Liquor ban during polls hits Catholic weddings in Goa

Panaji, April 25 (Inditop) The Election Commission’s decision to ban liquor from Catholic weddings in Goa held on the notified dry days during the Lok Sabha polls has forced a rights group to approach the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) for relief.

The All Goa Catholic Minority Forum (AGCMF) has claimed that the poll panel’s decision went against the customs and traditions followed at Catholic weddings, where use of wine is an integral part of the ceremony.

“Raising a toast during weddings and serving liquor to guests is a custom in every Catholic wedding in Goa. The Election Commission has no right to trample on our long standing tradition,” Bernabe Sapeco, convenor of the AGCMF, told IANS.

Liquor, which was already in short supply after a strike by the wholesale and retail liquor traders in protest against the increased vigil by the Election Commission and excise department officials, was banned two days before April 23, when Goa voted for its two Lok Sabha seats.

More than 24 weddings were scheduled to be held in Goa during the period.

“In the past, permission used to be given by us for usage of liquor during weddings, considering the nature of the ceremony. But this year the Election Commission cracked the whip,” said an excise official.

“Our main grouse before the NCM is that the Election Commission exceeded its jurisdiction. They have hurt the religious sentiments of the Catholic community in Goa. Liquor is essential in our wedding customs. Even Jesus Christ turned water into wine,” Sapeco said.

Edwin Fonseca, who runs the resort Assagao and is a part of the forum, said that states should be allowed to independently evolve such norms.

“You cannot sit in Delhi and dictate the way we should follow our religious ceremonies and customs. The Election Commission should have allowed the state government to take a decision, instead banning liquor from weddings too,” Fonseca said.

Edwin Dias is one of the grooms who saw a soft-drink topped chalice raised by a friend during the toast at his wedding.

“I was thoroughly humiliated. I had been planning my wedding for the last one year,” said Dias.

“Elections happen every five years. But marriage happens only once,” he added.

Chief Electoral Officer Ajit Srivastava acknowledged that the election related dry days did coincide with more than two dozen marriages in the state.

“We understand that the marriages had been planned sufficiently in advance and could not have been postponed,” Srivastava said.

“The department of elections on suggestions from the finance and excise department did request for relaxation in these cases keeping in view the local traditions and religious sentiments associated with such events,” Srivastava said, adding that the request had to be overruled after the poll panel observed that dry days had to be enforced in pursuance to provisions of Representations of the Peoples Act.