By Armin S.
In August, we saw toxic liquor deaths in Punjab make many headlines. Among the arrests made was the arrest of Rajeev Joshi, who had supplied three drums of methanol. This methanol was used to make alcohol in parts. He is allegedly responsible, amongst a chain of others, for 111 deaths in three separate districts in Punjab.
21 arrests were made in Tarn Taran, 10 arrests were made in Amritsar, and 9 arrests were made in Batala. Since the arrest of Rajeev Joshi, other people involved in the manufacture, trade, and distribution of spurious liquor have been tracked. Given the ready availability of methanol in the market, illegal manufacturers and distributors find it easy to mix methanol to produce fake liquor. Other arrests include names such as Gobinder Singh and Balwinder Kaur, who worked in tandem with each other in Tarn Taran. Balwinder Kaur would buy the alcohol from Gobinder Singh and Mithu Singh, and then mix the alcohol with water. The alcohol was then sold amongst the people in the village.
The diluted alcohol being sold at very cheap rates has cost many lives in Punjab and in India. According to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India, around 40 percent of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol consumed in India every day is actually illegally produced. So why is this problematic?
This is not the first time such news has made headlines. In February 2019, 130 tea workers died from bootleg alcohol. Photos of tea plantation workers made the rounds on national news in India, as we saw such workers lying on a drip. And yet this continues. So break it down: methanol, if ingested can lead to significant consequences including blindness, liver damage, and death. Methanol is often used as anti-freeze – so the toxicity of the methanol
infused alcohol is stronger, but deadlier.
But the larger picture is this: the tracing of these much more affordable and deadly liquor to deaths amongst the segment of society that is in the lower socio-economic strata. It is not the rich who may consume such deadly spurious alcohol, but those already living on the margins of society. Younger folk may also be more inclined to try alcohol that is easily accessible in terms of financial feasibility.
Alcohol is often correlated with devastation in some families in the Punjabi community, who have lost family members, either emotionally, mentally, and/or physically to addiction.