A demand for shutting TASMAC: Changing Trend of People’s Protests in Tamil Nadu

September 6, 2015

By Nandha Gopal

When World Health Organisation reports that the per capita consumption of alcohol in India has increased by 55% – the fastest increase in the world, Tamil Nadu people are on streets to protest against the State as it is the stakeholder of liquor sale. The people’s upsurge – especially the students, youth and the women, against the State owned liquor outlets – TASMAC (Tamilnadu State Marketing Corporation) has spread along the state after People’s Power, Revolutionary Students Youth Front (RSYF) and Pachaiyappa College students of Chennai put the road map to end the menace of State’s liquor policy on 3rd august this year.

tasmac

The demand for prohibition is getting louder as the TASMAC menace has made women widows and burdened them as the sole bread winner of the family. School children boozed at working hours are lying down in streets. Kids are induced to drink by close relatives. Many cases of drunken fathers and close male relatives sexually abusing children and teens are coming to media light. Domestic violence has increased tremendously as drunken male beats up wife and children. There is no money in the TN households as the men spend all on liquor. The number of suicides and deaths of middle aged drunkards constitute 45% of the total death toll. TN has become the second in accident deaths in three years. The State itself is spoiling the students by selling liquor through its 6800+ outlets and 4500+ bars and making them anti-social elements. TASMAC has become the primary reason for all kinds of crimes including sexual assaults, murder, chain snatching etc. It ruins knowledge, morality, culture, self-respect and plunders the income of the working people. The current condition of the women, children and the youth of TN is that they couldn’t find solace in this system, while government has washed its hands in providing education, health, sanitation, water, employment etc. to its citizen. It has shut down more than 1500 schools over the years, while it is opening new liquor outlets daily.

The TN State’s annual tax revenue is projected to be 96,083.14 crore for 2015-16 of which more than a quarter is expected from the TASMAC i.e. 29,672 crore. The revenue earned through liquor sales has grown exponentially in a decade since the State took over the retail vending of liquor in 2003 (Ref: Bar chart). The TN government claims that the TASMAC revenue is the major source for giving freebies and welfare schemes due to lessening revenue generation. The actual reason behind the lessening revenue generation is the result of increase in public spending due to bribe and corruption running rampant throughout the State organs, restraining tax collection because of the kickback and irregularity among authorities and politicians and the government policy on legal assertion of tax reduction for corporates.

This is the policy (TASMAC) which even the judiciary is reluctant to question. The Madras High Court bench comprising Chief Justice SK Kaul and Justice TS Sivagnanam while closing the public interest litigation on total prohibition of liquor moved by a journalist said, “Unfortunately this is a decision on which court’s opinion cannot be called for,.. It is a policy decision taken by the State government and the State legislature….”. When a lawyer approached the same bench for issuing orders to the government for reducing the time of sale in TASMAC, referring to a volley of prohibition-related cases, Chief Justice Kaul observed, “If something attracts public attention, everybody becomes active. I am completely averse to it. If prohibition is implemented, people will rely on illicit liquor. Do you expect this to happen? Don’t come to court for every issues…. The problem is with people who drink. If liquor shops are open for only two hours, there will be huge crowds….”. The same court recently issued orders to implement compulsory helmet for two wheelers in order to control increasing accident deaths, even though it is explicit that the accident deaths are mainly the result of increasing alcohol consumption. While ambitious revenue targets are being set and met from TASMAC, judiciary washing hands, the district collectors and secretaries persistently increasing the target of liquor sale, little attention has been paid to the consequences on the social and economic fabric.

This is why the public anger is directed at the State.

A newly formed revolutionary organization, PEOPLE’S POWER, has taken this issue on their hand. The very idea of this organisation is taking the political power in the hands of the people, as the whole political, economic, social and cultural structures of our country are in irrecoverable, irreversible, permanent and very unusual crisis. All the structural organs of the system stopped functioning according to their assigned duties, bankrupted, failed, collapsed and became opposite force. The whole political system lost its legitimacy to solve any of the problems faced by its people. Our country is in systemic crisis.

