Kerala’s Bond With Alcohol – A Bond That Even Corona Can’t Break

Amidst all the stories and social media updates about COVID related news and stories about surviving the lockdown, toddy tutorials have gently snuck their way into people’s feeds. It is very easy to chance upon a video of a jolly-looking Malayali chettan lovingly stirring up tender coconut water. Sometimes, in the corner of such videos, you’ll find a small disclaimer that says “Alcohol consumption is injurious to health”. How cute!

Of course, if these videos are showing up everywhere, it is clearly because they have been searched for (a lot); indicating the average Malayali’s frustration at the unavailability of alcohol during the lockdown. We undeniably miss the weird things people say when they’re drunk. But, lately, people have found all kinds of alternatives to fulfil their alcohol requirements. Some reached out for arishtams, resulting in a 20% rise in arishtam sales since the lockdown. 

However, not all the alternatives people chose were safe. Stories of people consuming aftershave or sanitizer because of withdrawal have made the news close to the beginning of the lockdown. As of March 31st, Kerala saw nine suicides because of withdrawal symptoms from alcohol deprivation, but only one death due to the virus. 

After this though, the number of distress calls from people suffering withdrawal has come down significantly and no new cases of suicide have been reported. While initial reports ascribed these changes to the fact that people may be successfully abstaining from alcohol, more recent news suggests that people have been following those tutorials after all. 

Throughout the lockdown, people have been making liquor in their homes, and some have also been selling it to others. Post-May 3, all the way up to May 6th, the excise department has been seizing large amounts of illicit liquor from different parts of the state. While most of the people who have been caught were selling liquor, there are also those who make it for personal use, and these are the people who are hardest to identify. 

Restrictions and rules have not in any way reduced the alcohol consumption, but this is not exclusive to this lockdown period. Kerala has seen multiple governments creating laws to deal with the state’s high alcohol consumption, and those who deal in illicit liquor have been finding new ways to evade those laws. 

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