June 4, 2019 – Lahore, Pakistan
Leading up to Eidul Fitr, the Muslim Festival of breaking fast after Ramadan, six deaths were reported in Nishter Colony, a working-class enclave on the outskirts of Lahore. The deaths were attributed to the consumption of toxic moonshine.
The deaths began on Saturday when victims started arriving at Lahore General Hospital. Doctors pronounced the first three men dead on arrival. They were identified as Gul Zaman, Nawaz and Rashid Maseeh. From Sunday evening through Monday morning the other three victims died. All were identified as being in their late 20’s to early 30’s. Authorities were able to trace the moonshine liquor to a home celebration in the Christian community of Asif Town.
Citizens and authorities are fully aware of the history of deaths in this area from tainted moonshine. Although friends, relatives and neighbors organized immediate protests demanding justice, the problem is not easily rectified. Access to legal alcohol is limited by law and prohibitive by price.
The latest six deaths from tainted moonshine in the area continues a pattern that includes:
- 18 people dead in Vehari during October 2006
- 42 dead in Multan in December of 2009
- 18 died in Faisalabad July 2013
- 14 dead in Nishter Colony January 2016
- 4 dead in Rahim Yar Khan in July of 2016
In addition to the recorded and unrecorded deaths associated with tainted alcohol throughout the area, officials report in the past six months there have been seven additional deaths along with over 370 people placed in long term rehab.
Authorities are aware of the pattern and timing of the deaths which occur around festivals, holidays and celebrations. Before the latest 6 deaths, the police had already mounted a crackdown on known bootleggers ahead of Eidul Fitr. The operation was considered a success with the arrest of many moonshine manufacturers in homes and throughout the rural outskirts. However, there efforts were not enough to prevent the latest alcohol poisoning tragedies.
In Pakistan it is officially illegal for Muslims to buy alcohol, while its minority Christian population can purchase it after obtaining a license from the government. The strict restrictions are circumvented by a century’s old tradition of producing moonshine liquor.
During this year’s crackdown police revealed some of the intelligence that they gathered while performing the raids. During interrogations of the illicit liquor manufactures, they learned revealing details of the operations.
A Bootlegger in one operation revealed that they obtained the bottles and caps from vendors in Papar Mandi, and the labels from a counterfeiter in Urdu Bazaar. He explained their method of producing the fake alcohol in detail. Not wanting to waste time or effort in either distilling or fermenting alcohol, they simply mixed 1 part rubbing alcohol with 3 parts water. They would then use furniture stain to obtain the color. He also detailed the profit margin involved n producing fake alcohol using this method. He told police that it cost between Rs80 and Rs90 per bottle to produce. Each bottle was then sold at market price of Rs350 and Rs450.
Other raids revealed that the bootleggers used sleeping pills and other narcotics to give a kick to their concoctions that were flavored with spices and fruit to simulate the taste of branded alcohol. Those that live further from the city center favor a traditional Country Liquor.
Country liquor, known as Desi Daru or Desi liquor is a broad term used to describe both legal and illegal production of this molasses based alcoholic beverage. Even the legal version of Desi whiskey is produced in a very crude form of fermentation rather than distillation. It results in an alcohol that is barely acceptable for human consumption. The legally sold branded Desi Daru has an alcohol by volume ranging from 28.5% – 42.5% with wide discrepancies from batch to batch. The illegal version of Desi liquor provides an even more uncontrolled standard to assure a safe proof. Production of moonshine Desi or Country Liquor often does not follow even the most rudimentary recipes.
As Lahore is a major population center with over 11 million residents, it is also a mecca for foreign travelers with its historic, religious sites. It therefore has many restaurants and bars that serve liquor legally to foreign tourists. Imported liquor is more expensive than the already pricey domestic brands. Moonshiners arrested have confessed to police that restaurants and bars that service foreign clients were good customers. One moonshiner explained that the restaurants and bars would cut the imported liquor with the local moonshine in order to trim their costs and improve their profit.
Travelers visiting Pakistan should be aware that all liquor is suspect in this country where liquor consumption is highly regulated yet has a flourishing illegal trade.
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