The Madras High Court may have ordered TASMAC liquor shops to shut down in Tamil Nadu, two days after they reopened, but the after-effects of liquor have already wreaked havoc in poor families. Violence by the tipplers, who rediscovered their drunken boorishness after a long break, has resulted in self-immolation and even murders.
In Madurai Archana, a college student self-immolated herself after her drunken father picked up a quarrel with her mother and started beating her. Unable to stop the violence, she resorted to this extreme step. Her mother, who tried to douse the flames, also received burns and the two have been admitted to a government hospital and are in serious conditions. Meanwhile, the villain of the incident – a building worker named Sivakumaran– is absconding.
In nearby Sivaganga district, a class ten student and his father were arrested after they attacked a neighbour who had picked up a quarrel with them after they returned home drunk from a TASMAC shop. During the fight, the father-son duo hit Rakkappan, their neighbour, with a log, killing him on the spot.
In Virudhunagar district, two murders were directly linked to drunken behaviour, police said. In one case, Ganeshbabu, driver of a mini-truck, attacked and killed his own sister as he was opposed to her marrying a groom of her choice. Ganeshbabu, who had remained sober all these days, came back home fully drunk and started abusing and attacking his younger sister Amsavalli. He hit her on the head with a stick and she collapsed and died at a local hospital at Tiruchuzhi. Police are searching for the assailant.
In another case in the same district, an 80 year old man died after he was attacked by his own son, back from a TSAMAC shop, who demanded that he be given his share of the family property. “There have been at least 20 incidents of violence directly attributable to the reopening of the TASMAC shops. Similarly, a dozen road accidents have also taken place due to drunk driving in the last two days,” admitted a senior police officer.
Since the bars attached to the TASMAC shops are closed, buyers of liquor have been asked to consume their alcohol at home. This, in turn, has created a new set of problems for the families as there is no time gap between the head of the family guzzling down his drinks and berating his family in a drunken state.
“Previously, the men would hang around the bars and return home only after the children had gone to sleep. But since the home has now become the bar, family becomes the first target for these men,” pointed out Kannan Gireesh, a psychiatrist who specialises in treating children and young adults.
Dr. Gireesh warned that many children from the lower middle class families were already traumatised by the domestic violence inflicted by their drunken fathers. “The present situation of asking the men to consume their alcohol at homes would only add to the trauma of the kids as they would be living in a constant state of fear once their dad arrives with his bottles. Also, unlike in the past when the mother and kids could seek refuge in their relatives’ house, this is no longer an option because of the lockdown. They are forcibly confined to a small house with a man whose behaviour would be wholly unpredictable and could turn dangerous,” he warned.
Opening bars would amount to allowing eateries to function as the drinkers would demand side-dishes, and it would not be possible to ensure sanitised conditions to contain the spread of virus. Critics of TASMAC reopening point out that large crowds witnessed in front of the shops, with no social distancing, have already helped the spread of virus. So, there was no logic behind keeping the bars closed. If shops can be opened, so can the bars, they observed.
The state government needs the income from the TASMAC shops to ensure enough revenue to function adequately. The money is needed to pay salaries of government employees as Value Added Tax (VAT) from diesel and petrol has shrunk due to the lockdown and registration of properties has also come to a standstill. So, revenue from liquor shops is the only lifeline, as illustrated by the Rs.170 crores earned by TASMAC shops on Thursday alone even though shops in and around Chennai were closed.
No wonder the TN government has rushed to the Supreme Court to challenge the HC’s decision to close liquor shops. High Court’s order that liquor be supplied only through online sales is also impracticable as the present laws do not permit home delivery of liquor. “Online sales would be feasible only in big cities and even here, the vans ferrying these orders would require police protection,” pointed out senior lawyer Thamizhmani.
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