised. Amid street protests, the state government has begun a crackdown on suppliers of illicit alcohol. This incident closely follows another that took place last month in Haridwar district in Uttarakhand and the adjoining Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, which claimed 99 lives.

Indian political attitude towards alcohol is a half-hearted, somewhat guilty acceptance coupled with a strong Gandhian pull towards prohibition.

So, who should we blame for these hooch deaths? The convenient answer is “them” — the unscrupulous people who sell illicit liquor and the inevitable politicians who are somehow mixed up with them. That is, of course, not wrong. But it does not constitute the complete answer, for the liquor mafia is a consequence of India’s moral dilemma on how to deal with the social effects of alcohol consumption. It is “we” who are ultimately responsible.

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