Indian Bishops mourn loss of lives in hooch tragedy

Consumption of spurious liquor led to the death of 57 people, most of them daily wage laborers, and left 150 others battling for life in a hospital in a southern Indian state last week.

Jun 24, 2024

Relatives performing the final rites for those who died in the illicit liquor tragedy in Kallakuruchi town in India's southern Tamil Nadu state on June 19. (Photo: Twitter)

CHENNAI: Consumption of spurious liquor led to the death of 57 people, most of them daily wage laborers, and left 150 others battling for life in a hospital in a southern Indian state last week.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) expressed its “profound sorrow and condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives after consuming methanol-mixed liquor in Tamil Nadu [state].”

Many of those who died were Dalits or formerly untouchables from Kallakuruchi town and its nearby villages who worked as daily laborers.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this heartbreaking time,” the CBCI said in a June 21 statement.

The Catholic bishops also sought action against those involved in the illicit liquor trade that led to the tragedy.

The state police’s crime investigation department has arrested seven suspects so far since the tragedy on June 19.

The victims, among them two women and a transgender person, consumed the spurious liquor in the evening after a hard day’s work.

“Among the dead are a few Protestant Christians,” said a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore which covers the Kallakuruchi town and its surrounding area.

However, the exact number of Christians who died or are in serious condition could not be ascertained due to the highly tense situation, he said.

“It is still explosive despite heightened security,” the priest who wished to be anonymous told UCA News on June 24.

The state government has transferred District Collector Sravan Kumar Jatavath and suspended Superintendent of Police Samay Singh Meena, the top officials in the district, along with others for dereliction of duty.

Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M K Stalin described the deaths as “painful.”

“We are taking all required measures effectively to curb the liquor menace, which affects future generations,” he told the state’s legislative assembly on June 21. 

The chief minister announced financial compensation for the families of those who died in the tragedy and also offered to take care of the educational expenses and hostel fees of their children.

The Catholic bishops have strongly condemned the production and distribution of illegal liquor.

“The widespread sale of such toxic substances, often adulterated with methanol to increase potency, poses a grave threat to public health and safety,” they said in their statement.

The “illicit trade” not only endangers human lives but also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and exploitation, particularly affecting vulnerable communities and daily-wage workers. “The hooch tragedy in Kallakuruchi highlights the urgent need for stringent enforcement and robust measures to eradicate the menace of illicit liquor” the prelates added.

The CBCI has appealed to the government authorities to implement comprehensive strategies, including community awareness programs and stricter penalties for offenders, to prevent such incidents in the future.

The bishops also want all Catholic dioceses in India to initiate awareness programs against the menace of illicit liquor.

“We call upon all dioceses to initiate social awareness programs and campaigns against illegal liquor in their respective areas,” they appealed.

“We also urge all citizens to abstain from consuming such dangerous substances and to actively help others in their communities to do the same. Together, we can combat this grave issue and safeguard the lives of our fellow citizens,” the prelates said.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India’s more than 1. 4 billion people, about 80 percent of them

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