Tribal girls take to bootlegging in drought-hit Gujarat
DEVGADH BARIA: Forced by drought and lack of jobs, tribal women have take to bootlegging in Mahatma Gandhi's home state of Gujarat where prohibition has been in force for over a half a century.
According to government officials and politicians, the women smuggle liquor to towns in a major way in the twin districts of Dohad and Panch Mahals that border Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Jayanti S Ravi, the collector of Panch Mahals district, and Urvashi Devi, a local Congress party legislator, said many tribal girls and women have become liquor couriers in recent months.
This was after two successive droughts totally ruined the region's agriculture and forest-based economy.
Officials also attribute the booming bootlegging to the state government ban on further construction in areas like Ahmedabad, Surat, Bhuj and Rajkot, which were hit by the January 26 earthquake and where the tribals work as laborers.
The ban was imposed pending seismological surveys in the wake of the quake which killed some 25,000 people. This has halted the usual seasonal migrations from Panch Mahals and Dohad by tribal laborers.
The number of labourers employed at various relief works in Gujarat's 21 drought-affected districts has shot up. Of the total 1.9 million labourers, 336,000 and 285,000 were engaged in Panch Mahals and Dohad.
The trade in illicit liquor had become so profitable that a Congress leader, Somjibhai Damor, reportedly started a distillery on the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border some years ago, fuelling a bitter row in a state where prohibition has been in force since 1949.
Damor, elected to the Lok Sabha from Dohad constituency for eight consecutive terms, called himself as the "king of Bhilistan (tribal) state."
He marketed two liquor brands_ "Damor Rani" (whisky), carrying a picture of his wife, and "Damor Raja" (Rum), carrying his own picture. This led to his defeat in the last general elections.
Some tribal women have also reportedly taken to prostitution. Many women can be seen luring customers, mainly truck drivers and cleaners, on the highways.
Collector Ravi, however, denied knowledge of any organized trade in prostitution, but admitted that bootlegging was a thriving business in the two districts.
She asserted that the administration was fully geared to meet food, water and fodder needs of the people in drought-hit areas. "We will not allow people to die of starvation," she said.
Among other things, the government has started 953 relief works in 11 sub-districts and paid out an estimated Rs.64 million in wages to labourers.