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Gujarat Hooch Tragedy: What Is Spurious Liquor? What Makes This Type Of Liquor Deadly?

Mahua, Narangi, Moonshine, Parachute or Hooch- it goes by several names -but spurious liquor, irrespective of the name or brand, is inferior or illicit whisky. Country liquor can be categorized as spurious liquor when it contains a high level of methane [1]. The presence of excess methane in the body can cause the body to metabolize it into formaldehyde, which can then turn into formic acid, which may be fatal.

According to a recent report, an average of 3 people die every day due to spurious liquor poisoning in India. The hooch tragedy in Gujarat's Botad district adds to a mortifying list of deaths caused by spurious liquor consumption in India [2]. Currently, 42 people have died in a state that prohibits the consumption of alcohol.

The incident occurred only days after a similar tragedy took the lives of a dozen people in West Bengal's Howrah district. In Bihar, another state where alcohol is prohibited, spurious liquor was consumed during Holi celebrations earlier this year, which resulted in the death of approximately 14 people [3].

Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, and Nagaland are the only Indian states that prohibit the sale of alcohol.

What Is Hooch Or Spurious Liquor?

Country liquor is generally made by fermenting jaggery or fruit extract with yeast in water. To speed up the fermentation process, the mixture is kept in earthen pots, often buried in the ground [4].

As fermentation can take days or weeks, bootleggers (a person who makes, distributes, or sells goods illegally) often resort to the controlled addition of methanol. Adding methanol gives the liquid a flavour and expedites, making it more intoxicating. In some cases, acid is added to enhance the 'kick.'

Methanol, or methyl alcohol, is the simplest form of alcohol [5]. The liquid is colourless and flammable. This substance is mostly produced by the hydrogenation of carbon monoxide. It is used to manufacture many other chemicals, including formaldehyde, acetic acid, methyl benzoate, and various plastics. In industrial processes, it serves as a solvent.

What Is Hooch Made Of?

Hooch is typically made with these ingredients - coarse jaggery, yeast extracted from plants, citrus peels from orange, sweet lime, and other fruits like wild berries, pears, apricot, and peaches, water, methanol - and organic waste, dead rodents, even lizards and battery acid for that extra kick [6].

It is known that hooch makers often add unregulated, deadly chemical compounds like methanol in incorrect quantities. Consumption of this beverage can lead to breathlessness, blindness, slow motor response, and death.

One of the most alarming aspects of this deadly concoction is its simplicity of preparation. Even more concerning is the fact that it has spurred a network of illegal businesses operating across large cities and villages [7].

How Does Hooch Affect The Body?

When methanol is consumed as a drink, it is metabolized into formaldehyde and formic acid in the stomach. After just a few hours, the effects are felt, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and shortness of breath. It is common for victims of hooch tragedies to lose their vision as well as to experience fits. In the case of higher doses, patients may be sent into a coma or suffer multiorgan failure, resulting in death.

The Directorate of Forensic Sciences (DFS) said normal country liquor seized has an ethanol content of 10 per cent or less. However, the effects of methanol are fatal when even about 40 ml are ingested. Therefore, when the concentration of this substance in a mixture is increased even by 5 per cent, such country liquor becomes lethal [8][9].

On A Final Note...

Experts support awareness over prohibition whenever a ban on liquor is discussed in the political arena, particularly in states where the law already prohibits its use. Despite alcohol bans, people still consume alcohol in those states. As experts note, the issue of hooch is increasingly prevalent in those states with an alcohol ban than in other states. However, it's not to say that states that don't have an alcohol ban don't have hooch cases [10]. The lethal hooch concoction is sold for a mere Rs 25 a pouch - making it an 'economical' option for many.

Story first published: Monday, August 1, 2022, 14:49 [IST]
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