Yet again another hooch tragedy in India, this time coming from a dry state and killing around 150 people, has triggered another controversial debate on ‘whether prohibition of liquor’ is the root cause for such human tragedies. Media has taken it as another battle and has been vociferously debating it ever since the tragedy took place. Just that everyone tends to ignore the fundamental issue by citing emotional reasons. Most who raise their voices against prohibition is not aware of the situation here or has not stayed to realize the freedom which we enjoy here.
Am just attempting to give a different perspective from my experience of living in a ‘Liquor state’ for 20 years and a dry state for past 3 years.
All through my childhood and youth I have lived in Kerala, a southern state in India which as per records has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country (8.3 liters). By standards it even surpasses some of the European countries in per capita liquor consumption. It is also one of the highest revenue grossers for the state through sales worth around Rs. 25 billion per annum, where liquor is sold through KSBC (Kerala state beverages corp.) outlets. Every major festival in this state increases the liquor sales upto a staggering 26%. Now here is a state which has a free liquor policy since decades. But even Kerala is not free of hooch tragedies. Perhaps frequency wise it had even more hooch tragedies than any other states.
Here am not trying to debate whether alcohol is good for health or not. I love drinking occasionally and I don’t find anything ethically, morally or technically wrong with that. I believe alcohol is good, if taken in moderation. But let me point out some social issues caused by a ‘free liquor policy’ and which is often misused for excessive, irresponsible drinking.
72 percent of the 42,365 road accidents in Kerala- 2008 were because of drunken driving.
Now this may not be completely attributed to lack of prohibition, but a majority of those cases were a direct result of free availability of liquor. I work in the field of pre-hospital care and happen to interact with a lot of emergency care doctors. All of them unanimously confirm this by saying that a majority who reaches their hospital has caused accident under the influence of alcohol. 72% is not a joke. It is shocking.
Safety in public places
It is a non fact that in Kerala it is better to stay at home after 7.30pm, rather than venturing out alone, especially for women. Every nuke and corner, bus stands, railway stations, restaurants are crowded with drunk men. This too is fine if they behave normal after they drink. But that’s not the case as it is far too dangerous for a woman to walk in the streets at night alone, thanks to our civilized drunken society.
Mostly daily wage workers are the real victims of any tragedy. With or without prohibition, they get liquor and this eats into their overall income. Just that these figures are 10 times higher in Kerala. Naturally this initiates family abuses, attacks on women thus triggering a range of societal issues.
Advent of notorious gangs
Having lived in Cochin close to 2 years, I’ve got to see the notorious gangs operating out there. Even police wont tread into some of these territories, as they are completely under the control of some goons. I personally know one such place near Thripoonithara, which is a den for such activities. Am not attributing these directly to prohibition policy, but it has an indirect link which has the police-goon nexus as the root cause. Below, I will explain how ‘prohibition’ has helped Gujarat tackle this very fundamental issue.
It is said that, Gujarat laid down a prohibition policy way back in 1950’s to follow Mahatma Gandhiji’s call for making liquor inaccessible to people so as to keep the fabric of society in tact. I dont think that as a strong logical reason to create such a law. But all said and done, PROHIBITION IN GUJARAT has worked and has been successful till date. Now let us see why ?
Some known facts:
- Prohibition in Gujarat doesnt mean liquor is not available. Unofficially it has one of the highest consumption rates in the country. Any type of Liquor is always available from bootleggers at a
20%200% higher rate and they would home deliver it anytime, anywhere.
- A majority of people in Gujarat drinks. But they drink peacefully inside their home or farmhouse and never ever venture out in public and cause nuisance.
- Police and government indirectly support bootleggers.
- No major law and order situation arises out due to liquor consumption in the state.
Now let us consider the above mentioned issues which a ‘free liquor policy’ state faces and how it is different in Gujarat.
Perhaps Gujarat is the only state in India where women can freely roam around in the streets ‘alone’ even at midnight without the fear of getting abused, assaulted, molested, kidnapped or even raped. Though its a strong claim, I stand by it. If someone asks me how Prohibition in Gujarat has helped Gujaratis, I would just say this one point. This is only because of ‘lack of liquor availability publicly’. You wont find someone venturing out from bars or home getting drunk and causing nuisance to general public. It has worked here.
Drunken driving and related accidents are not so low in Gujarat, coz most of the truck drivers consume country liquor which are cheaper and easily accessible. But these figures are no way close to how it is in other states. So relatively drunken driving is lower. This is a direct effect of prohibition policy, as the drivers are cautious about paying the hefty fine if got caught drunken. More over, rather than taking such chances people in Gujarat always cross to near by states during weekend to have a ‘Spirited weekend’.
Now the last point to mention is how Prohibition has indirectly helped the police force and thus the Government. All over India, police force is underpaid. Their salaries are not sufficient to run a family and hence they resort to asking for bribes. It’s pretty much known fact that you cant get even a petty work done from Police without paying them bribe. It is same in Gujarat too, except for the fact that bribe is being paid by bootleggers. Unlike in other states police here are friendly with local public. As they are getting paid by bootleggers, they usually dont have to ask bribe from public. Also as an aftereffect, Police are well aware of all the bootleggers operating in the state. This indirectly means, that they know the troublemakers well. So, it is very difficult for a ‘gang’ to operate in Gujarat without getting noticed or known by police. To an extent this work for the benefit of people, and which is visible as the number of such notorious gangs in the state are negligibly low.
Hooch tragedies can’t be attributed to prohibition. Even if there is no prohibition, the daily wage workers can’t afford IMFL or our dear Mallya’s KF beer. So the debates on lifting prohibition are just a farce and totally useless. It is almost impossible to enforce a ‘Prohibition policy’ in a free liquor state like Kerala. Coz people would go mad without alcohol, as they are so much used to it. At the same time, it is stupid to lift prohibition in a state where it has worked for so many years.
I would request all these mongers to come and stay in Gujarat for atleast a month and then make a comment. Else, stay calm and drink in your territory. Let people in Gujarat make their own choices and live peacefully.
A well-wisher of Liquor and Peace.