BBC News – Dark truth behind India’s post-lock-down liquor lines

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 14 May 2020. When some Indian cities eased the grinding lock-down last week to prevent the spread of the novel corona-virus, long queues were seen outside liquor shops across the country.

In cities like Mumbai, a Covid-19 hotspot, booze-loving people made a mockery of social distancing rules, prompting the government to shut the shops again. Police baton charged unruly buyers. There was social media chatter over a 52,000 rupees ($690; £560) receipt of a single alcohol buyer in Bangalore.

The manic rush was not surprising: the harsh lock-down meant there was a pent up demand for booze. There have been reports of a spike in alcohol sales around the world: in the UK, sales were up by 22% in March and in the US they have risen 55% compared to the same period last year.

Selling alcohol has never been easy in India. E-commerce and home deliveries are not allowed. Many state governments have turned against booze because prohibition is a potential vote winner. Each of the 29 states has its own policies to control the production, price, sale and taxes on booze.

Yet, by volume, India is the world’s second-largest consumer of alcohol, behind China, according IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, a London-based research firm. India consumes more than 663 million litres of alcohol, up 11% from 2017. Per-capita consumption is rising.

India consumes more whiskey than any other country in the world, about three times more than the US, which is the next biggest consumer. Nearly one in every two bottles of whiskey brought around the world is now sold in India. When worldwide booze consumption dipped in 2018, India partly drove a 7% uptick in the global whiskey market.

Five southern states, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, account for more than 45% of all liquor sold in India. Not surprisingly, more than 10% of their revenues come from taxes on liquor sales, according to the research wing of Crisil, a ratings and analytics firm.

Another six top consuming states, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra, mop up between less than five to 10% of their revenues from liquor.

“But not a drop was sold in April, and given the dire state of their revenues, these states have been anxious to make good their losses by opening up the liquor vends,” the research agency said. Lack of liquor taxes has left near-bankrupt states groaning under the lockdown with little money to spend.

But India’s growing alcohol consumption masks a darker reality.

A third of Indian men drink alcohol, according to a new government report. More than 14% of all Indians aged between 10 and 75 drink. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 11% of Indians are binge drinkers, against the global average of 16%.

Most worryingly, a third of the drinkers consume cheap and dodgy locally brewed or country liquor, responsible for several tragedies, involving adulteration. Some 19% of alcohol users are dependent on it, according to the report. Around 30 million people consume alcohol in a “harmful manner”.

Also, the WHO reckons that “unrecorded” alcohol makes up more than half of all alcohol consumed in India. Locally brewed liquor, for example, is not recorded or taxed in some states.

A survey by the International Alliance of Responsible Drinking in 2014 found a large number of drinkers preferring country liquor or homemade alcohol, often counterfeit and contraband.

Indians are drinking more than before. A recent study of liquor consumption in 189 countries between 1990 and 2017 found that consumption in India had grown by 38%, from 4.3 litres a year per adult to 5.9 litres.

Jakob Manthey of Technische Universitat Dresden in Germany and a lead author of the study, told me that consumption had gone up because the “number of people with sufficient income to purchase alcohol has outpaced the effects of measures aiming to reduce consumption”.

Booze is also becoming increasingly affordable: research found that beer, for example, has become more affordable in lower and middle income countries as compared to high income countries.

Mr Manthey says the main burden from alcohol in India stems from non-communicable diseases, such as cirrhosis of liver and cardiovascular diseases. “They are increasingly relevant for public health in India and increasing alcohol use will only pronounce this trend”.

In 2012, a third of all road accident deaths were attributed to drunk driving. Nearly 10% of adult men were found to be addicted to alcohol, according to the National Mental Healthy Survey, 2015-16. More than 60% of deaths due to cirrhosis of liver were linked to consumption of alcohol.

Alcohol consumption is emerging as a major public health problem . It has been also strongly linked to domestic violence: rural women in large parts of the country have been the greatest supporters of prohibition.

Making liquor more expensive might not help. Research by Santosh Kumar, an economist at Sam Houston State University, found raising prices on alcohol like whiskey and rum produce “modest and small” reduction in consumption.

