Patna: The Bihar Police’s search for illicit liquor has now led it to marriage halls and bridal rooms.
On Sunday, days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar decided to penalise police officers for not implementing Prohibition, the state police raided over 50 marriage halls in three localities in Patna.
The teams also entered the rooms of brides and other women, without permission or even a lady constable present, Patna High Court lawyer Chhaya Mishra alleged while speaking to ThePrint.
However, the searches drew a blank. There was no confirmation from the police about any seizures of liquor or arrests. ThePrint reached Patna Senior Superintendent of Police Upendra Kumar Sharma and Inspector General Sanjay Singh, but there was no response from them until this report was published.
The raids sparked outrage among the attendees, who claimed that their right to privacy was violated. Other citizens also questioned the government.
Opposition parties, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Prasad, attacked the government over its approach, calling for a reconsideration of Prohibition in the state. However, the CM defended the action, saying those who haven’t done anything don’t need to fear.
What happened during the raids
A Patna police team raided nearly 30 marriage halls located in Patliputra colony and adjoining Rajiv Nagar.
Dr Ayesha Jha, a medical practitioner from Nepal who had come to attend the marriage of her cousin, was at one of these venues.
“I was stunned when I saw cops entering the room where the bride was getting ready. They asked us to open suitcases and checked the bathroom. I cannot believe these things can happen in a democracy where the privacy of a citizen is infringed upon,” Jha told ThePrint.
In Ram Krishna Nagar, another team raided a three-storey marriage hall Bodh Vihar Mandap, and went to the bride’s room where she was sitting along with her friends. The team asked the women to open their suitcases and even checked the bathroom. This team searched around 25 marriage halls in the locality.
“We were not even informed that the police are going to check our room. The police officer even sounded apologetic, saying that his orders were from the ‘higher-ups’,” said a woman who was at Bodh Vihar Mandap, but didn’t wish to be identified.
The raids triggered outrage among citizens and politicians in Patna.
“Searches in the bride’s and other women guests’ wardrobes is definitely an attack on Right to Protection of Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is a fundamental right… The honourable Supreme Court in the Aadhaar case in September 2018 included the right to privacy as a fundamental right,” lawyer Chhaya Mishra pointed out.
She also pointed out that despite the recruitment of a large number of women in the police, the rules to ensure their presence in all police stations have not been framed.
“This is an atrocious and unpardonable act of the police and it attacks the right to privacy. Everyone knows the role women play in the customs of weddings in Bihar. That the police raided the rooms without specific information is unthinkable and could have been avoided,” said former Patna University professor N.K. Choudhary.
“Contrary to Nitish Kumar’s claim that Prohibition has improved women’s condition, the women are harassed because the male members in their family consume liquor and get caught. Later, they struggle with the judicial system to get the men out of jail. Now even the privacy to women in customs and rituals is being breached,” said Patna-based women’s activist Nivedita Jha.
Opposition says scrap the law, CM says nothing wrong
RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who supported Nitish Kumar on the Prohibition law when they were allies in 2016, said the legislation should be reviewed now that the police are harassing women at weddings.
“I had warned Nitish in 2016 that imposing Prohibition will be impossible because Bihar will become an island and liquor will be smuggled in from every side. Nitish had then assured me that he would implement it. It is obvious that it has failed,” Lalu told reporters in New Delhi.
RJD state president Jagadanand Singh also questioned the police raids. “At weddings, even family members are not allowed in the bride’s room. How can the police take this liberty?” he asked.
However, CM Nitish Kumar remained unfazed. “There is nothing wrong with it. The police have been assigned the job of stopping the consumption of liquor. They must have raided after getting information about people arriving at the wedding venue after consuming liquor. If they (attendees) have done nothing wrong, there is nothing to fear,” Kumar told reporters Monday after attending a function in Patna.
That the administration was undeterred by criticism can be assessed from the fact that Patna Divisional Commissioner Sanjay Agarwal held a meeting with hotel and wedding hall owners Monday and told them that strict action would be taken if the laws were found to be violated at their venues, according to a police statement. Agarwal also asked them to install CCTVs on the premises and keep the footage for inspection.
According to government data, Bihar saw 2,243 raids and 708 cases registered over dry law violations in October this year. Around 750 persons were arrested.
Why Nitish has suddenly turned up the heat
The death of over 40 persons due to hooch tragedies in the months of October and November was a major embarrassment for the Nitish government.
On 16 November, the CM held a seven-hour review meet and declared that Prohibition will be implemented with an iron hand. He also re-inducted K.K. Pathak in the Excise and Prohibition department on 18 November as additional chief secretary. Pathak, a Bihar-cadre IAS officer with a no-nonsense image, was instrumental in framing the Prohibition laws in 2016.
He had been removed in 2017 after his officials arrested a Janata Dal (United) leader in Nalanda on charges of being involved in the illegal liquor trade.
“After the hooch tragedy, Nitish Kumar had no option but to give a message that his government was serious about prohibition. I do not rule out police searches at weddings in the future,” said a JD(U) MLA who didn’t wish to be named.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)