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Wednesday July 17, 2024

Shock in Indian district where 56 died from tainted alcohol

Indian police said Monday death toll from toxic batch had risen to 56, with 117 people in hospital recovering

By AFP
June 25, 2024
Relatives mourn those who died after drinking toxic alcohol in Indias Tamil Nadu state on Monday. — AFP/file
Relatives mourn those who died after drinking toxic alcohol in India's Tamil Nadu state on Monday. — AFP/file 

KALLAKURICHI, India: Plumes of smoke from funeral pyres darkened the sky Monday over the Indian town at the epicentre of a poisoning by a batch of illegal alcohol that has killed 56 and hospitalised more than 100.

Wailing relatives mourned the dead, draping flower wreaths on coffins as the community gathered in shock in Kallakurichi district in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Indian police said Monday the death toll from the toxic batch had risen to 56, with 117 people in hospital recovering, several in serious condition.Others have been blinded after drinking the locally made “arrack” last week, which was laced with methanol.

Kokila, aged 16, lost both her parents to the toxic brew. She is determined to make them proud.“My father wanted me to be an engineer,” Kokila said, who uses only one name. “That is why I will study and become one.”

Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but last week´s poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol, which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

Top district police official Rajat Chaturvedi told AFP that “56 people have died so far and around 117 people are currently under medical treatment”.Political rivals in the state have blamed each other for the deaths, and the site of the tragedy on Monday witnessed a protest by local opposition politicians.

Poor labourers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.This batch, however, was devastating.

Some people went blind, while others collapsed in the street and died before they could make it to hospital.Murugan said he had tried to get his father, 55-year-old Vijayan, to give up drinking alcohol. Vijayan also died after drinking the tainted batch.Murugan said government compensation payments would not make up for the loss.“Despite repeated requests, he continued to consume liquor in the evening after work,” he said.

“The government has given us money, but I can´t get my father back.”Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal moonshine.Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.