Toxic alcohol tragedy in India claims 53 lives as death toll mounts

Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in Bihar while 42 died in Gujarat in 2022

AFP June 23, 2024


The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, Indian media reported on Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.

Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister MK Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday. More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.

Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this 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.

The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councillor, Palraj, describing how poor labourers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.

Some went blind and were rushed to hospital. Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.

“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family”, motorised rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.

MS Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away”, according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.

Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy”, PTI added.

Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.

The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.

She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.

“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.

Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet 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.


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