All had illegally consumed moonshine in the Botad and Ahmedabad districts of Gujarat state, where the production, sale and consumption of alcohol is illegal.
“About 10 people have been arrested and about 475 liters of liquid have been recovered,” said Ashish Bhatia, director general of Gujarat Police.
Bhatia said one of the arrested men stole methanol from a factory in Gujarat and sold it to a cousin, who then resold it to others who dilute the chemical with water and sold it as a liquor. Methanol can make people drunk, but even a very small amount can be toxic.
Deaths from drinking illegal alcohol – popularly known as ‘country made liquor’ – are not uncommon in India.
While Gujarat and a few other Indian states are criminalizing the sale and consumption of alcohol, it is legal in most of the country’s 1.3 billion people, 22.5% of whom live below the poverty line, the World Bank said.
But even in states where drinking is legal, illegal alcohol remains popular, especially in poorer, rural areas.
Moonshine is usually brewed in villages before being smuggled into towns, where it can be sold for about 10 cents a glass — about a third of the price of legally brewed liquor.
According to SafeProof, homemade alcohol can become deadly when other liquids such as rubbing alcohol or methanol are added to the mix.
Methanol poisoning can lead to nausea, vomiting and heart or respiratory failure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can cause confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and the inability to coordinate muscle movements, the CDC said.
“The byproducts of methanol metabolism cause an accumulation of acid in the blood (metabolic acidosis), blindness and death,” the CDC said.
This week’s deaths are the latest tragedy in India’s long struggle to control the illegal trade.
In February 2019, at least 154 people died and more than 200 were hospitalized after drinking tainted alcohol in the northeastern state of Assam.
Earlier that month, 80 people in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand died after drinking illegal alcohol, prompting regional police to crack down on smugglers.