THIS NOVEMBER, as a gesture of thanks to local residents who had helped out during the wedding functions of his cousin sister and two daughters, primary school teacher Mahesh Singh of Ratir Kethi village in Uttarakhand’s Bageshwar district promised them liquor instead of money, as per a local tradition.
Consequently, Singh recalls, at each of the three ceremonies, he ended up spending Rs 15,000 on liquor for the guests and all those who helped out — from door-to-door distribution of invitations to fetching wood for fuel, and arranging food and serving of meals.
With labour hard to find in remote areas like Ratir Kethi, the village saw at least four other wedding ceremonies that month where the same promise was made.
But on December 29, driven as much by the money spent on this tradition as complaints of drunken brawls and domestic violence, Ratir Kethi passed a resolution banning the sale, distribution and serving of liquor at wedding ceremonies, and religious as well as social gatherings like fairs.
The women of Ratir Kethi drove the change, with the resolution passed in the presence of at least one member from each of the 80 households of the village, said pradhan Surendra Singh Mehta. No one raised a protest, he added. A copy of the resolution was later handed over to the local police station and authorities, seeking their support in executing the move.
Apart from banning liquor at ceremonies or gatherings, the resolution says that if a person in a drunken state misbehaves with family members or indulges in domestic violence, the panchayat will take the matter to the police. Villagers can also approach the police if any person creates a ruckus or enters into a scuffle at a public place or a gathering in a drunken state.
Mehta pointed out that women at the receiving end of domestic violence usually do not approach authorities, and said the resolution will be enough of a deterrent.
Located at the border of Pithorgarh and Bageshwar districts at a height of about 4,000 feet, Ratir Kethi is about 81 km from the district headquarters. The nearest liquor shop is over 20 km away in Saama sub-town, which is where mobile connectivity ends as well. Liquor is sourced from here and sold in villages by local retailers.
Bageshwar SP Manikant Mishra said: “The villagers have requested us to ensure that the sale and consumption of liquor do not take place during marriage functions and other events. The police cannot stop that legally, but their resolution deserves appreciation. I will visit the village soon to speak to the villagers and discuss how they can stop this. A social evil can be stopped only with the cooperation of society.”
Mishra added that liquor is the cause of most arguments, scuffles and crimes in the hills. At least four cases of clashes between guests had been reported in marriage ceremonies in the recent season in the district, he said. On their part, the SP said, the police can ensure there is no illegal sale of liquor in bulk and from grocery shops around the village.
Mahesh Singh recalls that till a decade ago, there was no compulsion to serve liquor at weddings, or to people helping out with tasks. “It increases the financial burden but worse is when someone in a drunken state starts a scuffle,” he said.