Dr Kumar believes a “combination of price controls and awareness campaigns” would be most effective in tackling adverse effects of harmful drinking in India.

Yogendra Yadav, leader of the Swaraj India party and a political analyst, suggests a “national plan for gradual reduction” of India’s dependence on alcohol.

This would include governments reducing dependence on liquor revenues, stopping aggressive promotion of booze, enforcing existing rules and laws about sale and retail of liquor, and taking the consent of 10% of local people before giving a retail license in a neighbourhood, and using revenues from liquor sales to wean people away from drinking.

Enforcing prohibition over freedom of choice has proved to be self-defeating and led to a thriving black market. Making drinking a moral issue raises the hackles of the liberals.

But, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a leading analyst, says, if “we really care for freedom, we also need to question our own addiction to the cultural and political economy of alcohol, and find intelligent pathways around a complex problem”.

It won’t be easy. – Ex-DGP Virk remarks on Multani Case: If they didn’t give you justice for 29 years, then how can you expect it now?

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 14 May 2020. In an interview with Journalist Ritesh Lakhi, Ex-DGP Sarbdeep Singh Virk has said that if the family of Balwant Singh Multani couldn’t get justice during the last 29 years, then how can they expect it now. “If they didn’t give justice when Multani was murdered then how do you think that justice will come as a gift for you now,” he said.

Virk further said that people will have to unite and build up pressure on the state for justice otherwise there is no hope.

Admitting the prevalence of corruption in Punjab administration, Virk said that the administration of Punjab has been infected with corruption virus since long. “Cases like extrajudicial abduction and murder of Balwant Singh Multani are just a small manifestation of this corrupt system,” he added.

Ex-DGP Virk admitted that a lot of innocents got murdered under the garb of fight with ‘terrorism’ but unfortunately all these excesses got buried under the carpet. “I personally oppose such extra-judicial killings carried out intentionally by the cops for the sake of monetary rewards or promotion,” he added.

Citing an Urdu couplet “Mehsoos Yeh Hota Hai Yeh Daur-e-Tabahi Hai, Sheeshe Ki Adalat Mein Pathar Ki Gawahi Hai”, Virk said that the India system is very fragile and it becomes inefficient in front of a powerful person. “Getting justice in today’s system is very tough,” he said.

Grudging over no inquiry in the disappearance of Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s father and uncle, who were gazetted officers, Virk said that Professor Devender Pal Singh was innocent.

Virk also took on Badals for endorsing an armed attack on Sri Darbar Sahib in June-1984 and appointing Sumedh Saini as DGP of Punjab by sidelining senior IPS officers.

Ex-DGP Virk remarks on Multani Case: If they didn’t give you justice for 29 years, then how can you expect it now?

Gent – Gentbrugge to Korenmarkt & Gentbrugse Meersen

Gentbrugge to Korenmarkt
26 March 2020

The COVID-19 Korenmarkt
No tourists – no shoppers

Gentbrugse Meersen
27 March 2020


Some green about, but the trees are not yet in leaf

The barefooted path
I often walk here, but keep my shoes on

I am childlike enough to want to walk on these tree-trunks
Our great poet Guido Gezelle wrote:
Be childlike – not childish

Only through ‘traffic’ for pedestrians and cyclists

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Religion News Service (RNS) – The false choice presented to Sikh doctors serving COVID patients

Simran Jeet Singh

RNS, 13 May 2020. Every evening, at 7 pm, our family stands at the window of our apartment in New York City to join the chorus of cheers for the brave heroes who continue to serve us during this pandemic.

Like most people across the country and around the world, our hearts are with the health care professionals and other essential workers who are putting their lives on the line each and every day.

Our cheers and our loving attention, it’s the least that we can offer.

As with every story, though, there are hundreds more stories untold, floating somewhere beneath the surface. One of these untold stories is about a different type of struggle faced by people I know and care for.

It’s no overstatement that our botched response to the corona-virus has resulted in immense confusion and misinformation.

