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LAHORE. It started with a celebration and ended in tragedy. In the second week of January, a group of friends in Youhanabad, a low-income area mostly populated by Christians on the outskirts of Lahore, procured some liquor to have a merry time.

After a night of indulgence, they went to their respective homes. That is when the toxic liquor began to poison their bodies. Three of the friends did not wake up the next day. The others started vomiting and were shifted to Jinnah Hospital.

At the hospital was another group of victims from Liaquatabad, a few miles from Youhanabad. The victims from Liaquatabad had been admitted for the same reason.

The victims remained at the hospital for three days before meeting their demise, raising the death toll from the two incidents to 14. Twelve of the victims were identified as Gohar, Nabil, BootIn-charge of the homicide cell at Nishtar Colony, Mehdi Kazmi said none of the victims survived to narrate what actually transpired.

An FIR was registered against unidentified suspects under murder charges on the complaint of the SHO of Nishtar Colony. None of the victims’ family members came forward to register a complaint, said Model Town SP Mustansir Feroz.

Police then initiated an investigation and arrested four suspects: Jaan Mehar Masih, a resident of Kot Lakhpat; Muhammad Asghar, a resident of Zafar Park in Badami Bagh; Muhammad Usman, a resident of Faizpur; and Muhammad Yousif, a resident of Gulshan-e-Ravi.a, Samuel Viki, Shera and Qasim Masih from Youhanabad, and Akram, Saleem, Shan, Sanni, Asim and Quma from Liaquatabad.Muhammad Asghar, a pickup driver, was returning home around three weeks before the incident when he was stopped by a man on Bund Road, narrated investigation officer, sub-inspector Murad. The man offered Asghar Rs700 to transport a can, saying the tyre of his own pickup had burst. Consequently, both men set out on the journey ahead, Asghar in his pickup and the other man on his motorcycle.

Once they reached Katchery Road, the owner of the mysterious can was stopped by the police at a checkpoint near Veterinary University. Asghar went ahead and stopped at a distance, waiting for the man to follow behind. But when the man did not come for a while, Asghar took the can to his house, thinking it contained some expensive chemical which he could sell for a decent sum.

Asghar later took the can to an acquaintance, Muhammad Usman, who worked at a chemical factory. Usman told Asghar the fluid in the can was alcohol and that he could find a customer for it. Usman then contacted Muhammad Yousif, who in turn contacted Jaan Mehar Masih. Yousif sold the can to Masih for Rs20,000 at a rate of Rs180 per litre. Asghar and Usman distributed the sum equally after having a meal for Rs1,000 and paying another Rs1,000 to Yousif.

Masih later sold the alcohol to Qasim, alias Puma. The investigation officer said Qasim then sold the liquor to the now deceased victims. He added the alcohol had been adulterated to increase its volume prior to being sold to Qasim, who also died from consuming the toxic liquor. The investigation officer, however, said they could not ascertain what exactly the alcohol had been cut with.When news of the tragedy flashed on the media, Masih quickly disposed of the liquor he was left with. The police, however, managed to recover 30 litres of the toxic alcohol that Asghar had left at his place. The autopsy report, meanwhile, confirmed that the victims had died of consuming toxic material. The investigation officer said they were now waiting for a forensic report for further details on the cause of their demise.What is toxic liquor?

A food scientist, who chose not be named, told The Express Tribune toxic liquor can be broadly divided into two categories. In the first instance, quality liquor/wine is adulterated through different means. The dealer buys a branded bottle and then adds chemicals, tablets, industrial methyl (commonly known as spirit) and scents.

Empty bottles of imported liquor and wine are openly sold at shops in different parts of the city, particularly on Nisbat Road and Shah Alami Market. These bottles are bought by dealers and then refilled with adulterated liquor/wine.

Consumable liquor/wine has a certain percentage of ethyl alcohol in it. Adulteration, however, takes this composition to dangerous levels. In most cases, non-consumable methyl alcohol is used for adulteration. The food scientist says this can potentially render the liquor or wine fatal.

In some cases, adulterated liquor or wine has the colour and scent of a particular brand as a result of the addition of toxic chemicals and tablets that may be poisonous.The food scientist shared that decomposition occurs during fermentation which initially increases the bacteria. Later, the bacteria begin to die out and once that is complete so is the process of fermentation. However, the alcohol can be poisonous if consumed before the fermentation is complete. The scientist said greed and lack of experience or training plays a key role in manufacturing toxic liquor. Greed compels the manufacturer to sell more and, thus, not wait for the fermentation process to be complete. Sometimes, the manufacturer makes a mistake in identifying the maturity of the fermentation process due to lack of experience or training.

After fermentation, the alcohol needs to be distilled properly so that no impurities remain in it. During this process, the alcohol is heated to a certain temperature to turn the liquid into vapour which is then condensed. If not performed properly, the distillation process can fail to rid the alcohol of impurities and render it poisonous.

A medical examiner at Jinnah Hospital’s morgue said a large number of deaths are reported during the time of festivals such as Eid, Christmas, New Year, Holi, etc. Since the demand for alcohol increases during the time of celebrations, so does the probability of people procuring tainted liquor as more and more suppliers look to reap quick and easy profit.addiction.

Zakir said such problems are prevalent in our society but we choose to live in a state of denial. “Our society acts on the assumption that no one drinks in Pakistan,” explained Zakir. He said that unless one admits to a problem, they cannot think of a solution. “Once we admit to the fact that people drink in Pakistan, we can think about taking precautionary measures against toxic liquor. Sharaab ki bhattian have been operational for centuries but there has been no legislation to address the matter.”

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