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HomeOpinionUrban India’s opposition to alcohol prohibition shows its ostrich-like & elitist attitude

Urban India’s opposition to alcohol prohibition shows its ostrich-like & elitist attitude

When Andhra CM Jaganmohan Reddy announced liquor prohibition, India’s opinion shapers again called it an intrusion. But few know the havoc liquor is wreaking.

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The Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy-led government’s decision to introduce prohibition in Andhra Pradesh has once again exposed an ostrich-like head-in-the-sand attitude of our opinion shapers. By and large, they maintain a conspiracy of silence on the nation-wide menace of rising liquor consumption. But as soon as someone proposes prohibition, they all wake up and attack it as an unworkable and populist measure, without quite acknowledging the problem or ever bothering to advocate an alternative solution.

After CM Reddy announced his plans for prohibition in a phased manner, editorials in the English media were quick to dismiss this as a populist move, a policy that was designed to fail, if not a moralist intrusion into matters of personal liberty. Anti-liquor activists and movements continue with their simplistic belief that complete prohibition is a fool-proof solution to the problem. Between them, the moralising prohibitionists and libertarian anti-prohibitionists have prevented an informed and constructive debate on an issue that deserves urgent national attention.

Also read: 2.08 lakh Prohibition cases pending, HC asks Nitish govt how it plans to dispose of them

The liquor problem

The alcohol menace keeps coming up on the media radar and is pushed back every time. In recent years, the governments of Bihar, Kerala and Haryana have introduced different forms of liquor control measures. Bihar opted for complete prohibition with mixed results. Kerala preferred a more sensible policy of graded reduction in liquor consumption. The new government in Haryana has announced a half-hearted policy of closure of liquor shops when demanded by 10 per cent gram sabha members. Maharashtra has witnessed strong anti-liquor movements leading to prohibition in three districts. Anti-liquor movements are strong in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

I understood the significance of this issue in my padayatra of about 200 villages in the Rewari district of Haryana in July 2018. Without an exception, women in every single village listed increasing liquor consumption as the number one problem. They were desperate for any solution. Panchayats are no good, they said, as they get a commission in liquor sale (yes, there is a formal payment per bottle). They wanted, and tried, breaking down or burning of liquor vends, but to no avail. One woman took me aside and proposed poisoning of liquor to get rid of this menace once and for all!

Metropolitan intellectuals and policymakers have no idea of the nature of this problem. They continue to think of drinking through the prism of their own elite social practice. They don’t realise that a peg or two in an upper-class drawing room is a very different thing from a-quarter-a-day for a family that earns barely Rs 300 daily. They think that any plea for liquor control is moralising. True, often Gandhian and religious prohibitionists do make drinking into a moral issue, which it is not. In our country, alcohol is a growing health hazard, economic problem and a social menace. Sadly, the denial by our opinion makers fits perfectly into the vested interest of the liquor lobby and their nexus with politicians to ensure that this menace grows undetected and unresponded to.

Also read: E-cigarettes or porn: Banning is always the Indian politician’s first response

Burden on poor more

This year, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment published a major report, ‘Magnitude of Substance Use in India,

based on a massive sample survey across India. Add to these findings the WHO’s latest data on alcohol use in India from its Global Burden of Disease Study and Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health to understand the nature and extent of this problem.

First, the extent of liquor consumption is higher than we imagine: about 33 per cent of adult males (but less than 2 per cent of adult women) consume liquor. The proportion of male drinkers is above 50 per cent in states like Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Uttar Pradesh. About 25 lakh children in age group 10-17 also drink. Second, drinking in India means ‘hard drinks’ or spirits (which comprises 92 per cent of total alcohol consumption, compared to 44 per cent global average) over wine or beer. This increases health hazards. Third, the amount of alcohol consumed by every drinker is 18.3 litre per year on an average, much higher than the global average. That works out to about 50 millilitres of pure alcohol, or five pegs, every day. The proportion of drinkers who engage in heavy drinking is 55 per cent in India, again higher than the world average. Fourth, nearly one-third of drinkers, a total of 5.7 crore people, are either dependent on or harmed by alcohol use. They need help, but only 3 per cent of them ever get medical or psychological help needed. Finally, there is a direct and measurable impact on health. At least 2.6 lakh deaths every year can be directly attributed to liver disease, or cancer or accidents caused by drinking.

Besides health, drinking has serious socio-economic consequences, especially for the poor. An average rural family spends about 2.5 per cent of its income on intoxicants, which may be one-eighth of its disposable income once the basic necessities are paid for. An addict could be spending anything between one-fifth to one-half of the total family income on his own drinking. In social terms, the brunt of drinking is borne by women. Wife and child beating, social violence, sexual abuse, family discord and break-up, and child neglect are some of the most obvious results of drinking. No wonder, most women hate drinking. By now it is an established fact that for every litre of liquor, the poor suffer more in terms of health and social consequences than the affluent.

