Report on Makkal Adhikaram, a special meeting against TASMAC

March 7, 2016

By T. Venkat

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Idli for Rs. 1 , Toilet for Rs. 5,
Mineral water for Rs 10, Education costs Lakhs,
Sambhar Rice for Rs 5, Pulses cost Rs. 100

While some liberal left leaning economists have sung paeans of the Tamil Nadu model, primarily based on their impression of an efficient public distribution system, these lines from the song Oorukku ooru saarayam (cities are drowned in liqour) by Kovan bring bare the absurdities and social costs of this system. A certain history of populist politics in Tamil Nadu means that certain essential commodities are made available at low prices (notwithstanding the quality), and certain promised freebies are given away by the state government (a characteristic feature of many parties now across the country- from laptops to bicycles). The same state gives away lakhs of crores in subsidies to corporations and uses liqour distribution and sales through TASMAC to handle the required financial jugglery.

The social costs of TASMAC can be highlighted from the following facts:

  • Alcohol consumption has been growing at the rate of 8% per year. [1]
  • According to some estimates, more than 40% of the rural men are addicted to liqour [1]
  • Most of the liqour supplied to TASMAC comes from distilleries such as Midas Golden, Elite, Empee, Golden Vats and SNJ, all of which are owned by politically powerful figures. [2]
  • Number of people dying , losing limbs and becoming disabled  consequent  to accidents due to drunken driving, murders due to liquor brawl, suicide by helpless women  could be well over 10,000 in Tamil Nadu every year, according to an estimate by the NGO -Nandini Voice. [1]
  • Around 30 per cent of women were forced to earn and take care of the household without their husbands support. [3]

A special meeting against TASMAC convened by Makkal Adhikaram (People’s Power) on February 14th , saw a consolidation of some of the voices of resistance that have been emerging against TASMAC over the last few years.

The meeting which began with a percussion from Thanjavur, suddenly saw a standoff between the police and organisers when the police vehicle was parked right in the middle of the grounds. Intervention by Peoples Rights Protection Committee (PRPC) lawyers soon saw the police vehicle leave the grounds. The inaugural speech by Kaliappan (Member of the Organising Committee of Makkal Adhikaram) raised several questions about the stubbornness with which the state refuses to give up on TASMAC despite widespread agitation and popular opinion against it. He substantiated it further by citing how TASMAC shops remained open during the Chennai floods despite unavailability of all other public essentials. He called it a bounded duty for political organisations and people to rise up against the state promoted TASMAC menace. Especially in a system where the parliament is run by and large by people with criminal charges and judicial system fails at providing justice to the common masses.

Com. Kaliappan’s speech was followed by Anandi Ammal on the social costs of TASMAC. Anandi Ammal is an activist with Helping Hands which works for rehabilitation of drunkards, and has personally cremated more than 500 abandoned dead bodies in Chennai of which around 300 bodies were found in the neighbourhood of TASMAC. She alleged that the state government’s promotion of liqour consumption through TASMAC is not merely a profit making venture, but a part of an active effort at numbing the thinking capacity of masses. She cited several examples of how TASMAC also affected women in societies through (physical and financial) violence inflicted by alcoholic men.

David Raj, an archery champion from Kanyakumari with medals at the national games, also spoke on the occasion and mentioned how the injuries from police brutality during the anti-TASMAC agitations (in which he participated with Sasi Perumal, the Gandhian activist who committed suicide) prevents him from pursuing archery further . He strongly urged the masses present to resist TASMAC and tore away his certificates in front of the audience as a sign of protest.

Mandiri Kumari, an inhabitant of Katchiappan village in Cuddalore district which has seen many TASMAC-related deaths (claimed to be around 100), said that the freebies provided by the government can never compensate for the person and social losses due to TASMAC.

The meeting also saw participation from Dhanasekharan, President of Employees Association of TASMAC affiliated to AITUC. He briefly spoke about the history of TASMAC and mentioned how the TASMAC revenues grew from around 2000 crore in 1996 to 26,105 crores, with around 3800 outlets all across Tamil Nadu. He further mentioned how TASMAC outlets which remain illegally open after 10PM leads to a government sponsored illegality. While discussing TASMAC related employment, he mentioned how the numbers dropped from 36,000 employees in 2002 to 25,000 employees today. Around 200~250 employees of TASMAC themselves lost their lives due to liqour. J. Jayalalitha’s double standards were exposed when she backed employee benefits for TASMAC employees in opposition and failed to provide any when in power. He asked for abolition of TASMAC, while at the same time asking for adequate rehabilitation of TASMAC employees, since these jobs are seen as both financially and socially destructive.

Com. Vanjanathan, a lawyer affiliated to PRPC, tried to connect the TASMAC issue to some of the other issues in Tamil Nadu such as mining of granite and riverbeds. He elaborated on how the political parties and even the judiciary often finds itself hands in glove with perpetrators in these cases and fails to act on behalf of the masses. He exhorted the masses to take it on themselves to save themselves from this nexus through direct action citing the example of shutting down of Melapalakkam TASMAC and Vellara riverbed, instead of relying on judiciary and other state mechanisms.

Daivakannu was involved in the anti-TASMAC protests and was arrested for around 30 days. Speaking of his time in the jail, he mentioned that he was not worried about the time spent there since it shaped his outlook on life. He asked the police present if they ever gave a through to the effect of TASMAC menace on their families.

Marudaiyan, President of People’s Art and Literary Association (PALA), elaborated on how people’s power is needed to abolish TASMAC. Warning against the misuse of this issue by parliamentary parties during elections, he mentioned that their duty was not to make someone the chief minister but to shut down TASMAC. He exhorted the masses not to give power to anyone, but to rather take power from the state.

Com. Raju from PRPC, who gave the final speech in the meeting, stressed on the importance of direct action and civil disobedience and asked whether why someone like Nagaraj who lost his wife would be in a position obey the law. How does the law in a male dominated society expect women to practice obedience? Citing instances of how the state continues to grant lakhs of crores of subsidies to the corporates, allows looting of natural resources and fails to inform people about impending disasters such as during the opening of Cherambakkam Reservoir, he stressed that the government has lost its right to rule over the people and people’s power is the only solution.

The meeting concluded with a performance by Kovan, in his first major performance after his arrest and subsequent release. His songs about TASMAC, Chennai floods and Tamil Nadu politics, were interspersed with sarcastic comments on the nature of affairs. In a dig at the publicity seeking endeavours of the present dispensation during floods, he mentioned how the ruling dispensation would not even shy away from pasting stickers on bodies of the dead during Chennai floods. The meeting ended on an apt note, with Kovan singing ‘Oorukku ooru saarayam’ (cities are drowned in liqour), for which he was booked under sedition, and whose lyrics could be translated to ‘take people’s power in your hand, lets change the world’.

References:-

  1. Problem of alcoholism riding a tiger in Tamil Nadu, Syed Ali Mujtaba
  2. Tamil Nadu’s ‘corrupt’ cash cow TASMAC: How politics & liquor came to form a potent mix in the state
  3. Their lives are made hell by husbands who come home drunk