Recent decision of Kerala government to implement prohibition of alcohol in the state and make it alcohol free in the next ten years is fighting to find peace between the matters of health and wealth.
India has a memorable history of playing around with prohibition, originating with the view of the country’s founder, Mahatma Gandhi, that alcohol was a social evil. But is it so?
The makers of this proposal argue that Kerala has the highest per capita consumption rate of alcohol, which leads to major diseases in the state, numerous accidents and domestic violence because of alcohol abuse. While a few support this decision, major chunk of our population, including the ones who do not drink, is opposing this decision.
There are number of loopholes in the proposal.
Bootlegging and illicit liquor
Gujarat is a dry state. Have people quit drinking there? It is readily available as it is imported from the neighboring states like Rajasthan. What will be the difference in Kerala? Illegal selling or distribution of alcohol will dominate the state soon. The point here is that if people of the state are addicted so much to the drink, then they will make sure to have it arranged from somewhere.
Then slowly and slowly, the state having the highest literacy rate will have the highest smuggling and crime rates as well.
Can the government moderate public’s choice?
The most basic argument here is that how can the government decide whether someone has to drink or not. It is the personal choice of every individual. Yes, if there is no such right as ‘Right to Drink’, then the government holds no such right as Right to hinder personal choice.
Loss of Revenue
The alcohol beverages industry, which brings in as much as 8000 crore INR as revenue to the Kerala government will shut down. Rum and brandy account of 80% of the market, followed by whisky and vodka. Once the chief minister’s dream of ‘total prohibition’ becomes reality, revenue will instead be directed to the pockets of dangerous criminals and corrupt officials. It isn’t clear how the government plans to recover lost earnings from alcohol sales, which by one estimate accounts for more than 20% of revenues in the state’s annual budget.
Government’s decision sounds more like party politics than an honest moral stand.
Problems of generalizing; alcohol also part of culture
Government has a problem of generalizing various issues prevailing in some state or county as a whole. Not everyone who drinks beats up his wife. It has to look at the larger interests of people. Alcohol is a part of certain traditions and cultures where it is proudly set up in weddings and wrapped up in gift papers.
Different perspectives have to be considered while looking through a problem. A knife is used to cut vegetables and to cut throats. Then can we ban knives?
Alcohol in 5-stars. What about the unemployment of others?
The proposal states that the bars will shut down gradually over the period of ten years and 5-star hotels shall only serve liquor which amount to a total of 36 outlets in the entire state. Why? This is not convincing enough. Why is someone allowed to drink in a 5-star hotel? A rich man who can afford to buy a drink there can also suffer from liver cirrhosis, which is related directly to alcohol consumption. The same person can also rush his Mercedes over the people sleeping on footpath or just indulge in domestic violence. Then why talk of diseases, accidents and violence?
If alcohol is served in big hotels, its black market will also start making it mark in Kerala. Adulteration of this product will find its way, which will lead to rich making more money and the unemployed from all the local bars dwell over poverty. In 1996, then CM AK Antony banned Arrack. But statistics show that money spent on the costlier India-made foreign liquor by Keralites has gone up by more than 18 times in the past 18 years. The pity is that the same cheap liquor is bottled afresh with new golden labels and sold officially.
Kerala is one of the most important tourist destinations in India. For tourists, having a mug of beer is part of their enjoyment. Not all tourists can afford 5-star rates. This is affecting the tourism industry of the state. What has Kerala government thought about that?
The people belonging to other religions are shouting out that the Christian community of the state that regularly demanded the ban. The Church has been active in condemning alcoholism and has leaned heavily on the government to be more active in taking steps to curtail supply, with some Catholic bishops even going so far as to say the government would fall if prohibition was not introduced.
With due respect to the religion, I respect their viewpoint as well. However, wine and other forms of alcohol are part of the Christian culture the most as result of the history of Jesus turning water to wine. So if bars cannot serve liquor, should be the Church also be abstained from serving wine for the Holy Communion ritual?
Coming down to the conclusion I feel alcohol should be seen neutrally, so that it is neither a terrible poison nor a magic potion. There should be little or no social pressure to drink. Moderate drinking and abstinence should be presented as equally acceptable choices. Those who choose to drink should not force drinking upon abstainers. Those who choose not to drink should have comparable respect for those who do.
Banning is not a smart move. Some awareness should be carried out. What is the history of campaigns in Kerala? We do not know. If something has to be banned, it has to be production of alcohol rather than just the sale. But it is very simple. If I have to be two bottles down by the evening, I will do that.
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