Insights into Editorial: Why women want prohibition
15 June 2016
Nitish Kumar’s strong advocacy of alcohol prohibition in his home state of Bihar, addressing it as a social evil, has an almost Gandhian ring to it. However, according to many, the drive behind the chief minister’s imposition of the ban on alcohol has a more crafty political will behind it. The move has carved out a unique constituency that owes its allegiance to the Chief Minister: The women vote bank.
However, many people have not welcomed this move. They have always advocated for regulation rather than prohibition as the solution to the liquor problem. They argue that the problem should be tackled at the individual level through de-addiction and counseling and states should regulate alcohol rather than impose blanket bans.
Facts at Glance:
- Alcohol is a subject in the State list under the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution.
- Article 47 of the Directive Principle in the Constitution of India states that “The state shall undertake rules to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
Why women demand prohibition as a political solution?
It is because, in the first place, the liquor problem has become a political issue. Often, especially in the deprived classes, drinking among men translates into domestic violence. Few studies also show that domestic violence has declined since the imposition of prohibition and men are doing other things to earn their livelihood.
How this move affects states’ revenue?
The sale of alcohol contributes to the economy of the state through the tax directly and through the tourism, indirectly. The State Excise in India is mainly imposed on the sale of liquor, which is commonly known as Liquor tax. The states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab earn a large portion of their revenue from the State Excise. Because of the ban in consumption of alcohol in dry states, they are regarded as a poor contributor.
Why total prohibition is good?
- Prohibition of alcohol limits and/or prevents alcohol addiction. This particular addiction can easily ruin people’s lives, including their jobs, their friends, their families, and obviously themselves too.
- Alcohol, especially in large quantities, can damage people’s kidneys and livers, and can eventually lead to death.
- Some religions (such as Islam, Mormonism, and some Pentecostal Christians) expressly forbids the consumption of alcohol.
- Some argue that there is a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and an increase in crime. Violent crimes, assault, and disorderly conduct are most common with persons who are intoxicated.
- Prohibition reduces the causalities and damages through drunk driving.
- Alcohol can be a very expensive habit.
Why prohibition is not so good?
- Firstly, there are serious doubts about the governments’ political will and administrative ability to prevent total sale and consumption of liquor.
- Ban may also lead to smuggling of illicit liquor and production of spurious liquor.
- It also spawns massive corruption. Prohibition may not automatically result in wise and healthy spending patterns.
- Blanket bans could adversely affect tourism, hospitality and other businesses, besides being an unfair intrusion into personal choices of a large section of people who can afford liquor and consume moderately.
- Alcohol addiction is considered a victimless crime, since it primarily affects the alcoholics. While it does affect the people around alcoholics, it does not directly affect them. People can always keep their distance from or leave alcoholics, if they choose.
- Criminal organizations will mostly profit from prohibition and, that in return, will promote other illegal activities.
- In most cultures and religions, social drinking is an acceptable practice.
- Also, people should have the freedom of choice to decide to drink alcohol or not, as long as that freedom does not infringe on the freedoms of other people. Therefore, a law prohibiting alcohol would remove the freedom of choice.
Why a total prohibition is better than regulation?
Many politicians whose political and/or business interests are served through increase in liquor sales would rather use their power to increase such sales rather than think about regulation. In such a scenario, counselling and de-addiction as alternatives to prohibition ends up depoliticising the issue and directly helps the liquor lobby’s agenda.
- In few states, the legal/illegal binary is blurred as licensed liquor shops set up well-knit networks to smuggle liquor outside their premises in blatant contravention of the law. They do not adhere to timings or dry day restrictions; they regularly sell to under-age persons and use minors for smuggling activities.
- Also, the excise department has neither the will nor the way to act effectively against erring license holders. Apart from other things like a severe lack of humanpower and resources, the excise department has been drilled over decades to increase revenue by meeting sales targets.
It is evident that the problem is complex and there can be no easy solutions, especially one that fits all. Alcohol addiction and its ill-effects may affect the poor more, but the middle and upper-middle classes cannot claim to be immune to its debilitating consequences either. Hence, it would be some relief if local people, especially women, had a say in the closure of erring liquor shops. Liquor is not a moral issue but a political one and therefore, more power to the women of Bihar who have shown the way, and hopefully, more politicians will take the cue from Nitish Kumar.