Also read: How we gave birth to hooch tragedies and why they will continue to grow

A national plan

Given the seriousness of the problem, it is nothing short of a scandal that liquor control policy does not figure on India’s national agenda. It is not hard to imagine what such a policy might be like. Total prohibition is unlikely to figure there because it has proven counter-productive far too often. While it does bring drinking seriously down, it tends to encourage smuggling, liquor mafia and spurious liquor.

What we need is a national plan for gradual reduction and control of alcohol use. This would involve, first of all, reduction in the dependence of state governments on liquor revenues. It would allow the state governments to stop aggressively promoting liquor. Second, the existing rules and laws regulating the sale and retail of liquor, the location of shops, opening timings and surrogate advertising must be enforced. Three, liquor license within a village or urban residential area should not be granted if 10 per cent of local community objects to it. Four, innovative social campaigns, such as Muktipath in Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra, should be supported to wean people, especially the youth, from the culture of drinking. Finally, a certain percentage, say about one-fifth of the government revenue earned from liquor sale, must be spent on alcohol and drug reduction and rehabilitation programmes. Can feminist intellectuals and women’s movement take a lead in developing a national consensus on this agenda?

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. You’re being extremely naive if you think prohibition is the solution to every vice .Gujrat has it ,I’ve found empty bottles of every brand available on the market along road sides in Surat.You’ll only encourage a black market that’ll probably eat up 20% Of a family’s income instead of the 2.5 you’ve mentioned.You will make the young ones curious about intoxication and I’ll guarantee that they’ll find some ingenious ways to get high.And those will be a lot more dangerous than alcohol.The difference lies in self control ,something we lack but can be instilled (parents ,society &schooling).Netherlands doesn’t have a ban on marijuana ,it is a recreational drug .Most citizens are not high while driving (bycyles) or at work.

  2. Weeds,ganja are the silent addiction of current generation, especially girls.

    All these again are the no. 1 reason for their alarming mental health conditions.

    The peddlers are users and users become peddlers. They can be from all strata of society,young doctors,lawyers, but especially from media industry.

    Unfortunately first rung police force are easy to get away with .

    I hope natural enforcers like coronavirus will deal squarely with the virus of our society.

  3. Yadav Ji is correct. But the answer to our liquor problem is not pontificating nor is it prohibition. It’s really simple make beer below 4% really cheap and anything above really expensive. Beer has high calorific value that the physical labourer will need and can be manufactured safely in large quantities at cheap rates. That’s how it is in all developed countries. But our stupid moralistic Gandhi obsessed society and govt can not agree to such simple easy solutions.

  4. Mr Yogendra firstly pls find out as to whether any developed or advanced countries like USA, Canada, European countries have imposed prohibition…absolutely none of them…then pls check those countries which have imposed prohibition..Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc…now pls find out which countries have citizens which have better morale values…which countries are more advanced…pls ask yourself these questions before trying to blame the urban people..

  5. YY is at it again. He always loses the road map and wanders off into some new avenue and gets lost in details. Before it was language – what should be the medium of instruction etc., then culture and now drinking. He is trying to impose a puritanical politics on everyone. First get legitimacy by concentrating on what a political party needs most, and then these other problems should fall into place.

  6. Mizoram had brought in complete prohibition last year. It would be instructive to do a survey of the state after another couple of years. In the months prohibition has been in force, there has been a substantial rise in incidents of drug abuse, especially of the chemical variety. The victims are largely your males. As the criminal networks that smuggle and distribute drugs become embedded into the society and economy, I would expect the current homogenous and largely peaceful Mizo society to see violence and an increase in criminality.

    I would caution the powers that be against this form of social engineering.

  7. Yogendra, you should know well that prohibition does not work! your own suggestions in the last paragraph are perfect! but that is not prohibition… why abuse liberal urbans in teh title? just to get more clicks?

  8. The question is who wants that alcohol is prohibited. Does government really want to ban or prohibit alcohol? Because of heavy duties, tax’s, export import, the highest collection of excise no government by heart wants to prohibit alcoholism. Mandir Masjid politics, soft or hardcore Hinduism, Reservation politics, casteism are all the alcoholics for politics. So what for you they prohibit all these. Show must go on . Report may come or vanish , discussions, committees, accossiations will be formed but question is really people or government want to prohibit alcohol the great

  9. What about issuing the rich-enough people, who can afford alcohol, a sort of license to buy and consume alcohol ? Is it not better than banning it at all for everyone?

  10. Do we know the “ havoc “ Prohibition is wreaking in Bihar ? How many people arrested, the already clogged judicial system overwhelmed with new cases, including applications for bail. The loss of excise revenue when state finances are already stretched. The mushrooming of alternate sources of supply, including the inevitable tragedies that result when people consume spurious liquor. Alcohol addiction is a problem for all income classes, it hurts the poor even more, but this is not the solution. Sadly, CM Nitish Kumar’s motivation for introducing it is completely suspect.

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