Pushpa Kagda weeps as she tries to understand what has just happened to her family. She is the mother of a little boy and she is pregnant, but Pushpa no longer has a husband to help raise her children.
At 26 years old she has just become a widow. She is not alone. Beside her sits her two sisters-in-law who suffer in silence. They are newly widowed, too. Their husbands, all brothers, died within days of each other. Their deaths came because each one of them drank from the same poisonous brew. Police say tainted alcohol was being sold in their neighborhood. The elder brother was the first to drink and died soon after. Pushpa’s husband was next. “His elder brother died. He was affected by it and went and got drunk on alcohol,” Pushpa said as tears rolled down her cheeks. “After he came back, he wasn’t feeling well. There was foam coming out of his mouth and we admitted him to the hospital.” It was too late. Pushpa’s husband followed his brothers to the grave. Watch Sidner’s interview with the Kagda family »
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Pushpa’s mother-in-law does not know how the tight-knit family will survive. Everyone has to work in this family. Some are sweepers, others day laborers and maids. They make just enough to feed and cloth themselves and their children. “How will I help them now” asked Dhanpati Kagda, the mother-in law. “My children’s life is spoiled now.” Police said the Kagdas were one of 10 families in the same Delhi neighborhood who are in mourning after tainted alcohol was imbibed. It is a scenario that has played out dozens of times, killing hundreds of people across India over the years. In Ahmedabad this month, police said more than 100 people died and more than 200 were sickened after drinking tainted alcohol. “It’s a big problem,” said Southwest Delhi Deputy Commission of Police K. Jagdesan. “It’s men who die more often from lower income groups. So they (the women) don’t have anybody to support them.” Poor laborers and slum dwellers are often the ones who get sick because they cannot afford the licensed alcohol sold at government-approved shops. Or, they live in parts of India where it is illegal to sell alcohol. In either case, people turn to illegal vendors who sell homemade hooch or watered-down cheap alcohol. The supplier sometimes adds toxic ingredients to these that are meant to get the drinker higher — faster and cheaper. One of the ingredients often detected is methyl alcohol, which is known to cause blindness. In Pushpa Kagda’s neighborhood, another common problem has surfaced. The neighborhood went on a rampage against police and destroyed some police property because they believed the authorities were somehow involved with the illegal alcohol vendors. “We have taken action against the police officers of that area,” Jagdesan said. “We have suspended some of the police officers and an enquiry is being done (as to) why so much selling of liquor was happening in that area.” Back at the Kadga home, the three widows — their faces covered in mourning — squat at their doorstep, surrounded by their children. The children don’t understand that their fathers will never come home. But they know something is wrong as sadness permeates the air. “The way our house was uprooted,” Pushpa Kagda said. “I hope nobody else has to face this.”
Their neighbor Laxman Singh is angry watching families around him in pain. He said what was once a happy neighborhood is now one filled with sadness and suffering. “It was a good family. The children were young. They were married and had kids,” Singh said. “Now their family is ruined. The kids are ruined and they have not received any help from the government, nor does anybody come asking.”