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Crackdown on Kerala FB Group for Promoting Alcohol Use, Members Cry Foul

The Nemom police in Thiruvananthapuram have registered a non-bailable case against the admins of the group, including the founder of the group Ajith Kumar.

Achyuth Punnekat | CNN-News18

Updated:July 10, 2018, 6:02 PM IST
Crackdown on Kerala FB Group for Promoting Alcohol Use, Members Cry Foul
Glassile Nurayum Plateile Curryum (GNPC) claimed to have a membership of 18 lakhs, perhaps the biggest such Facebook group in India.
Kerala: It’s ostensibly a group set on promoting responsible drinking, but Kerala’s so called ‘largest secret Facebook group’ is now facing crackdown from the Excise Department for ‘promoting alcohol abuse’.

Glassile Nurayum Plateile Curryum (GNPC) claimed to have a membership of 18 lakhs, perhaps the biggest such Facebook group in India. It has come under the scrutiny of the state Excise Department after the admins allegedly organised parties for annual celebrations of the group where alcohol was served in copious amounts.

No Craic, Only Crackdown

The Nemom police in Thiruvananthapuram have registered a non-bailable case against the admins of the group, including the founder of the group Ajith Kumar.

Police have told News18 they have evidence that the group admins organised several parties in India and abroad, including in Thiruvananthapuram and Dubai. The allegation is that members were charged admission fees of around Rs 1500 (in Thiruvananthapuram), in exchange for unlimited drinks. Raids at his house have turned up tickets to these events. Parties serving alcohol require a special licence from the Excise Department in Kerala.

It is alleged that the admins were promoting these parties at the behest of major liqour companies. Police suspect transactions worth lakhs of rupees may have happened and these, as yet unnamed, liquor companies may have had an active participation in organising the parties. So far, the police have not presented any evidence to back that claim.

Ajith, who is now incommunicado, told News18 earlier that the charge of spreading alcohol abuse is absurd. “We are well aware of the need for responsible drinking. We are a secret group, which means that we vet our members. No one is forced to join the group, nor is the group promoted on Facebook. We also ensure that no single brand of alcohol is promoted over the others. All the posts in the group are of members sharing food or drink at home, with friends, or about their travels. How is that promoting drinking?”

“Even South African cricketer Darren Sammy sent a video on our behalf promoting responsible drinking. So how can we be accused of spreading alcoholism? ” Ajith asks.

Hero Or Villain?

Thiruvananthapuram-resident Ajith Kumar was a food blogger before he hit upon the idea of starting GNPC. In June, he had spoken to News18 Kerala’s News Editor Lallu Sasidharan where he revealed: “The group was intended as a place for sharing stories on food, travel and drinking. In just one year we grew from 800 members (initially only my friends) to nearly 75,000. So ahead of our first anniversary on May 1, 2018, we decided to try and increase the membership to 1 lakh. We were surprised when we hit 4 lakh members that day. Even then, I never expected the group to grow to a size of over 15 lakh.”

Ajith insists the group promotes the ‘camaraderie among drinkers’. Members were admitted on the condition that they should not talk, “politics, religion, region, or abuse each other”. Ajith says 38 admins worked across different timezones to ensure abusive or controversial comments were edited out. It is ironic that the police have registered a case against Ajith under charges of allegedly promoted enmity amongst religious groups.

Ajith Kumar
Ajith, the founder of GNPC, insists his group promotes responsible drinking

The group had over 2 lakh women members. Ajith’s wife herself is an admin of the group. Another charge facing the admins is of promoting alcohol abuse among minors. Ajith says, “We were responsible for spreading the message that all those who drink are not wastrels. And it is ok for a family to sit together, and for the adults to enjoy some wine or beer without any social stigma. It is a fact that our society derides drinking, especially among women. Even today, a woman is targeted if she is seen drinking. But we ensured that would not happen in our group.”

The group has also done charity work, collecting Rs 6 lakh for a 20-year-old in Alappuzha who had congenital kidney disease. In another instance, group members pitched in to help 11 orphans at Idukki, who had no umbrellas or bags to go to school. Ajith says, “We only gave assistance to genuine cases. All donations went directly to accounts of beneficiaries.”

GNPC reportedly started coming under scrutiny of the Excise Department after hotels and bars in Kerala started offering discounts to GNPC members. Ajith admits, “Our members used to get flat discounts of around 20%”. Posts shared by members drinking in open spaces (but not necessarily in view of public) also may have landed the group in the soup. The final nail in the coffin seems to have been the ‘celebrations’ organised to commemorate the group’s first anniversary. News18 is unable to independently verify if any of these celebrations were sponsored by external parties.

Social Boomerang

Kerala is notorious for its high rate of alcohol consumption, and the draconian rules implemented to regulate it. It is a running joke that in Kerala the only place where you see an organised queue is outside shops run by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation. Yet, despite the partial-prohibition imposed by the previous Congress-led government, Kerala tipplers never went overboard with their protests.

However, the online backlash against the Excise Department crackdown on GNPC has been vociferous. #ISupportGNPC has become a trending topic on Facebook. Many supporters are calling the crackdown an affront to freedom of expression.

The crackdown on GNPC has faced stiff opposition online

Others have questioned why the Left Front government, which has been accused of allowing bars closed by the UDF to re-open, is targeting a Facebook group. Another conspiracy theory doing the rounds is that it is a ploy to divert attention from the recent murder of an SFI activist by Muslim fundamentalist groups known to have political ‘understandings’ with the CPM.

Despite the backlash, the Excise Department is digging in its heels. Sources told News18, there could be arrests soon. Ironically, just like in the case of the Swedish torrent-site Piratebay, the crackdown seems to have spawned several alternate groups. A simple search for GNPC now turns up dozens of groups with members ranging from hundreds to thousands.

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