Bhagat Singh had expressed the fear that independence would mean merely the transfer of power from ‘white sahebs’ to ‘dark sahebs’ who are far removed from the lives of the common people and so could very easily turn into tyrants. Bhagat Singh’s fears are coming true today.

There are many examples of the tyranny of our government but here we focus upon the liquor ban Act in Bihar which has become the bane of the poor.

With the implementation of the liquor ban Act it has become clear that its objective is to insult and destroy the poor, and on the other hand reap benefits for the liquor tradesmen. This Act has nothing actually to do with banning liquor.

Recently in Jehanabad Painter Manjhi and Mastan Manjhi were convicted in false cases under this Act and were sentenced to imprisonment. This verdict was delivered in a mere three months; what a speedy conviction!

Again on 19 July 2018 in Jehanabad Chai Manjhi and Arjun Manjhi have been convicted and sentenced severely. Chai Manjhi has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and Rs 1 lakh fine. As Arjun Manjhi was not present in court his sentence was not delivered but an arrest warrant was issued. This verdict was also delivered with extraordinary speed. The court is very fast in the matter of convicting and sentencing the poor!

Both Chai and Arjun were accused of brewing liquor from mahua. How true this charge is cannot be said. But even assuming it is true, those who are aware of the conditions of the poor in Bihar know that in the absence of employment they are forced to take up various livelihoods in order to feed their families; thus, brewing liquor is just one such means of livelihood, and not a business. There is no doubt that if the government gives them better employment they will stop brewing liquor. But instead of doing this the government only unleashes repression on the poor.

The government does not make available employment opportunities for the poor, and when they somehow manage to make some livelihood for themselves it is declared illegal by the government and the lives of the poor are destroyed. Take the instance of ‘jugad gadi’ vehicles. The unemployed poor have made these jugad gadis through their own enterprise. This is their means of livelihood. But the government does not give them licenses and destroys them with legal action. This is clearly a tyrannical anti-poor government.

Coming back to the discussion on liquor ban, one survey shows that nearly 1.5 lakh people are in various jails in Bihar under this Act. 90% of these are poor, dalits and backward castes. Discussing this among themselves, the people of Bihar say that not even during the freedom struggle did so many people in Bihar go to jail.

Nitish Kumar has said something about reforms in the liquor ban Act and the Cabinet has passed some ‘reforms’. But whatever ‘reforms’ have been passed are in favour of the liquor traders and businessmen, none in favour of the poor!

Putting so many people in jail under the liquor ban Act is nothing short of a tyrannical anti-poor act by the government. This cannot be the act of a government accountable to the people.

Even as the protests are taking place all over the state and Nitish Kumar has started talking of ‘reforms’ in the Act, the police atrocities are continuing and poor and Dalits are being oppressed by the police. On 19 July a Musahar hamlet in Jagdishpur’s Shivganj was attacked by a huge posse of more than 100 police men where even women were beaten up, cattle too were beaten up, houses were ransacked, and a 75 year old disabled man Budhan Ram was arrested by falsely showing 12 liters of liquor in his possession. A CPI(ML) team visited the spot to meet the victims and a protest demonstration was held in front District Magistrate of Ara against this atrocity.

The CPI(ML) demands that the government should immediately release all those jailed under the liquor ban Act, pay them compensation for their losses, make arrangements for their employment, to open de-addiction centers in all blocks and stop oppressing the poor in the name of liquor ban. The CPI(ML) is organizing people’s protest demonstrations in front of the Assembly and District HQs with these demands.

CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said that in the name of prohibition, Nitish Kumar govt has sent nearly 1.5 lakh poor people to jail. With election nearing, Kumar now accepts the law was too harsh. Will he care to release them all with compensation for their persecution & loss of livelihood?