“We want to live. We are asking you all, what is the guarantee for our lives? Justice (dharma) has died. I studied medicine and came here to this remote land in 1989 to serve people. What guarantee is there for life? This is not a protest. We want to live. We need justice.”
This is the voice of a man who lost his wife in an accident caused by two men on a bike, allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. On Monday evening, the man sat at the accident spot, with the corpse of his wife demanding immediate closure of the TASMAC bar (Tamil Nadu state run liquor bar) from where the motorbike that killed his wife allegedly emerged.
Jambukandi in Coimbatore district is a small village with a pre-dominantly tribal people. Situated off the arterial road connecting Kerala’s Attappadi and Coimbatore, Jambukandi is also home for a TASMAC outlet, run by the government of Tamil Nadu. For over five hours on Monday evening, the vehicular movement on the main road leading to Kerala border came to a grinding halt due to a road roko staged by the people of Jambukandi. In the middle of the crowd was Ramesh, a middle-aged man, wearing an orange-coloured shirt sitting beside his wife’s lifeless body.
Ramesh is a medical doctor by profession and has practised in Jambukandi since 1989, the year he graduated from the Madurai Medical College. He lived with his wife Shobana and daughter Sadhana Devi (a class 11 student in a school in Jambukandi) in Kanuvai, around 20 kilometres away and earned a livelihood by serving the people of Jambukandi. Known for championing social and environmental causes in that area, Ramesh is loved and respected by the people of Jambukandi.
For years now, many people, especially women in these areas, have been heading protests against liquor bars run by the state. In Attapadi, a place situated in Palakkad district, bordering Coimbatore district, alcohol is banned. Many people from Attapadi and nearby areas travel to Jambakundi and Annaikattai every day to consume or purchase alcohol. Despite an alcohol ban in the area, Attapadi has many alcoholics and at least three de-addiction centres.
On Monday, Shobana and Sadhana Devi were returning to Kanuvai in a scooter after house hunting in Jambukandi. As Shobana and Sadhana Devi neared Jambukandi Pirivu (intersection), a motorbike with two men came from a TASMAC shop nearby, and collided with Shobana’s scooter. The men on the motorbike were allegedly inebriated and lost control of the vehicle, leading to the accident. Shobana died on the spot after the collision while Sadhana Devi fractured her legs. She was immediately rushed to a hospital for treatment.
Ramesh, who was informed about the death of his wife, rushed to the spot and sat near her body demanding justice. In solidarity with Ramesh, many tribal people living in the area also joined him. After around three hours, the police reached the spot and tried talking to Ramesh in an attempt to clear the blockade. However, the protesters categorically stated that they will take the body to a hospital only after revenue officials reached the spot and talk to them.
‘We need to live’
Ramesh who spoke to the media said that despite continued protests by the people of Jambukandi for the last three years, there have been no sustained efforts to shut the TASMAC outlet.
“The officials shut it down for a brief period, but it came back to business again,” he pointed out.
“I don’t have any ill-feelings or anger towards the men who collided with my wife’s scooter… In a matter of seconds, my wife’s life was lost. She was wearing a helmet and my daughter was the pillion rider. My question is, if life can go in a matter of a second, why is it taking so long for authorities to remove this TASMAC? When life can be erased in one second, do you need years to remove an alcohol outlet? What government are you even running? What is this politics?” he questioned.
After 9 pm on Monday, Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) of Coimbatore (North) Vijayakumar and the Deputy Superintendent of Police Mani reached the spot. Rejecting the offers of compromise extended by the authorities, the protestors categorically told the officials that they would leave the spot only after an order is issued to remove the TASMAC outlet.
The heated discussion between the people and the officials, which lasted for around an hour, ended with the RDO agreeing to remove the TASMAC from that area. The RDO also gave a written assurance to the protesters after which they dispersed from the spot.
Speaking to TNM about the incident, Perianaickenpalayam Deputy Superintendent of Police Mani said that the accused and the pillion rider were also injured in the accident, and are currently undergoing treatment. “Whether they were drunk or not, we will get to know only after the lab results come. The people who protested claimed that the men were drunk. We are not sure yet,” he added.