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Lockdown’s a relief for this Rajasthan village — it has kept Gujarat’s booze tourists away

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The Aravallis provide a grand backdrop to signage for local bars at Ratanpur village in Rajasthan | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
The Aravallis provide a grand backdrop to signage for local bars at Ratanpur village in Rajasthan | Praveen Jain | ThePrint


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New Delhi: The nationwide Covid-19 lockdown has brought peace to Ratanpur, a village of 70-odd families that lies on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border. In normal times, the village serves as a hub for liquor seekers from Gujarat, a dry state, and the swarms of daily arrivals allegedly harass women — molesting them and clicking photos without permission — and create much trouble. 

But the lockdown has led to the closure of all local bars, and restrictions on all inter-state travel except for essential services, and the residents of Ratanpur couldn’t be happier.

“It’s been peaceful — we haven’t been harassed by drunken outsiders. It’s a big relief,” said Panu Dama, a resident of the village. 

Women of Ratanpur claim they suffer constant harassment at the hands of liquor seekers from Gujarat | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Women of Ratanpur claim they suffer constant harassment at the hands of liquor seekers from Gujarat | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

“The riverbed is dry now, but during the monsoon, the men would sometimes swim in it naked,” added Chiman Dama, who lives behind one of the bars. “They should shut these liquor shops. Our protests have fallen on deaf ears, but this lockdown has shown us what it means to live in peace, without fearing for our safety.”


Also Read: Global unrest due to Covid-19 lockdown indicates steep rise in poverty and inequality


‘No local resident involved in bars’

Gujarat has been under prohibition since before its formation in 1960, a decision meant to honour the wishes of its most famous son, Mahatma Gandhi, a staunch opponent of liquor consumption.

However, residents looking for a drink have been known to beat the ban by travelling to Gujarat’s borders with states where no such restrictions exist. This demand has spawned a string of liquor shops and bars on Gujarat’s borders, but it is a trend with few supporters in places like Ratanpur, which lies on National Highway 8 in the lap of the Aravallis.

The village is located across the Ratanpur border, which is situated approximately 125 km from the Gujarat capital Gandhinagar.

A truck travels along NH-8 near the Ratanpur border | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
A truck travels along NH-8 near the Ratanpur border | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Ratanpur is a small farming village, where, according to the 2011 census, almost all residents belong to the Scheduled Tribes. The houses are located atop the Aravallis, which stretch along the highway, and the fields stand at their foothills. 

Just ahead of the fields, where villagers cultivate wheat, mustard, and bajra, lie four or five bars that line the highway.

According to the villagers, before the lockdown, as many as 200 cars would come into Ratanpur from Gujarat around sunset every day, and crowds would practically be spilling out of the bars.

The proximity of the bars with their fields, villagers said, meant interaction with those visitors was inevitable. 

The situation was such, they claimed, that the families felt obligated to monitor the movements of their women to make sure they were safe, only sending them out with a male escort. 

“We either didn’t let them go there at all, or we stayed with them when they needed to work,” said Chiman. “Sometimes, if we intervened and asked them not to come into our villages, the crowds would get violent.”

Narmada Dama, Chiman’s neighbour, said they were used to the daily catcalling and harassment, but someone would cross the line every once in a while. This one time, she added, one of the visitors climbed all the way up to her house.

“In a drunken stupor, someone walked up the hill from the highway and came to our house, just to ogle,” she said, adding that the lockdown was a relief. “For the first time, all of this has come to a complete stop for weeks on end.” 

Despite Ratanpur being a liquor hub, sarpanch Babulal Ahari Gapunjrawada said, less than 10 per cent of the village’s 350-odd residents drank alcohol, and none benefited financially from the bars. 

“We have written to the MP and MLA asking for these bars to be removed. They don’t help us in any way and disrupt our work,” he added. “Everyone here relies on farming to earn a living, and no one works in the bars.” 


Also Read: ‘At least Modi is feeding us’ — migrants, poor say lockdown is tough but give PM a thumbs up


A new problem

Even so, the villagers claimed the lockdown had brought another problem, a difficulty in accessing rations. 

Pointing to the house adjacent to his, 61-year-old Narsingh Dama said, “That house falls in Gujarat, and they get their rations on time. We get only wheat but they’re getting everything in ample amounts.”

Ratanpur resident Narsingh Dama points towards the neighbouring village in Gujarat | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Ratanpur resident Narsingh Dama points towards the neighbouring village in Gujarat | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

Under the National Food Security Act, targeted households in Rajasthan are entitled to 5 kg of wheat or rice per family member per month, at Rs 2 per kg. Under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, the relief package announced by the Modi government in March to ease the impact of the lockdown for the country’s poor, families are entitled to a kg of dal (pulses)/month until June, but residents of Ratanpur said they were yet to receive it.

The supplies of oil, rice, and dal, among other things, had either dwindled or dried up, adding that they hadn’t received the rations for April at all.

“We’ve run out of soap. At the (fair price) shop, they’re selling dal worth Rs 50 at Rs 70, so we are not buying it,” said Narmada. “They should give us dal with the rations while the lockdown is in place, because it’s unaffordable now,” she added.

Asked about the complaints, Kana Ram, the district magistrate for Dungarpur, under which Ratnapur falls, said “all beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act have been given the rations for the month of April”. 

“Those who are not beneficiaries and very needy are being given food packets. We have also set up food banks at the gram panchayat level,” he added. “The benefits under the PM Gareeb Kalyan Yojana will come in the next few days.”

The situation in Ratnapur is starkly different from that of their neighbours across the border: In Gujarat’s Pahadi village, a family said it had received 20 kg of wheat, 10 kg of rice, 1 kg of dal and 2.5 kg of sugar — all in line with Gujarat’s ration entitlements.

Khatkal Hirabhai of Pahadi village in Gujarat with his family | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Khatkal Hirabhai of Pahadi village in Gujarat with his family | Praveen Jain | ThePrint

But residents here claimed to have their own set of problems. “We’ve got the entitlements, but I have to feed a family of seven,” said Khatkal Hirabhai, a resident of Pahadi. “We’ve had to stop our dhaba business… so we’re not earning any money right now. We will try to make these rations last.”


Also Read: No matter how you look at it, India’s lockdown-2 can cost as many lives as it will save


 

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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