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A man buys numerous bottles of liquor after India relaxed restrictions on the sale of alcohol earlier in May, amid concerns about the financial impact of lost revenue. But increased alcohol consumption has led to a rise in domestic abuse, women’s groups say. Photo: EPA-EFE

India’s resumption of alcohol sales during lockdown is fuelling a rise in domestic violence

  • When India imposed its strict coronavirus lockdown in March, alcohol sales were not allowed. But 41 days later, it allowed stores to reopen
  • Women’s groups say there has been a rise in reports of abuse, with several groups protesting outside liquor stores
A few days ago, Jaidevi Kashyap had to dial 100, India’s emergency police helpline number. Her husband was drunk and had slapped their son in a fit of rage, and broken a fan, lights and furniture. Then he started beating her.
Domestic violence is nothing new for this 39-year-old Delhi resident, but she said her husband’s abuse abated when India went into lockdown in March and alcohol sales were banned.

“It happened only after he got access to alcohol,” she said. “Please get liquor shops closed, at least during the lockdown.”

People buy alcohol after the Indian government relaxed its restrictions on alcohol sales during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: EPA-EFE
India initially listed alcohol as a non-essential commodity and prohibited its sale during its extensive coronavirus containment measures. But 41 days into the strict lockdown, the government relented amid concerns over lost tax revenue, and allowed liquor stores to reopen countrywide except in containment zones, imposing a special “corona tax” of 70 per cent in some places.

As soon as that happened, people like Kashyap’s husband rushed to horde liquor, apparently paying much higher prices than usual.

Kashyap is worried about her family’s finances. Her husband lost his job as a skilled labourer during the lockdown, and now he is spending their savings on alcohol too. She is not sure what caused his outburst, but said he recently lost 60,000 rupees (around US$800) in a bet.


Several studies, including one in Aids and Behaviour journal, have found that gender-based violence against married women in India is exacerbated by alcohol use. Poonam, a gender activist in Delhi, said she was recently contacted by two women who said their husbands had beaten them after they had been drinking.

“We had already been receiving dozens of distress calls from women locked in with their abusive partners. Now this number is expected to surge,” she said.

A woman and her daughter wait for transport to take them home to Uttar Pradesh, after a limited reopening of India's giant rail network following a nearly seven-week lockdown. Photo: Reuters

India’s National Commission for Women said it had received 587 complaints from women between March 23 and April 16, of which 239 were related to domestic violence. The government has set up over 50 helplines to register such complaints.

But women’s rights activist Madhu Bala said this data is nowhere close to the real number of women facing abuse every day.

Domestic violence comes to a head in locked-down India

“Most of these helpline numbers offer paid services and the women belonging to lower income groups or those employed in unorganised sectors may not have the money to recharge their cellphones,” she said. “At a time when they are not able to buy a simple antibiotic, how are they supposed to make calls and send emails?

“Besides, a large number of women live in cramped spaces, with their families having all of a room to call home,” she added.

An Indian woman wearing a mask walks in front of graffiti in Bangalore. Photo: EPA-EFE

“They are scared of calling the authorities. I am hearing about so many women being beaten up by their husbands after getting caught either by family or neighbours while making calls. And even when they manage to call, they don’t necessarily get help. Many women have reported being yelled at and sent back home by cops, who are entrusted with enforcing the lockdown,” she said.


After the Indian government relaxed restrictions on alcohol sales, several groups of women gathered outside liquor shops in different states to protest. Some even got arrested.

India extends coronavirus lockdown until May 31 after cases surge

Rani Kumari, who lives in a resettlement colony in Delhi, said she witnesses drunken brawls in her neighbourhood almost every day.


“My neighbour regularly beats up his wife after drinking. The other day, he made a ruckus at 4.30 in the morning. On another occasion, I saw him fighting with three other men from my terrace. All of them were in an inebriated state,” she said. “We live in such cramped spaces and these brawls and the unmanaged crowd at liquor shops put all of us at risk.”

She recently wrote to the police, urging them not to allow her neighbourhood liquor shops to open. Around 60 other people in her colony did the same, including Amit Awasthi. He said the police have so far been supportive, and that nearby liquor shops are shut. But men like Rani’s neighbour anyway find ways to smuggle the liquor in.

India eases coronavirus lockdown, leading to brawls outside liquor stores

Madhu pointed out that alcohol use is not the cause of domestic violence, but it does make it worse.


“When the government was preparing for the lockdown, did the thought of women who regularly face abuse at home even cross their minds? If you didn’t feel the need to issue specific guidelines and sensitise the police, then you either lack empathy or do not know the reality of the women in the country,” she said.

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