The anti-arrack struggle of Nellikunnu women in Kerala
09 / 2001
Nellikunnu is a coastal village 4km off Kasargod, the northernmost district of Kerala in India. Almost a decade back, liquor consumption by men had become a household problem and women were victims of drunken husbands. In 1994, the government had passed an order prohibiting the sale of arrack. This led to the smuggling of spurious liquor from the neighboring province of Mangalore. The locals also began the produce ’Vyajavattu’ (hooch) on their own in spite of the laws against it. There was no control on this illegal activity. As a result, within a couple of years, the village lost 30 lives to adulterated liquor. And many others became addicts and wasted away their lives.
In June 1999, the death of two men-Ravi and Samikutty, as well as suicide attempts by two other young men, made women take the matter into their hands. This had become a social problem. On 23 June around 300 women went to Srikurumba Bhagawati temple to seek support from the temple authorities for their raid against illicit liquor. The temple people promised their support on seeing the determination of the women. The first raid by the women was in Kasargod district when women entered the liquor dens and smashed soda bottles on the floor. They would adopt ingenious ways of locating these liquor dens and would disguise as men in shirts and trousers. They would mislead hooch dealers to gain entry to the dens. Each day women would divide themselves into two groups and branch off into different directions between 10pm at night to 4am in the morning. During the day, despite these nocturnal forays, they had to work all day selling fish in the market. They also often got injured in the process.
The police intervened to stop the women’s campaign, declaring that the women had no right to encroach and conduct raids in homes and shops. The women were, however, relentless in their pursuit of change. They shifted their attentions to the beachfront. They would stop vehicles passing their way and raid their liquor stocks.
The women had no affiliations to any political party and even the local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) never came to visit them. The ruling party chose to ignore them since they had confiscated liquor from the home of a woman councilor.
As part of their protest the women had decided to boycott national elections in 1999. They have song that they sing to keep up their spirits-"even if we die in this struggle, it does not matter, so long as we achieve the aim of getting rid of spurious liquor. Victory will be ours."
It is only when women organize and raise their voices that social change is inevitable. Fisher women in this village in Kerala were relentless in their struggle against the scourge of illicit liquor. They did not bow to work load, political pressures, police intervention or the general apathy of their men folk. They are not alone in their struggle. Women’s groups in many other parts of India have struggled against the easy availability and sale of liquor, and have demanded some control on this. It is after all the women, within their houses, on the streets and on public transport, who have to put up with the unacceptable behaviour of drunken men.
Articles and files
Sakhi Resource Centre for Women, Victory will be ours, ICSF in. Yemaya, 1999 (India)