Authorities in UP Find a Unique Way to Brighten Lives of the Kewat Community Mired in Hooch Trade
A group of women from Chayanpurva village filling diyas with wax. (Saurabh Sharma)
Chayanpurva village, situated about 60 kilometres from Barabanki district headquarters of Uttar Pradesh, is home to the Kewat community that officials say has been associated with liquor bootlegging. As most of the locals indulge in the illegal trade, the district administration has found a new way to pull the villagers out of this darkness.
The Barabanki district administration, with the help of a non-profit organisation, is trying to assist the villagers in earning a livelihood by making diyas (earthen lamps).
Over 12,000 people have been killed across India owing to illicit liquor in the last ten years, as per a news report. In May 2019, 15 people died from consuming spurious alcohol in Raniganj, a village neighbouring Chayanpurva.
Arvind Chaturvedi, superintendent of police, Barabanki, told 101Reporters that Chayanpurva village has been infamous for its hooch racket for the past two decades.
The brains behind this programme, Chaturvedi added that they held several rounds of discussions with officers and came up with this. "Several people from the village have lost their lives to hooch and many of them have become handicapped, so it was important to bring them into the mainstream and they are earning money and leading respectful lives presently," he said.
New lease of life
For Chayanpurva village resident Ramkali, who only goes by her first name, it’s the first time that she is engaged in a trade other than preparing hooch to earn money.
Ramkali, who is in her late 20s, is a mother of three. She stated that she started making diyas about a month ago and has been earning Rs 100 per day. She mentioned that her husband, who is a daily wage labourer, had failed to find work since the Covid-19-induced lockdown was imposed.
“Around last Diwali, my husband was jailed for three days when he was caught by the police for selling liquor in a market nearby,” she added.
She explained that members of the community are neither educated nor skilled enough to take up other jobs. This made making and selling of hooch a lucrative trade and that's why it ran across generations. However, Ramkali said that they always wanted to shift to another line of work, because of the risks involved, but now finally it’s behind them and they can lead a happy and prosperous life.
“Jab galat kaam karte the na tab police ko dekh kar bhaagte the lekin ab police ke saath baith kar baat kar lete hai ham log (Earlier we used to run from police as we were in illegal trade, but now we sit and converse with them),” said Ramkali.
Another resident, Basanti, 29, who also goes by her first name, said that she works with six other women in the village to make diyas. She said she prepared hooch for three years after her marriage to run the house.
Basanti said she earns about Rs 150 per day, and she received a payment of Rs 2,600 a fortnight ago.
The work of making diyas in the village is being supervised by non-profit Makkhiwala, which is providing wax and other raw material to these women and is responsible for its marketing.
Speaking to 101Reporters, Nimit Kumar Singh, director of Makkhiwala, said that they wanted the locals to start beekeeping as it’s a profitable business and requires minimum effort at first. However, as Diwali was nearing and the women residents were in dire need of money, they decided to make diyas.
He explained that for the programme, they have hired one woman from each family in the village. Each woman from the 98 families in the village is paid Rs 1.50 for every diya and they have manufactured over 2.2 lakh diyas, he added.
He mentioned that they are not earning a huge profit as the production cost for one piece comes at around Rs 5, and they sell it for Rs 5.50 per piece. However, he clarified that making a profit was not their motive. He added that they have a target to sell 5 lakh diyas by Diwali.
Green initiatives across state
The Uttar Pradesh administration is not leaving any stone unturned to make this Diwali environment-friendly. The Lucknow administration has begun selling cow-dung diyas through the ‘Lucknow One’ application, which is used to solve sanitation and water problems. Speaking to the media, Lucknow municipal commissioner Ajay Dwivedi said that the step to make and sell cow-dung diyas is being taken to promote an eco-friendly festival and it would also bring in money.
The Uttar Pradesh prison department is also getting cow-dung diyas manufactured by the prisoners in Mathura jail, according to official sources.
(The author is Lucknow-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)