by Subhojit Panda
After total prohibition on the sale and consumption of liquor was imposed in Bihar and Gujarat, many people in Odisha were also in favour of a similar law being passed by the state government. While antiliquor movements in the past have failed to produce any tangible results in Odisha, ‘Sambhaba’, a social organization, has started the crusade against liquor in Odisha for the last three years. Started in the year 2014, by three city-based youth – Durga, Milan and Soumya, Sambhaba has become the main catalyst of change striving to build consensus among the people to make Odisha a liquor-free state. Sambhaba also noticed scores of slum-dwellers and the homeless in Bhubaneswar sleeping on roadsides, covering themselves with gunny bags, old plastic banners and thin clothes. Since they lacked warm blankets, they suffered from fever, cold and other diseases. Hence, they started the drive ‘Donate a Blanket’. The drive kicked off with a door-to-door campaign sensitizing people to donate blankets and warm clothes for the needy. The social media also played a crucial role to bolster the campaign. After collecting the blankets and warm clothes, they were distributed amongst the homeless in Bhubaneswar. Soon volunteers from districts of Cuttack, Nabarangpur, Khurda, Jajpur and Dhenkanal offered their help. Over 4,000 homeless people have benefitted from this campaign so far. The social organization soon shifted its focus on another vital issue of widespread liquor consumption in the state. Sambhaba started off by creating awareness on anti-liquor movement by holding placards and signature campaigns at Raahgiri that was making its debut in Bhubaneswar in 2016. Sambhaba then decided to intensify the antiliquor agitation by targeting the rural populace, especially in the villages of Cuttack, Puri, Bhadrak, Jajpur and Kendrapara districts. Demonstrations and rallies were organized to make the villagers aware about the ill-effects of liquor. Citing the anti-liquor bill passed in 1956 by Shri Nabakrushna Choudhury, the then Chief Minister of Odisha, Milan says, “It is shameful that a law passed in 1956, that completely prohibits manufacture, sale and purchase of liquor in Odisha, was never implemented in the state. Our government once claimed that a blanket ban on consumption and manufacture of liquor was unrealistic and that liquor trade business contributed a fair share of the Excise Department’s revenue. I find these statements misleading and bizarre. In fact our state is losing vital profits/revenue directly or indirectly due to the business.” Sambhaba believes, over the years the consumption of liquor has harmed the urban and rural population in more ways than one. The growing incidents of alcoholdriven domestic violence, roadaccidents, alcohol-related ailments etc. give ample testimony of the various ill-effects of liquor.
The young team is also doing its bit to instill patriotic fervor among the Bhubaneswar denizens. A street campaign named ‘Rang- De-Tiranga’ is organized every year on the occasion of Republic Day and Independence Day at Master Canteen where the revelers get their faces painted with the tricolors. Sambhaba also celebrates Martyrs Day with the slumdwellers to pay homage to the brave freedom fighters. Spurred by the success of the campaign in Bhubaneswar, the team is mulling about strengthening the anti-liquor movement in five other districts namely, Puri, Dhenkanal, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Jajpur. Team Sambhaba have kept their fingers crossed about obtaining liquor-free state status in the next two – three years if their campaign gets full-fledged support by the social organizations, rural masses, civil society members and intellectuals.