Rajasthan: A Rural Woman’s Crusade Turns Nandpura Into an Alcohol-Free Village
Led by Bhanuvati Devi, women in Nandpura village in Dholpur district of Rajasthan got all the six liquor shops in their village shut. Since October 2019, the village has been alcohol-shop-free. The families there now have more money to spend on the education and health of their children.
Manoj Choudhary 4 April 2023 12:30 PM GMT
Nandpura (Dholpur), Rajasthan
It may be difficult to tell Bhanuvati Devi apart from the other women in Nandpura village, in Dholpur district, Rajasthan. The 43-year-old, with her head covered with the pallu of her red sari, was making rotis on her chulha when Gaon Connection visited her. But, the resemblance ends there.
For those who know, Bhanuvati has spearheaded a movement and has managed to close down six liquor shops in her village located about 270 kilometres from the state capital Jaipur.
Alcohol abuse was an everyday affair in Nandpura before October 2019. The male residents from most of the 380 families drank regularly. Physical and emotional abuse of the women and children by the inebriated men was a commonplace. Fed up, Bhanuvati decided she was not going to put up with abuse anymore.
She gathered the women of her village and started a movement in September 2019. With the help of district level senior police officials, the village women demolished all the six liquor shops within a month’s time period.
“I was just 16 years old when I got married to a farmer. My husband started drinking about 13 years into our marriage and life became hell,” Bhanuvati told Gaon Connection. Her life became a litany of violence, poverty and distress because of her husband, Than Singh’s addiction to alcohol.
“So many women like me were at their wits end. There was constant violence against women and children; men spent all that they earned on liquor and often sold household goods to find money to drink. They also got into debt because of this habit,” she said.
Taking matters into their own hands
The decision to do something about the misery came about with the help of the self help group (SHG), Ganesh Jee Mahila Bachat Samiti. Bhanuvati was a member of it. It was there that she came into contact with the Dholpur-based nonprofit Manjari Foundation.
Altogether 17 SHGs are running in Nandpura under Chaman Gram Sangathan, a village organisation. Bhanuvati is vice president of the sangathan.
“At the SHG meetings I learnt about women’s rights, and I decided to free myself and other women in my village from the liquor-induced violence in our lives. We took out an anti-liquor rally and broke the liquor bottles in the six shops of our village,” Bhanuvati recalled.
The respite was short lived as the shopkeepers then began to sell liquor from other sites. Things changed when 32 women marched towards the Dholpur district police headquarter in October 2019. They made a big noise in front of senior police officials and sought their help. Local police raided the liquor shops and since then Nandpura became a liquor-shop-free rural area.
The men who continued to drink were publicly humiliated by other village women members. Some of them were carted off into police custody.
“My husband spent all the money on liquor. He also sold what little food grains we had in order to buy alcohol,” Manto Devi from Nandpura, told Gaon Connection. “Ever since I got married, I have lived with physical and mental violence from my husband,” she said. But her husband is a reformed man now, she said.
Another woman of the village Gayatri Devi, wife of Tek Chand said that her husband was a daily wage agriculture worker but he had been spending whole income on liquor. Children were facing money problems in completing their education, she added.
“With the help of Bhanuvati, I sent my husband to police custody when he got drunk and began to beat me,” Gayatri Devi told Gaon Connection. Her husband Tek Chand was a farm labourer who spent all the money he earned on liquor, and there was not enough money to even educate their children, she said. But the agitation and a police action has stopped Tek Chand from drinking, she said.
The positive spin offs
“During the SHG meetings in the village women are informed about the government schemes as well as their legal and constitutional rights. It motivates them to fight against injustice,” Vinod Kumar, team leader of Manjari Foundation in Dholpur, told Gaon Connection. He said they were happy to see how the women had brought about a change in their village and made it liquor free.
The movement to stop alcohol sales in their village along with the help of SHGs in the village has had other positive spin offs. Women have begun to save money with the SHGs from where they are also entitled to take loans to set up small enterprises.
For example, Bhanuvati has opened up a garment shop at Saheli Market in Basai Nawab village, and another local woman Rekha Devi has a shop selling ornaments in the same market.
“After the liquor movement, Bhanuvati and ten other women of the village were given Rs 25,000 each by the Foundation for starting shops at Saheli Market in Basai Nawab,” Vinod Kumar said.
Bhanuvati, who has a son and two daughters, said that the men who once were drowned in debt because of their drinking, were now helping their wives run their businesses.
The anti-liquor movement has brought women into prominence. Candidates of panchayat and other elections now actively seek their support for votes, Manto Devi, another village resident, told Gaon Connection, proudly. “We are now hopeful for a brighter future for our children,” Manto Devi said.
Meanwhile, Bhanuvati was honoured with the Sakriya Mahila Award by the Dholpur district administration in 2021, for her active role in social and village affairs.