One such uncertainty is the claim, made in hospitals around the world, that there is no personal protective equipment, or PPE, that can protect someone with a beard. This misinformation has had an enormous impact on Sikhs and others who maintain facial hair as part of their faith.

Recently two Canadian brothers, both Sikhs and both doctors, announced their decision to shave their beards in order to wear a particular kind of PPE. The two were lauded for their commitment to service and their willingness to sacrifice for their patients.

But as my friend Jaskaran Sandhu has pointed out, it’s not the feel-good story that some suggest.

While the N95 mask creates challenges for people with beards for numerous reasons, there are other types of gear, including powered air purifying respirators and controlled air purifying respirators, that offer full coverage for those with facial hair.

Many Sikh health care providers, moreover, have been able to modify N95 masks and other equipment to create workable solutions for making sure they and their patients are protected.

Dr Sanjeet Singh Saluja is interviewed about the decision that he and his brother made to shave their beards.

The story actually presents a false choice: Either shave your beard or stop serving your community in the greatest time of need. If you know anything about Sikh teachings, you will know that, for a devout Sikh, neither of these is acceptable.

That their leaders and employers either did not know about alternative options or failed to provide them exposes a deeper problem.

Underneath this story is the deep pain of a people who have fought for their religious freedoms and sought alternatives to shaving, who live to serve humanity and also cherish their uncut hair as a priceless gift from their beloved gurus.

This is not a judgment against the brothers: All people are entitled to practice their faith as they see fit; it’s not our place to judge someone’s spiritual practices or choices.

I also recognize that this is an extremely difficult position that I have not faced personally; it wouldn’t be fair for me to sit here and criticize someone for tough choices that I have never had to make.

My frustration here is twofold: First, if minority faith communities really had equal footing in American society, and if leadership sincerely held their commitments to diversity and inclusion, no Sikh medical professionals would be asked to choose between their faith and their career in the first place.

Second, that this story has gone viral ignores the millions of people who have figured out how to serve with their faith intact. It renders their contributions invisible and could even hurt the long-established legal rights of Sikhs to receive religious accommodations in the future.

I don’t yet know of a single Sikh in the United States who has shaved his facial hair to preserve his job in this pandemic. I hope not to hear of such an instance, both because of our commitment to protecting religious freedom and also because there are safe and viable solutions available.

But we don’t know what accommodations people of all faiths have had to make to serve during the crisis.

Underneath the story of the Sikh brothers are the untold stories of those who have chosen to find a way to maintain their faith while continuing to serve, and whose service is no less valuable or lifesaving than that of those who are receiving extra commendations for making this false choice.

And underneath this story is the more important conclusion: that we have a responsibility to give all out front-line workers the tools they need, both as a matter of equality of opportunity and out of respect for the service and sacrifice they’re already offering us freely. – Ramzan in riot-torn Northeast Delhi: As desperation grows with lock-down, charities feed the hungry

Many people in Shiv Vihar and Mustafabad lost their homes in the communal violence in February. The Covid-19 epidemic has pushed them to the edge.

Saba Naqvi

New Delhi – India, 14 May 2020. On 23 February, vicious communal violence broke out in Northeast Delhi and continued for three days. Homes were set on fire, vehicles blasted, neighbourhoods looted and over a dozen mosques vandalised. Though Hindus faced loss of life and property, the brunt of the violence was borne by the Muslim community.

A month later, the nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 was implemented on 25 March. Before long, media and state narratives began to claim that Muslims were “super carriers” of the coronavirus. By then, media persons had mostly disappeared from the riot-torn areas.

Northeast Delhi, one of India’s most densely-populated districts according to the last census, is a microcosm of the community’s livelihood patterns. Data shows that most Muslim workers are self-employed in the unorganised sector. Participation in salaried jobs is abysmally low. With the lockdown, the vast majority of people here have lost their sources of income.

I spent three days catching up with the people I had met during the violence, nearly 75 days earlier, to find out how the victims, beaten, profiled, isolated, and largely abandoned by the state, had been surviving, from riots to lockdown.

