Toxic Moonshine Leaves at Least 53 Dead in India’s South

2 weeks ago 15

Asia Pacific|Toxic Moonshine Leaves at Least 53 Dead in India’s South

  • U.S.
  • World
  • Business
  • Arts
  • Lifestyle
  • Opinion
  • Audio
  • Games
  • Cooking
  • Wirecutter
  • The Athletic

Consumption of tainted bootleg alcohol has caused several instances of mass deaths in recent years as drinkers seek out illicit liquor to save money or evade the law.

Several people stand around a mound of straw with small fires burning on top of it.
Family members performed last rites on Thursday during a funeral for victims who died after consuming toxic bootleg alcohol in India’s Tamil Nadu State.Credit...R. Satish Babu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mujib MashalHari Kumar

June 22, 2024Updated 9:31 a.m. ET

The death toll from tainted liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has reached 53, officials say, and is likely to rise, with many others in critical condition. The victims were sickened by drinking a bootleg alcohol with a high content of methanol.

Rajat Chaturvedi, the police superintendent in the Kallakurichi District, where the past week’s deaths have occurred, said that 98 people had been hospitalized. “The dead and hospitalized people are mostly daily wage laborers,” he said.

The first death, from drinking local alcohol sold in small pouches for about 50 cents, Mr. Chaturvedi said, was reported on Wednesday. The village of Karunapuram was the worst hit, with more than a dozen victims receiving last rites in a mass cremation on Thursday.

Consumption of tainted alcohol has caused several mass-casualty events across India in recent years. In some states that prohibit alcohol, people turn to smuggled or unregulated liquor. Elsewhere, villagers choose the bootleg product because of its lower price.

  • In 2019, at least 150 people died in two districts of the northeastern state of Assam from drinking bootleg alcohol. Weeks earlier, 100 people had died in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

  • In August 2020, at least 120 people died in Punjab from drinking toxic local alcohol, with 92 of the deaths in just one district.

  • In December 2022, at least 70 people died from drinking tainted alcohol in the eastern state of Bihar. Bihar has banned the sale and consumption of alcohol since 2016, but people consume illegal smuggled alcohol or cross the border into Nepal for cheap local alcohol.

Last year, at least 22 people died from consuming similar toxic local alcohol in two other districts of Tamil Nadu. The latest mass casualty has put the state’s government under pressure from opposition leaders as well as from the state’s high court. Opposition lawmakers, who arrived at the assembly dressed in black, called for the resignation of Tamil Nadu’s chief minister, M.K. Stalin.

Mr. Stalin announced an investigation headed by a retired judge and ordered the police across the state to crack down on the homemade liquor trade.

The man accused of making this week’s batch of poisonous alcohol has been arrested, along with his wife and at least one other person, according to police officials. The Kallakurichi District’s top civilian official has been transferred, while several police officers have been suspended.

Local residents have said that the police were complicit, taking a cut from the bootlegger’s peddlers who brought the alcohol to the villages, according to the Indian news outlet The News Minute.

“We cannot say direct involvement of local police, but due to their lack of action, police people were suspended, right from constable to deputy superintendent of police,” said Mr. Chaturvedi, who took charge of the district’s police force after the tragedy.

Mujib Mashal is the South Asia bureau chief for The Times, helping to lead coverage of India and the diverse region around it, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. More about Mujib Mashal

Read Entire Article