Source : Deccan Herald News Services

A woman has instilled fear in the minds of illicit liquor mafia

Unlike her reel version, the mere name of this ‘Sheela’ sends shiver down the spine of the drunkards and illicit liquor vendors and they prefer to simply take to their heels the moment they see her.

For the womenfolk of the hundreds of households in Kushinagar, a backward, poor and disease-stricken district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, about 325 km from Lucknow, she is nothing less than the goddess ‘Durga’, the symbol of ‘shakti’ (power).

And she has not acquired the name for nothing. She has taken on, almost single handedly, the ‘liquor mafia’ in Kaptanganj town in the district, something which none, including the police officials, had dared so far.

The people of the area call her ‘Durga’, who killed the demon king ‘Mahishasura’. Sheela  also had taken a pledge to kill the demon “illicit liquor,” without fearing for her life.

Although Sheela Devi started her campaign alone about a year back, today over 200 womenfolk of Kaptanganj town area and the nearby villages have her and emerged as a major force against the ‘kucchi daru’ (local liquor) manufacturers.

These womenfolk, led by Sheela Devi, have formed a ‘Poorvanchal Mahila
Morcha’ and have spearheaded a campa­ign against the ‘illicit liquor’. Sheela and her group members, who carry sticks in their hands, attack any illicit  liquor manufacturing units, the moment they receive information about it and within a few minutes the unit is flattened and the culprits either beaten up or handed over to the police.

The “morcha” has demolished illicit liquor units at Mathia, Pachar, Bhuradih, Kritampur and several other villages in the area. They have also coined a slogan “sharab hatao, parivaar bachao” (quit liquor, save family), which has become very popular in the households in the area.

“Since the past one year as many as 100 such desi liquor units have been demolished by our group’’, Sheela, a mother of three children, says. “We also issue a stern warning to the culprits not to resort to manufacturing again or they will have to face more stern action’’, she said while speaking to Deccan Herald from Kaptanganj.

Sheela and her group members also carry out surprise raids in the villages and are always on the prowl. “It is a continuous battle… a slight complacency on our part will allow them to raise their ugly heads once again’’, she said.

Over the months, the “morcha” has been able to inculcate a sense of fear among the liquor mafia. The villagers vouch that the liquor mafia, despite its money and muscle power, simply run away when it sees the members of the group.

She feels that liquor has emerged as a major menace in the rural areas. “It is destroying families… killing people… even the children are falling prey to it”, she says and adds that many people have died after consuming illicit liquor in the region in the past few years.

Sheela used to be an ordinary housewife like any other woman of her area. “Once I saw some youth, who had consumed the illicit liquor trying to outra­ge the modesty of an eight-year-old girl and from then I took a pledge to wipe out the menace from my area’’, she said.

“There was some apprehension among the family members, who feared that the liquor mafia could harm me… they also feared for the safety of the children’’, Sheela said. “My husband, however, encouraged me greatly and stood by me all through… Without his support I could not have done anything’’, she said.

Blind eye
Sheela blames the local administration for the flourishing liquor mafia. “Without the help of the police and local excise officials, these units cannot thrive… they turn a blind eye to our complaints and allow them to continue for monetary considerations’’, she said.

Sheela is of the view that laws should be changed to provide for stringent punishment for the offenders. “They should be hanged…they have claimed many lives’’, she said. The simple woman, who is almost illiterate, says that every woman must rise against the evil. “If the women take a pledge to root out an evil, they will certainly succeed… we must never give in to wrong things’’, said.

Kushinagar, which is known for the land of Gautam Buddha (Buddha had breathed his last here), has, along with the districts of Deoria, Maharajganj, Gorakhpur and some others, emerged as  major centres of illicit liquor. A large number of illicit liquor manufacturing units have been destroyed in the region in the past few months.

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