Scenes from riot-torn areas

Zardozi is an elaborate form of embroidery. The process involves craftsmen sitting cross-legged over a wooden frame with fabric stretched across it, using hooks and needles to create patterns with gold wire and sequins. Until a few months ago, Mohammad Qasim used to own a tiny zardozi unit in the Jafrabad neighbourhood, where he embroidered lehengas and sold them to big showrooms in the national capital.

Around three weeks ago, he opened a grocery shop and is now distributing rations to those in need. Most of the skilled zardozi workers from Bareilly and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh who worked for Qasim were able to leave for home, but some got left behind.

Qasim’s friend Babbu Malik is a community leader and businessman who used to trade in ready-made garments. He dealt in jackets made from nylon polyester fabric imported from China. They were manufactured in Jafrabad and sold all over India. Now, the entire supply chain has been snapped.

Malik has dipped into his reserves and along with his friends, started distributing food packets for free. “It is the month of Ramzan when those who can, will give,” said Malik. “Inshallah [God willing], no one will starve in the neighbourhood.”

Similarly, Haji Waseem Ansari a garment manufacturer who had to shut his unit employing a few hundred workers, says he is getting frequent distress calls from those in need. He says it is God’s will that he give whole-heartedly this Ramzan.

Nadeem Siddiqui, who runs a small transport business, spends his days procuring edible goods from wholesale markets to distribute in Jafrabad.

Jafrabad has a thriving middle class, which makes such acts of charity possible. But in neighbourhoods like Mustafabad, there seem to be few signs of hope. Burkha-clad women walk up to visitors and ask whether they are social workers and can they help. Many are widows, while others emerge as men find it humiliating.

“From working with my hands, I now have to hold out my hands,” said an out-of-work tailor.

There are complaints that amid the despondency, a “survival of the fittest” hierarchy is emerging, with local thugs dominating the food distribution chain. Ali Mirza, a builder, probably distributes food packets only because a man of his stature is expected to do so during the holy month. When a woman comes to his doorsteps to return the spoilt food she had been handed, Mirza asked his staff to send her away.

At food distribution outlets run by the state, the quality of the food is abysmal. “We are only alive because we are now eating what dogs eat, as we have no money to buy anything,” said the caretaker of a mosque.

The Mustafabad lane leads to Shiv Vihar, the neighbourhood worst-hit by the riots. On 26 February, I had met Salman Ansari, a welder who fled when his rented home and workshop were burnt down. The only help he has received has not been from the state, but from some activists who transferred money into his account. He came to meet me in Mustafabad with his infant daughter, coincidentally named Saba.

He led me through winding lanes to the room where he now lives with his wife and two daughters. It is his third home in two months. The first was in a relief camp that was abruptly shut down due to Covid-19; the second, a room where he could not afford the rent. He said he would never return to Shiv Vihar.

The absent state

Reyazuddin used to distribute toast made in a local bakery. After his home on Street Number 18 was burnt down in the riots, he got an interim relief amount of Rs 25,000. He was forced to leave the relief camp where he was staying with his family of six, including his aging mother after the lockdown. He had no choice but to return to his burnt home.

In early February, during the Delhi elections, Reyazuddin had been enthusiastically rooting for the Aam Aadmi Party MLA Haji Yunus. Now, he says, he realises that no one really cares.

The Delhi state government has been distributing cooked food on the premises of Manoj Public School, located opposite the destroyed Medina Masjid. But Reyazuddin’s family has been fasting during Ramzan and the food is distributed at a time when they cannot eat it, at 11 am and 6 pm.

However, he is grateful to volunteers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, who distributed 10 kg wheat, five kg rice, oil, dal and dates to break the fast.

Shiv Vihar is filled with burnt homes, soot-covered streets and filthy open drains from which corpses were pulled out. Here and in Mustafabad, there is a daily struggle for survival.

Meanwhile, even amid lockdown, the government has arrested more than 20 people for participating in the Citizenship Amendment Act protests. Residents of Jafrabad say the state sees them as enemies. They say they are treated like terrorists, cut off, adrift, surviving one day at a time.