June 1st onwards they were in field and started campaigning in bus, train and residential area by distributing lakhs of pamphlets among the people and organizing them for shutting down all the TASMACs throughout the state by announcing the deadline for closure on August 31st, 2015. The following slogans were put-forth by People’s Power:

• Shut the TASMAC! Establish People’s Power!
• No more plead to state, which kills their own people! Doom the Deadline on August 31st!
• Don’t afraid of restraining police! Shut the shops; let’s see who is coming to intrude!
• No more TASMAC’s in our village!
• The State lost its legitimacy to rule! The ‘People’s Power’ is coming to takeover!

After People’s Power announced the deadline as August 31st for the closure of TASMAC by State, all the electoral political parties took the issue for its vote bank politics, keeping an eye on the upcoming TN assembly elections. Some demands put-forth by them are limited implementation of liquor prohibition policy, reducing existing no. of TASMACs, curbing liquor sale step by step, reducing the selling time, anti-alcohol campaign amongst school children and youth, monitoring alcohol abuse by banning boozing visuals in films etc.. Alas! the so-called ‘non-violent’ protests fasting, silent march, candlelight vigil, human chains, posters, representations to bureaucrats etc.. organised by these political parties has ended up abysmally. These so-called ‘non-violent’ forms of struggles are been disgraced and in fact neglected by the ruling ‘Mother of Crimes’ Jayalalitha as that of the siren blown on deaf ears.

During such sporadic incidents, Sasi Perumal, a Gandhian died in a protest for the closure of a TASMAC in Unnamalaikadai, Kanyakumari District. The court gave orders in Jan 2014 itself for relocating the particular TASMAC which is at the midst of schools and residents. Instead of shutting down the shop in accordance with the people’s will, local elected bodies’ request and court order, the bureaucrats were giving repeated deadlines whenever the people go for protests. The people found that everything was in vain and have ended up in blind alley. When the authorities lost their moral uprightness to solve the problems faced by them, the local Councilor Jeyaseelan along with Sasi Perumal announced self immolation protest on July 31st, 2015, to pressurize the authorities to capitulate to people’s long pending plea. During the protest, when the authorities showed negligence towards the democratic form of protest, left with no hope, Sasi Perumal and Jeya Seelan climbed the 150 ft. cell phone tower. Even then he was sitting up for more than 5 hours, none of the authorities went for negotiations. The State murdered Sasi Perumal – a senior citizen, by turning its face against a genuine plea of the people. Sasi Perumal’s martyrdom is an indication that the State lost its legitimacy to rule its people and become an opposite force.

In this context of People’s Power’s defiance and Sasi Perumal’s death, on August 3rd, 2015, hundreds of students from Pachaiyappa College under the leadership RSYF has done archetypical struggle for prohibition. Already, RSYF has a history of demolishing a TASMAC at Azhividaithangi village near Seiyyaru in February 2015 which has become the role model for the upcoming movements. They raised the people’s power agenda on anti-liquor protest. Soon the demonstration was escalated into stone-pelting of ‘illicit-legal’ TASMAC shop near to the college at Aminjikarai, and students were wiped out not only the liquor bottles but also the last tear coming from working mass, women and general public! Yes! Public have learnt a way to overthrow their very nuisance ‘TASMAC’. After this RSYF protest, even the electoral political parties – who were engaged in opinion war until then – are stimulated to protest in streets for immediate action of government on total prohibition. The protest is currently spreading all over Tamil Nadu, and more and more number of people are gathering on exterminating TASMACs in their localities. Jayalalitha thinks that by showing a callous indifference, goading police force and brutally assaulting protesters can put an end to the people’s upheaval. Conversely, her sinister actually fuels the fire. The tension prevailing across the state is an indication of upcoming explosive eruption of an active volcano.