In Bihar hooch deaths, a look at defunct de-addiction centres not many are talking about

Author: Darpan Singh: After years of heavy promotion of liquor, as the government’s revenue continued to increase, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar decided to implement total prohibition in the state in 2016.

The reason he gave was this: women wanted a ban. Because drunken men beat their wives and children. When men blew everything from spending money to selling land, tools and jewelry on daily drinks, because it was impossible to feed the children and send them to school. Because drunk men were more likely to target girls or commit other crimes.

The decision paid electoral dividends. The political fortunes of Nitish Kumar’s JDU were on the wane, but after the ban, its support among women voters was seen to rise. Sociopolitical considerations overcame fiscal prudence, according to many.

When the ban was implemented, there was also a social-sanitary issue. What will happen to so many men addicted to the bottle? Imprisonment alone was not the solution. Once out of prison, many of them would turn to alcohol again.

So the government decided to open an anti-addiction center in the 38 districts of the state. About 150 doctors and 45 consultants were trained for this purpose.

Also Read: Stop Liquor Trade, Get Rs 1 Lakh Reward: Bihar Govt’s Offer To Strengthen Liquor Prohibition

Alcohol addicts naturally queued up in front of these centers after prohibition. Many were unwilling to risk five years in prison, the maximum sentence for convicted prohibition violators. But six years later, those centers are mostly gone. Below are some pictures.

Katihar district: The center has six beds in a room, with almost no medicine. The previous de-addiction center was bigger, but it had to be demolished, the nodal officer said.

Muzaffarpur District: The center does not have a doctor or a psychiatrist. He treated around 300 people in two years. It later became an isolation center for Covid-19 patients during the pandemic. It is now used to treat dengue patients.

Banking district: The center has been defunct since 2018. No doctor, so addicts come here and come back. Initially, three doctors, a nodal officer and a clinical psychologist were represented at the centre, but now none can be seen. Beds are used for dengue patients.

Kishanganj District: This addiction center was closed in 2017 and was used as a Covid isolation room.

Bettiah (West Champaran District): At the beginning, the center had a team of 18, including counselors and motivators. But it was closed in 2019.

The scenes in many other addiction centers in Bihar are no different. The Patna High Court has also said that there is no rehabilitation facility for the dependents.

There are many reasons. A lax enforcement of prohibition law kept liquor available. It is more expensive because bribes are paid in several stages culminating in the final delivery. Availability is not so easy.

Also read: Amid hooch row tomorrow, a look at states that repealed or watered down prohibition provisions

However, the primary healthcare facilities in Bihar have been in a state of disrepair. Many conventional hospitals also lack medicines, doctors and equipment. It was always a challenge to save resources for something that was never a priority. For many, the message was: can’t drink. Plan B was missing.

Also, those who cannot afford expensive liquor, especially Dalits and other poor communities in villages, did not really turn to de-addiction centers. Stigma was an issue. But it was mainly because the cheaper country liquor, which often turns poisonous when not fully boiled or mixed, was available with little difficulty. This also explains the rise in hooch deaths; in the present case the toll has touched 80, in the state.

Government officials proudly display the quantities of liquor seized on a regular basis. These seizures hide a deeper reality of the black market. Smugglers often allow certain amounts of liquor to be confiscated, with money also changing hands, so they can continue their underground operations, several investigations have revealed.

So the poor implementation of the prohibition law made addiction centers that are on the verge of closure more redundant. But they spared no thought that thousands of prohibition law violators were released from prison on bail or after serving their sentences.

Can prison terms alone divert anyone? What will they do? Risk their lives in more ways than one. And not only that. The state is also subject to a new drug culture. The Patna High Court has expressed concern over teenagers working as drug dealers. This is not only because of the ban, it is also.

The state government has never admitted that there is any laxity in the implementation of the ban. The serious assumption was that when liquor is not available – it became a thriving parallel industry in the words of judges whose courts are full of bail hearings – no one should have to go through addiction!

These overlapping state failures are directly linked to the unfolding tragedy in the state that has claimed hundreds of lives since 2016. These deaths had happened before, but the numbers were not so great.

Also Read: Chhapra deaths: How hooch tragedies have followed dry Bihar

There has been much talk about the positive impact of liquor ban in Bihar. Let’s look at some statistics. Crimes against women in the state rose by 16.8 percent when 17,950 cases were reported in 2021 from 15,339 cases in 2020, data from the National Crime Records Bureau showed. These cases include cruelty by husbands and in-laws, kidnapping, human trafficking, rape, attempted rape and beatings. In 2021, Bihar had 1,000 widow deaths, second only to UP’s 2,222.

One of the greatest tragedies among the bihar hooch deaths is that the state government may have come to believe, or at least the state of the addiction centers suggested, that incarceration was the only solution. Or even death, as Nitish Kumar recently said: “Those who drink will die.”

(With inputs from Ashmita Saha)

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