Man Arrested for 'Satirical Comment' on Liquor Reaching Bihar Despite Ban

As part of a religious tableau ceremony, Abhishek Tiwari rode a motorcycle – modified into a boat – that commented on how alcohol was reaching Darauli in Bihar from Ballia in UP through boats.

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Patna: Bihar Police on Monday, September 12, arrested a man from Siwan district for satirically commenting on alcohol flowing freely to the state despite a ban on its sale. Ironically, the police claimed he was arrested because he was promoting the sale and consumption of alcohol, charging him with an offence that could see him spend up to five years in jail.

During a religious event on Saturday, September 10, the arrested youngster, Abhishek Tiwari (18), drove a motorcycle that as modified to look like a boat. On one side of the motorcycle was painted, “Ballia to Darauli Liquor Supply Tok Evam Kudratha Vikreth. (Ballia to Darauli wholesale and retail supply of liquor.)”

Locals say the youngster wanted to highlight that liquor is reaching Bihar’s Darauli illegally from Ballia in Uttar Pradesh through boats.

They say the motorbike does not even belong to Tiwari and he was only driving it when it was captured on the video. Once the video became viral, they alleged that the police were “embarrassed and acted in haste”. Given that the man hails from a poor background, they are pooling in money to fight the case.

The first information report (FIR) was registered at the instance of the station house officer (SHO) of Ziradei police station, Rakesh Kumar. Tiwari was charged under Section 40 of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, which deals with persons who print, publish, in any media, including film and television, or from any social platform, directly or indirectly, anything soliciting the use of any liquor or intoxicant. If found guilty, Tiwari is expected to face jail anywhere between three and five years, and also have to pay a fine up to Rs 10 lakh.

After the FIR was filed on September 11, the police raided Tiwari’s house on the same night but could not find him. He surrendered at the police station the next day, September 12, when he was arrested.

Also read: Bihar’s Draft Liquor Law Amendments Unlikely to Benefit Those Who Need it Most

Police action to avoid embarrassment?

Locals allege that the police action was disproportionate and was done in “haste” to “save their image”.

Those present at the event say Tiwari was not promoting liquor, and it was part of a religious tableau, which has happened for many years.

Kundan Singh, a resident of Ziradei village and a participant in the tableau event, told The Wire, “The religious tableau event took place on Saturday, September 10, at noon. Such tableaux are put on display every year and models of different themes are made and presented through bikes. In this tableau, there was a bike around which the structure of a boat was installed. And it was written on the boat – wholesale and retail supply of liquor from Ballia (an area of Uttar Pradesh) to Darauli (an area in Bihar).”

Singh added that the motorcycle does not belong to Abhishek. “He comes from a poor farming family. Someone told him to drive the bike for a while. He got on the bike and went some distance. A video was published on social media, saying that liquor sales were being ‘openly publicised and the police remained mute spectators’.”

Also read: ‘Mahapaapis’, Bootleggers and Liquor Tourism: Nitish Govt’s Trials With Its Own Prohibition Law

Singh further says, “Actually, the purpose of writing on a boat structure in that tableau was to tell the police that the consignment of liquor from UP is reaching Bihar with the help of boats so that they can take action.”

Tiwari is a school dropout and works as an electrician. Locals say that he is “innocent” and poor. They vow to fight the case together and are mobilising money for the same. They recalled that three years ago a similar boat-like representation was made and the theme was centred around alcohol.

A YouTube video of the 2019 tableau shows a boat structure installed on a bike with a slogan that said that liquor crossed the border and reached Bihar. Wine bottles were also part of the tableau. On the other side, it said, “UP se Bihar, border paar” – a comment on how alcohol was allegedly coming from UP to Bihar.

The bike with boat structure that was part of the 2019 tableau. Photo: Screengrab

The latest tableau began in Ziradei village and went to the nearby village Jamapur and its market. Police were deployed in the market area to manage crowds. The tableau went past the police.

Once the video of the tableau reached social media, it was spun in a way that the young man in question was campaigning for the sale and consumption of liquor very much in the presence of police. Some even called police “mute spectators”. Local news channels even ran the story with unrelated captions, giving it a different spin altogether.

Locals say it was “embarrassing for the police”, and the local superintendent of police took up the matter only after the video went viral. They say the charges against Tiwari were made up of a “false story”.

The SHO wrote in his application wrote, “As soon as we saw that bike, due to the large crowd, we tried to catch him by running on foot. But, the youth managed to escape with the bike because of the crowd. After this, I asked the local people about the youth. Then his name was given as Abhishek Tiwari.”

But locals say that the youth did not try to run away after seeing the police. Another youngster, who was present at the spot, said on the condition of anonymity, “The police and administration was fully aware that the caption written on the tableau had nothing to do with liquor supply. But, it is now clear that the police have taken this action to save its face.”

Deenbandhu Singh, a local journalist, told The Wire, “In Siwan, a consignment of liquor freely reaches by boat from Uttar Pradesh through the river regularly. Every local person knows this. Checking is more or less done on the road, but the liquor that comes from the rivers is going unchecked.”

Many deaths have been reported in the last few years due to the consumption of spurious liquor in Bihar.

“Through the tableau, an attempt was made to show that liquor is coming to Bihar through boats. He was just warning the system in a way. If he was promoting the sale, he would have written his address, whereabouts and mobile number. But nothing like this was written, then how did that become publicity?” the journalist asked.