By Neha Gupta*
Alcohol has always been a big social problem for both the rich and poor people, impinging on the life of both the working and not working equally. It is anticipated by the society, especially the women section that banning of alcohol will bring a great deal of crucial socio-economic changes. Drinking of alcohol in excessive amount is considered to be a cause of a large number of social tribulations including violence against women, rape, health issues and unemployment. Therefore, India since long time, has been experimenting with partial or complete ban on liquor through regulating its production, possession, transport, purchase, and sale.
However many states in India had to undo their earlier decision of banning for the reason of change in government, negative feedback from the public, widespread smuggling and sale of illicit liquor. States that successfully implemented dry laws are Gujarat, Nagaland, Lakshadweep, parts of Maharashtra and Manipur. Bihar had recently imposed prohibition through the implementation of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Bill 2016 in which one can now be jailed for up to seven years for consuming alcohol. It has moreover fixed death penalty for manufacturers, suppliers and sellers of hooch in cases of death due to spurious liquor consumption.
Debatably the trend of banning liquor in different states is mainly on political grounds rather than social grounds. The campaign promises in Bihar to prohibit liquor had attracted numbers of voters in the recent state election leading to their victory. The same technique and tendency of fetching voters in the upcoming elections is carried out by political parties in Tamil Nadu. This is however evident by the campaigning programme of the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) that has not establish dry laws for last five years, was unexpectedly found to be taking sides of prohibition ahead of state elections.
So has been her chief rival, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, even though it had itself stopped the liquor ban in the state back in 1971. Thus it is alleged by different political theorist that prohibition in India is a political gimmick, having strong connections with the vote bank politics. Captivatingly, election days are also dry wherein the party or person that supports prohibition maintains a privileged ethical position, as his opponent can counter only on the basis of liberty to drink not against the respectability of law. This brings a knock-on effect where the majority of law-makers rapidly claim to be supporting the anti-alcohol movement. Thus prohibition helps the politicians in winning ample amount of votes, especially from women sections who are too often victims of alcohol-driven domestic violence.
The impact of punishable laws in regard to liquor in Bihar has created havoc among the populace of the state. People in order to consume alcohol are crossing over to borders like Nepal where it is being sold at a premium, or going to shops in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. They are subsequently paying more to purchase liquor, which perhaps spikes them and that also, at double the price. Thus unfortunately, prohibition which was implemented in Bihar to focus upon the working class who get daily wages and blow it up before reaching home are continuously seen mishandling their small income at a double rate rather than using the money appropriately.
The tribals of Bihar are socially and ritually connected with natural alcoholic products that they use regularly without fail to exercise their customary practices. Banning alcohol has therefore raised a great challenge for the government to deal with such a sensitive social issues. This banning has consequently obstructed with the distinctive identity of the tribal people which obviously they do not like to have interfered with.
The country’s experience of banning the sale and consumption of alcohol has not been a successful check against its use. The bootleggers are regularly profiting in vigorous trade despite of having prohibition laws. It has simply criminalised the situations, with devastating outcomes for individual health, the economy and administration.
The further inclusion of liquor mafias, spurious liquor, and a complicit police has worsened and weakened the imposition of prohibition. Prohibition has increased the chance of unlawful underground industry that would mainly be run and availed by moneyed people. Thus it can be assumed that complete ban may not be as effective as expected but surely its black marketing industry and high price might lead to lack of addiction for future generations specially the working class section who would not be able to afford it and therefore would be accustomed to live without alcohol.
The implementation of prohibition would nevertheless be more effective if would be seen through a standpoint of public health and social development rather than moral subject. It is furthermore imperative to have a better alertness about the ill-effects of too much consumption. There is a dearth of helpful counselling involvements for those who desire to control their drinking. Instead, the law of prohibition is often misused on medicinal grounds wherein anyone who desires to drink can acquire a permit by paying the requisite fee to a malleable physician. Therefore the loopholes lie within the institutions itself that restricts the laws to work flawlessly.
The decision for a state government to declare a ban on alcohol in India is although not an easy task as liquor revenues forms the bulwark of government funds and therefore is not easy to overlook. But disappointingly it is evident from the historical instances that decision to ban alcohol in Bihar may not deal with the problem of domestic violence, as expected so by the government. The state will also lose a large amount of tax revenue that funded the government. Besides, ban will lead to black market sales and then larger spending will be needed to implement the ban.
What the government could have really done to stop rising alcoholism was to raise the taxes which would have subsequently resulted in limited accessibility towards alcohol. A sudden ban may create havoc and increase the demand of alcohol with black-marketing rather than controlling the situation. Thus proper steps should be undertaken by the government to deal with such a sensitive issue that touches both the social and economic dimensions of society.
*Neha Gupta is a Research Scholar at Dibrugarh University, Assam. She can be reached at [email protected]