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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Mumbai AA stall popular with visitors to Chaityabhoomi

Mumbai: AA stall popular with visitors to Chaityabhoomi

Updated on: 07 December,2023 06:38 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Stall set up by retirees sees hundreds approach for help

Mumbai: AA stall popular with visitors to Chaityabhoomi

The stall at Chaityabhoomi, which will be operational till December 7

Key Highlights

  1. At Chaityabhoomi, a mix of retirees, have set up an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) stall
  2. The stall will be operational till December 7
  3. AA functions on back of recovered alcoholics like him, who conduct daily, weekly meetings

At Chaityabhoomi, a mix of retirees, including some who were sanitation workers with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), have set up an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) stall. It has attracted about 500 to 600 individuals since December 4.

The stall will be operational till December 7. Approximately, six lakh people make their annual pilgrimage to Chaityabhoomi on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s death anniversary. A large banner with the kicker ‘Daru [liquor in Marathi]’, followed by ‘Do you wish to stop alcohol consumption?’ and a few people sitting on chairs with pamphlets and notebooks are enough to catch the attention of the crowd. “We do not need to call people towards us. The success of our programme depends on how willing someone is to quit drinking. Those who are willing come walking to us just by looking at these banners,” said 60-year-old Jaipal, a Buddhist priest and retired BEST worker who has been involved in AA since 2001. Like thousands of AA volunteers, he was an alcoholic.

Jaipal, Buddhist priest and AA volunteerJaipal, Buddhist priest and AA volunteer

AA functions on the back of recovered alcoholics like him, who conduct daily or weekly meetings and narrate their stories of addiction and their struggle towards recovery to newly joined alcoholics.

At least 17 such meetings are held every day across the city. This stall at Chaityabhoomi has been up and running for more than a decade. “We still call ourselves alcoholics even though many of us sitting here had our last sip of liquor about twenty years ago,” he said.

Alcoholism and sanitation 

Like Jaipal, Shreedhar considers himself an alcoholic and joined AA in 1999; he hasn’t had a sip since 2005, having relapsed twice in the five-year span before that. “I started working as a sanitation worker with BMC in the 1980s. We used to do all the work with our bare hands, picking up the city’s garbage with nothing to cover our nose,” he said, adding that he used to drink alcohol even before that, but the nature of his work drove him to severe alcoholism. “I was a permanent staff member and the situation with my work became better after 2000, and the municipality started providing us with safety gear,” he said.

AA volunteer Jaipal interacts with pilgrims at the stall at Chaityabhoomi on WednesdayAA volunteer Jaipal interacts with pilgrims at the stall at Chaityabhoomi on Wednesday

However, many sanitation workers, often belonging to Scheduled Caste communities, still lack proper safety measures, particularly those engaged in nullah or septic tank cleaning, a practice known as manual scavenging, which is illegal across the country. The nature of the work commonly drives people to alcoholism.

In Mumbai, according to Jan Haq Sangharsh Samiti’s survey, 250 sanitation workers are working on a contractual basis with the BMC but the actual figure could be as high as 10,000 according to its estimates. 

The responsibility of ensuring safety mechanisms is delegated to the hiring contractors, who frequently neglect this obligation.

Chandrakant Ahire, a 21-year-old resident of ManmadChandrakant Ahire, a 21-year-old resident of Manmad

Notably, Jaipal said that while there are high-risk groups and socio-economic situations play a role, alcoholism is a disease, and like any disease, it crosses class-caste-religion-gender lines. “For us, everyone is the same, and everyone is an alcoholic who needs support,” he said.

Another AA volunteer at the stall said the support group celebrates birthdays differently. “A person is born again when they join AA; that date becomes their birthday,” he said.

Hope for a change

At the stall, alcoholics and their relatives were seen asking questions to the volunteers on how their support group functions. “Do you provide any medicines?” asked one man. 

To every visitor, the volunteers first ask a few basic questions, the first being, who are they seeking help for. And then, with the help of pamphlets, the volunteers help the visitors navigate to the closest AA meeting spot in their city or village. 

“We note down their names and numbers and notify our volunteers about their details who then reach out to them,” Jaipal said, adding that the purpose of AA is to make alcoholics and their families find hope for a better life again.

Chandrakant Ahire, a 21-year-old resident of Manmad, visited Chaityabhoomi on December 6 as a pilgrim. Just as he was exiting the spot, he noticed the AA centre set up in one corner. “My father used to drive an ambulance in Mumbai ten years ago. This is where he became addicted to alcohol and continues to drink in excess even now,” he said.

While he has seen such ‘vyasan mukti’ centres back in his village, he never dared to visit them for his father. “For the first time, my father and I will be having a conversation about his habit.  Many at this stall were from our community and these details were taken from Chaityabhoomi on December 6 so I am hoping that will motivate him to seek help,” he said.

Year Shreedhar joined AA

Scuffle over taking auto to Dadar

A misunderstanding led to a heated exchange between Ambedkarites and traffic cops near Sion junction on Wednesday afternoon. A group of Ambedkarites, travelling in an auto to pay tribute to Dr Ambedkar in Dadar (where autos are not allowed), were halted by traffic police. The issue was ultimately resolved, and the followers were redirected to buses. 

The Mumbai Police’s traffic department had issued advisories for Wednesday announcing potential road closures in case of congestion, implementing one-way routes and restricting parking on several roads.

“Autos weren’t permitted within city limits, so they were stopped,” a traffic officer said. “There were some altercations, but we eventually resolved it.” The incident caused a significant traffic jam for nearly an hour. 

“Despite the incident, tactful intervention by traffic cops minimised the congestion,” said Pravin Padwal, joint commissioner (traffic).

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