The Uvari model

Print edition : September 04, 2015

Residents of Uvari, one of the richest villages in Tamil Nadu, say they are happy with the decision their forefathers took. No one in the village consumes alcohol, at least not in the village. As many as 600 youths from the village work in the merchant navy. The remaining are fishermen who bring home a good catch on most days.

The only TASMAC shop, which existed at a road junction about a kilometre from the village, was destroyed at the height of the Kudankulam anti-nuclear power plant agitation a few years ago. “We do not know who was behind the attack,” said S.V. Antony, a village elder and a three-time panchayat president. “I was at Idinthakarai. But they have included me as an accused in this incident,” he said. The case has not been closed.

In Uvari, it is prestigious to be a member of the Madha Madhuvilakku Sabai. It automatically establishes the fact that the person has no vices, and if the member happens to be an eligible bachelor, he is a sought-after match. Even a mild transgression could result in the disqualification of the membership without a warning. “Every month, the members have to take an oath in the church. They have to affirm that they have abided by the rules of the sabai,” Antony said.

The local pastor, Joseph, believes that the Uvari experiment is a fit model for replication since the demand for prohibition comes from within and is not imposed by anyone. “A team from the Tuticorin diocese came to study our model. I am sure we will have more such organisations in other villages,” he said.

In 2012, Antony and his friends began encouraging other villages to set up such sabais. “[The local pastor] Antony Susainathar popularised the sabai here in the 1920s because he felt we [the members of the fishing community] should not waste our hard-earned money on liquor. This has worked well for us. We began to educate other villages about our method in 2012 after outsiders began asking us why we were not sharing our experience with anyone else,” Antony said. In the past three years, 14 such outfits have been established in the coastal villages benefiting fishermen communities. The village organised a function on August 9 to celebrate its achievements in prohibition and also show the world how its successful prohibition model has sustained itself for close to a century. The villager residents said prohibition could not be implemented in places where people had no respect for elders or had no faith in God. They encourage people to visit Uvari and see for themselves what changes temperance has brought to its society.

R.K. Radhakrishnan