Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More on killing the bottle

[My post Kill the bottle attracted some comments which cannot be dealt with briefly. Therefore I am presenting my response by way of this post.]

Like the case of the oldest profession, drinking is not something that can be effectively stopped by law. That is why prohibition has been a failure wherever it was tried. That includes the Soviet Union and the USA. Several States in India (including parts of Kerala) had banned liquor shortly after Independence. But all of them except Gujarat repealed prohibition law after a few years. Sales Tax, if I remember right, was originally introduced to compensate the loss in revenue due to prohibition.

But even after prohibition was scrapped, Sales Tax (including on liquor) continues. As a result of this and other ad valorem levies, every time the government increases the price of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL – whiskey, brandy, rum etc) the revenue earnings of the exchequer increase. Those who cannot afford the higher cost turn to illicit brew.

Let us take a brief look at the ‘total prohibition’ in Gujarat. There have been several liquor tragedies in that State resulting in many deaths due to consumption of illicit concoctions. Last July about 150 people died in this manner. But for people who can afford, there is enough stock of liquor that is smuggled into Gujarat from the neighbouring States. The prices are not too high.

I believe that in Ahmedabad you can place a telephone order with the local bootlegger for the stuff you want and it would be delivered to you in half an hour. Quite a luxury, I must say. Two separate commissions, one headed by Justice MN Miabhoy and the other by Justice AA Dave have concluded that prohibition has not been really effective in Gujarat.

Mr. Narendra Modi, the Cief Minister of Gujarat, did introduce some relaxation of the prohibition rules by making liquor more easily available in SEZs and for visitors and business conventions. But about 25,000 people staged a protest march against the dilution in the liquor laws.

The argument that consumption of alcohol is against Indian culture is incongruous. From Vedic times, the drink Soma, and liquor obtained by fermenting grains and fruits were consumed by the people of India. There is at least one reference to early Christians of Kerala using palm toddy instead of wine for Mass. Even today some deities are believed to like offerings of arrack.

On all counts, ‘total prohibition’ is impractical and would do more damage than good. Telling people not to drink would have no effect. Alcohol is not bad per se, but the abuse of it is. Therefore the objective should be to prevent excessive drinking. Perhaps the only way to achieve this is by creating awareness of the damages alcohol can cause and on how to drink if one wants to go ahead nevertheless. I am not talking about ‘smoking can kill you’ kind of publicity but something more intense and meaningful.

If a man walks into a bar and orders beer by the peg someone is sure to tell him that is not the way the stuff is to be consumed. Different types of alcohol are to be taken in different ways. A simple example is beer and hard liquor – the former can be gulped while the other stuff is to be sipped. I have seen many people drink whiskey in the manner that beer should be taken. Obviously they think that is the way it should be done.

Most Indians start drinking on the sly. They and their companions are equally ignorant of what to drink, when, and how. They are usually guided by what is shown in the movies where macho heroes knock back undiluted liquor. Or they blindly follow the example of others who are equally uninformed.

Let people know how different types of drinks should be consumed and in what quantities. Explain to them the physical and economic damages excess consumption of alcohol can cause. Drive home the fact that a drunk has no macho image. Let them know that sex after heavy drinking can be most frustrating for both partners. Tell them that the capacity to hold alcohol differs from person to person.

Persuade the people to drink in moderation, preferably at home. Wives should be happy to keep the husbands home; pour them couple of drinks and see that they sip it slowly and also ensure that they eat something along with it. Parents should be happy if their grown up children stick to beer or an occasional hard drink instead of turning to drugs.

A properly planned and executed awareness campaign would require large expenditure. How is it to be funded? Surely the liquor manufacturers can be roped in to contribute. In the long run it would only help their business. Part of the revenue from the duties and taxes on liquor that the government collects can be set apart for this drive.

But first of all let us be aware of a basic fact of life – prohibition is big business for some people. For that matter, even pricing the liquor high is inviting the moonshiners and bootleggers and smugglers to enter the hooch trade.




Also see Drunk on a wasted road


Happy Kitten said...

Yes... prohibition will not help... if it did then here in Kuwait where there is prohibition plus stricter loss one should have only Teetotalers… but the fact is that the residents plus the expats quench their thirst either by flying into neighboring countries (Bahrain, UAE.) and some secure it even here at exorbitant price… and for the rest who cannot afford, the bootleggers are in plenty.. this is in spite of regular “hauling” by the authorities….

The only way as you wrote is to educate the youngsters about the ills of liquor and as for the veterans in drinking… I guess one way is for their wives to start drinking (a drinking competition may drive the point through) or learn to pour drinks at home :)

perumalythoma said...

Completely in agreement, Mr. Tharakan.

If we could stop classifying consumption of alcohol as sleazy, that would solve half the problem.
And frankly, I hate the way one has to buy from the Civil Supplies Corp. in Kerala.
The wire mesh, the pigeonhole, the paper-wrap, the loud queue, the dingy interiors.
Degrading, if you ask me.

And the less said about prohibition in Gujarat, the better.
I spent some time in A'bad.
Bootlegger on call.
At ridiculously low prices (no excise).

Not good enough?
I met the Prohibition Commissioner once.
And a friend introduced me as someone who was undermining the PC every day.
After a brief lecture that I shouldn't be drinking at my age, yada, yada, yada, he gave me his card.
And asked me to call him if I was ever stopped by cops.
How much better can things get!
Hmmm. Maybe they should introduce prohibition in Karnataka!

Look, I am not speaking the drinking and beating up spouses variety.
Or those, that drink away all their money.
What I think should be done to them cannot be shared in a public forum.

But hey, let a man have his golden amber after sunset in peace!

Unknown said...

I must admit, I belong to the (RAUA - Regular Alcohol Users Assoc), and once in a while gets really drunk during the ceremonial massacre of bottles with fellow fraternity.

Not to forget the plight of those unsuspecting sober onlookers who err by showing any familiarity towards me, and then being subjected to a lengthy lecture ranging from anything and evrything under or above the skies.

I have to admit I have been involved in the crime of 'Killing the Bottle' many a times.