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How a liquor vend was ousted by Sikh-Hindu, Gurdwara-Temple unity in West Delhi

By Bharat Dogra* 
There was a lot of troubled questioning in the streets of Khyala in West Delhi. Many people were asking -- has that terrible liquor shop opened once again?
There were reasons why the people were so worried. This liquor vend had created simply too many problems in the past as the liquor shop and the neighboring snack joints became the gathering place for many anti-social elements. Women and girls felt more insecure than ever before as drunk strangers made lewd gestures. What angered local people most was that the liquor vend was located too close to temples, gurdwaras and a school, violating policy guidelines.
Hence small efforts to oppose the liquor vend started. However some powerful local persons were in favor of the vend, particularly those who had been able to earn high rent from shops selling liquor and snacks, and so some people were also a bit scared to become too vocal in protesting against the liquor vend.
However, matters soon came to a head when the gathering of anti-social elements at the liquor vend led to a brutal murder. With their worst fears coming true and a history of smaller troubling incidents (including chain snatching and knife attacks) preceding this murder, people overcoming all differences became united to protest against the vend and the government had to close down the vend due to the mounting protests of people.
After this there was again peace in this settlement till it was disrupted rudely once again about a year back when the AAP government came up with its new controversial liquor policy involving a lot of privatization and many vends being handed over to private operators. 
Under this policy the earlier government liquor shop which had been closed due to the protests of local people was now given a new lease of life under private operators. What was worse, the private operators were coming out with ever new ‘incentive’ offers to increase the liquor habit among people and to increase their sales. One of their gimmicks was to offer one extra bottle of liquor for one bottle purchased. 
Several people were taken in by such offers and they started buying and stocking up liquor in increasing quantities to make full use of the offers while these lasted. In effect this led to wider amounts of liquor being consumed and more cases of more harmful binge drinking, in fact exactly what the liquor sellers wanted.
People were increasingly worried by this trend as they felt that many families will be ruined economically by this as well as by its health and social impacts, including rise in domestic and other violence. People living here belong mainly to the middle and lower middle class and there are several households who just about manage to make both ends meet. 
Liquor addiction, whose possibility was likely to increase with such proximate, easy and incentivized availability, would surely be ruinous for such families, people discussed. Women in particular were more worried as they had to manage household and educational expenses of children in limited income. They were also worried about threats to them and even more about the risk of children getting more exposed to liquor.
Hence, it was that a mobilization effort against the liquor vend started, more quietly at first but more vocal as people gathered courage from their growing unity. Sikhs and Hindus are the two main communities living here and they established a united front to oppose the liquor vend. Gurdwaras and temples located here became important hubs for discussing strategy and tactics.
However, even as people here were discussing strategies of ousting the private operated liquor vend operator, growing criticism of the liquor policy of the AAP government led the government to make some changes, so that at several places the system went back to the previous system of the government liquor vend.
Lot of inspiration as well as learning came from repeated visits to farmers’ movement sites on Delhi border
However, people in Khyala were confident that as in the case of their colony the government vend had already been shut following the gruesome murder, there would be no going back to this and the end of the private operator’s tenure meant that there would be no liquor sale here, a situation that prevailed before the private liquor operator appeared suddenly.
Imagine the distress of most people when soon after the private operator’s departure, the government vend suddenly re-appeared. The people pleaded again and again that its closure had been decided much earlier following the gruesome murder and the subsequent protests of people, but this had no impact on the authorities. This led the people to plan a more organized protest and soon increasing numbers of people and particularly women started joining the protest site for a dharna (sit-in).
Meanwhile, the gurdwaras generously started organizing a langar for those at the protest site. Hot tea as well as meals were served. In this context Ranjiy Singh, who played an important role in the mobilization protest, made an interesting comment: 
“A lot of inspiration as well as learning for us came from our repeated visits to the farmers’ movement sites on the border of Delhi. What we saw there gave us the vision and the strength that we too can get united for achieving a common objective with grit and determination.”
Soon increasing numbers at the protest site were boosting the morale of the protestors. The only exception to these fast spreading emotions appeared to be those who benefited from the liquor shop like the powerful family which rented their shop. However so pervasive were anti-liquor sentiments now that even some close friends of this family now extended their support to this protest.
However even the growing number of people at the protest site was not enough to convince the authorities to close the vend. As local resources started thinning, help of neighboring gurdwaras was sought and generously provided so that the langar at the protest site could continue unabated.
The authorities were counting on the protestors tiring over a period of weeks if not days and their movement fizzling out, but this was not to be and the peaceful protest went on and on, the morale remained high because of the unity of people and their determination for supporting a good cause. Finally after the protest continuing for about 40 days the authorities relented and shut down the liquor vend.
Hence this controversial vend closed down for the third time and the people appeared to have more decisively won the battle of the bottle this time. At the same time in the process of this mobilization their unity and cooperation has increased which can be harnessed for other constructive causes as well.-
--
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Man over Machine', ‘Protecting Earth for Children' and ‘A Day in 2071’

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