Dehra Dun : ‘Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum; Drink for the devil or drink for the rest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum’.
These lines from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” seem to have become the swan song of a number of unemployed youth not only in the Doon Valley but the entire state of Uttarakhand as they roam the villages lying in the outskirts of the cities on their bikes peddling liquor, both country made and Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL).
While they are not making hooch (liquor distilled clandestinely in the rural hinterlands) and selling it, they stick to selling the liquor that they either purchase from the ‘thekas’ (licensed country liquor stalls) or from licensed IMFL shops. Sometimes the liquor is procured from people who smuggle in the liquor to Uttarakhand from adjoining states, where it is cheaper.
Ramesh (name changed) is a young man in his twenties. He peddles his liquor in the villages that lie off the main Chakrata Road in Dehra Dun, where there are no liquor shops of either country liquor or IMFL. He goes around his task every evening starting at four, on a motorbike with the liquor adequately concealed. He has his regular customers and he has to make his customary halts.
He charges a few extra bucks which make his profit and the work is over in about two hours, by which times he finishes the round of the villages where his regular clients live. Both Ramesh and the villagers are satisfied, as he has made his money for the day and the villagers have got their day’s supply without having to move out of their houses.
Without mincing words Ramesh says that he is no college drop-out nor a criminal. “I have graduated from College and have searched high and low fro a job. Hoping that statehood would bring fresh avenues of jobs and the people from the rural areas and hinterlands would get benefit, I kept applying but to no avail”, he laments.
On the contrary, he feels that his chances of getting a job were far higher when the region was a part of Uttar Pradesh (which was carved out to become Uttarakhand) than it is now. There was corruption at that time also, but now it has reached an all time high and it is not only those with connection who get away with the jobs, but huge sums of money also exchange hands, with no one bothering to take stock of the problem, he alleges.
Asserting that a number of unemployed educated youth like him peddling liquor on their mobikes, he makes it clear that it is no hooch that they sell.
“We do not sell clandestinely made liquor that the villagers ell, for it could mean peddling death. We sell material that is from licensed distilleries and there is no foul play. We take a profit, which the people we are selling to are aware of and are willing to pay us”, he claims.
Asked how many unemployed youth like him could be out selling liquor in the hinterlands of this small hill state, he says that their number could well be in hundreds if not in thousands. In the higher reaches of the state there are more people in the profession, as there are fewer liquor shops and even fewer number of cops, whereas the number of alcohol addicts is very high.
On the dear of getting caught, Ramesh feels that he is peddling the liquor in a safe region as there are no police stations or police chowkis, nor are there any road barriers where the vehicles are checked and as such he moves about freely. Moreover he now has a fixed clientele, who do not sneak upon him to the cops as they too are saved the bother and money of making a trip to the city to buy their daily supply.
A resident of one of Bhagwanpur that lies about seven kms off the main road admitted that he buys his liquor from the youth who come with it on their mobikes. “The motor cycle is their trade mark, so if some day the person from whom you buy your stuff does not come for one reason or the other, you can take it from another youth going by on a motor cycle. It is a well known secret”, he admits.
He says that there is no illicit distillation of hooch in the village, as one fears that drinking it could be dangerous. As there are no takers of hooch, there is no one making it on the sly and also there is the fear of excise personnel raiding the villages. “The present set up seems to be safe and congenial to both, which is why it is going on without any problems”, he confided.