The state has gone a step further and set up de-addiction centres where die-hard alcoholics find help in battling withdrawal symptoms
Pankaj Kumar | June 18, 2016 | Bihar
My husband has lost everything to liquor. Whatever we inherited from our ancestors is gone. On top of that, he would turn harsh to us after drinking. But now he is fighting for his life after he met with an accident. We are getting him treated with the hope that our future will be better,” says wife of Binod Singh with tears in her eyes.
The distraught woman, who was not willing to share her name, thanked the Nitish Kumar government for the initiative to ban liquor, but cursed the earlier ready availability of liquor across the state.
Binod, a petty contractor, met with an accident while driving under the influence of alcohol. He is being treated at a hospital in Bihar’s Begusarai district for the past six months. Now his condition has started to improve.
There are many like Binod’s kith and kin who have heaved a sigh of relief after liquor was banned in Bihar on April 1.
“This initiative by the government has given us a ray of hope to make our life better. Now my husband comes back home after work and gives time to the family and most importantly, he gives money to us so that our child can go to school,” says Rama Devi, who works as a daily wager. Her husband earlier never used to give money to the family.
READ: As women voters force states to go dry, let us debate the pros and cons of prohibition
Rama had a terrible childhood: her drunkard father used to beat her mother. And she, after marrying a drunkard, had lost all hope from life.
People in Samastipur seem happy as they are supporting the state’s decision to go dry.
“People call us if they find someone drinking. I have never seen such support for any law in my lifetime. This has improved the law and order situation in the district,” says Nawal Kishore Singh, superintendent of police.
Actually, no drunkard is spared if found drunk and there is severe punishment if proven guilty. So the crime graph has decreased quite a bit in the state, police officials say.
The decision to ban liquor – fulfilling a promise Nitish made in the 2015 election campaign – has largely gone down well with the people as they are finally finding peace at home as well as outside. For the alcoholics, however, it is turning out to be a nightmare with severe withdrawal symptoms.
“I am unable to sleep. I feel lethargic, but I want to quit alcohol at all costs,” says 66-year-old Ramprat Singh who has been addicted to liquor from the age of 16.
“I know that I will face the law if I start again and there is a high possibility of getting poison in the name of liquor if I buy it from the illegal market,” he says and admits that he is finding it difficult to cope with the new situation.
“This decision should have been taken earlier. I wish it is continued forever so that no one gets addicted to liquor and their life is safe and secure.”
Ramprat is not the only one whose life has turned upside down after alcohol was banned in Bihar. Sanjay Rai, who too was addicted to alcohol, was taken to Samastipur de-addiction centre by his family members as he was not able to deal with the withdrawal symptoms.
Sanjay, 45, who has five kids to look after, was running a tea shop and used to spend all his earnings on liquor. As time progressed, his earnings became less as he was always drunk. “My situation turned from bad to worse as I stopped earning and I became an alcoholic. Now the government has banned it, so I am not able to find liquor,” says Rai.
Rai is not the only one whose condition has deteriorated. There are many others like Sajjan, Rambabu Das and Ramprat whose health too took a turn for the worse. They all had to be sent to de-addiction centres.
Here, the government looks prepared to deal with such cases. “The district hospital has a de-addiction centre where patients under the influence of alcohol are properly treated. Some are given antidotes while others are given counseling to quit drinking,” says Dr AN Sahi, deputy superintendent of Samastipur district hospital.
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The state government has put in place a system through which any alcoholic who is suffering from withdrawal symptoms is brought to a de-addiction centre. Each district in Bihar now has a de-addiction centre where counselors assess the condition of the alcoholics. If needed, they are kept under observation and given suitable treatment.
Doctors have prepared a questionnaire, and a scale of alcohol dependency. On the basis of answers, scaling is done, and if the scale is in the range of 8-15, then they are told to leave after being suitably advised. People found in the scale of 16-19 are counseled more and given a few medicines. But if someone is found to be in the scale of more than 19, then they are kept under observation and appropriate treatment is given in the hospital.
“When habitual drinkers shun drinking, they may vomit, have nausea or anxiety. So we try to know the background as in most cases social issues are also very important reasons behind excessive drinking,” says Pawan Kumari, counselor-cum-nodal officer of the Samastipur de-addiction centre.
The staff at the de-addiction centre has been asked to remain alert as people are expected to turn up in large numbers as days are passing.
“If a doctor prescribes liquor to any addicted person as per his requirement, from where will he get it? That is still an unanswered question,” says Kumari.
Seeing the number of patients in de-addiction centres, one can make out that the prohibition policy is working effectively. People are coming in droves as they are not able to get liquor from any underground market.
“As more time passes, the chances of patients coming to the de-addiction centre will go up since illegal stock is getting over,” says a staff member at the de-addiction centre.
Another staffer confides, “This is for the welfare of people, but we are going to face more challenges in coming days as we will come across several habituated drunkards who cannot even survive more than an hour without liquor.”
The number of alcoholics turning up at de-addiction centres will go up once their stocks dry up or they are no longer able to illegally source alcohol.
At present, the district hospital is able to treat them as their numbers are manageable, but later it will be a challenge once the number of alcoholics goes up.
Some people, however, are not happy with the decision. Kamal, a daily wager who cleans toilets and sewage for livelihood, complains, “We clean up drains so we drink liquor before doing it, but now we are facing problems in getting liquor.”
Another old man, Rajkishore, too is opposed to the ban as he removes dead animals from villages and towns. “We cannot do this work without taking desi liquor,” he says.
Rajkamal, the sole breadwinner of his family, is in a pitiable financial condition as he had to shut his tea shop when he got himself admitted at the de-addiction centre.
“It is difficult to suddenly stop consuming something which I was consuming for 20 years. Now I am in trouble as I can’t stand for an hour and hence unable to earn. My children are totally dependent on me as I lost my wife two years ago. I don’t know how they will survive,” wonders Vivek Mahto.
“Some people are even migrating [out of the state] as they are finding it difficult to stay without liquor,” says Dr AN Sahi.
“Each district hospital has a de-addiction centre, with facilities like
CCTV, television, air conditioner and some indoor games. Counselors have been recruited and a drug inspector is posted to ensure there is no shortage of drugs.
“The habituated people need to be properly looked after as they face several problems like relapse, nausea and vomiting. Hospitals are ready to tackle them in case of a relapse,” says Dr Sahi.
Liquor sales in Bihar used to account for a sizeable chunk of tax revenues. Bihar had generated revenue over Rs 3,300 crore in 2014-15 through liquor sales while in the next financial year, it had a target of nearly Rs 4,000 crore. Its total revenue target in the last two financial years has been around Rs 30,000 crore.
But excise minister Jalil Mastan says, “The role of a state is to see the welfare of the people. It is not always about earning money. Whatever we are losing can be earned by various other sources but we cannot afford to lose our human resources who will be useless under the influence of alcohol.”
The law is so stringent that few dare to break it. Its provisions derive from relevant penal sections of the excise laws of other states to make it stringent. In case of a hooch tragedy, say, if a person is permanently disabled after drinking spurious liquor, the offender could serve anywhere between 10 years and life in prison. And in case a person dies, then the offender can even get a death penalty. One can get 10 years for illegal liquor trade and 5-10 years if caught drinking in public places. People can also get five years’ imprisonment for causing public inconvenience; in such cases neighbours can also call police or use a toll-free number. One can also serve seven years in prison if caught selling alcohol, or for forcing women and children in illegal liquor trade. Property can also be sealed for carrying out illegal trade.
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