The price of the "right" to alcohol

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The price of the “right” to alcohol.

by Mari Marcel Thekaekara


If alcohol is illegal, will this cut violence against women in India? (Greencolander, under a CC License)

My first blogs, nearly two years ago, were about the growing alcohol problem in India.

All the recent governments in India are proud of how the economy is growing. But they do not talk about the enormous social problems our communities which are the result of this. There is more alcoholism and drug abuse than ever before. In the past, many of our village communities used ganja (cannabis) sometimes for pleasure, like people in the West have a beer in the evening. It was only a little ganja to help relax after a tiring day.

But in the last decade, governments have taken over the alcohol business by giving out the right to sell it. This brings in a huge amount of money. But society suffers. Women and children suffer from alcohol-related violence in the home. More families fall into poverty when men drink all the money they earn. Health is also suffering.

Women’s groups have nearly always voted to make alcohol illegal in India. Alcoholism is a very serious problem for women. It is so serious, that Indian housewives, who are normally shy and not at all violent, have taken action. They have protested against the sale of alcohol and even burnt down many alcohol shops and factories. They did this because they are desperate. They are fighting for their lives. A few years ago, local women destroyed an alcohol shop. The shop owner got the police to protect him. The police warned the women that they would arrest them if they came back. They were simply trying to stop this enormous problem for their children and families.

Recently, alcohol was the main story in the news again. An old Gandhi called Sasiperumal has been on a 33 day long fast (no food) in Chennai, to demand total prohibition (ban on alcohol). He was arrested on 30 January, the anniversary of Gandhi’s death. Political parties and civil rights groups have joined him, agreeing to support him.

A new anti-alcohol movement has begun our district, the Nilgiris. We need this now. All over Tamil Nadu, we see men lying by the road, drunk. It makes them look terrible and it destroys them. It throws their families into terrible poverty. It is totally negative - this is not social drinking. It’s the same in most parts of India.

Many rape cases (but not all), especially gang-rapes, which are now common, are because of men who are drunk. The terrible, tragic Nirbhaya rape was committed by a gang of drunken men. Popular Bollywood films show alcohol and sex linked together in a very dangerous message about men and power. Expensive magazines have the same message for a different group of people. They show adverts for whisky and vodka with a man in an expensive suit and a glass of alcohol with sexy women all around him.

Rich Indians are talking about ‘our right to choose to drink.’ Owners of pubs and alcohol businesses are making lots of money. It’s now cool and sophisticated to spend a social evening, clubbing or pubbing in expensive bars or night clubs, especially on a weekend. Young, rich, westernized Indian base their lifestyles and leisure on television series like Friends. They have to know about expensive whiskey and wine to be ‘cool’. They need to be cool.

But this is very different from the life of 80 per cent of India, where there is so much malnutrition, starvation, deaths and maternal mortality. I enjoy a glass of white wine with my pasta. I was born into minority, elite India. But if alcohol was illegal (prohibition), a few million Indian women would escape violence caused by alcohol. So should I demand my right to a glass of wine?

I met a pregnant woman whose drunken husband kicked her in her stomach. I was pregnant too, when she lost her baby 28 years ago. What is the price of this urgent “right” to drink?

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