Moodindigo: Be the change
History has shown us that prohibition merely opens the back door. To tackle the evil called alcoholism, effort should be made to change drinking behaviour
It is undeniable that alcoholism is a scourge on society, it devastates families, snatches livelihoods and leads to law and order issues, among its various repercussions. But is prohibition the answer? This question raises its head with regularity. Most recently the LDF government rolled back the “partial prohibition” brought into place a few years ago by the Congress-led UDF in Kerala. Under the new guidelines, the drinking age has been increased to 23 from 21 and liquor may now be served in two and three-star establishments and not only in five-star hotels. The “bar ban” issued by the SC on the location of these watering holes being beyond 500 feet from highways remains in place. This move has led to an immediate response from the Congress in the state alleging that this dial back by the state government is a result of the liquor lobby. In Bihar, where Nitish Kumar kept a poll promise and brought in prohibition earlier this year, we saw hilarious headlines of the local police blaming rats for missing alcohol in a warehouse of contraband liquor. In the northeast, Manipur has seen some serious debate on prohibition and has struggled with its implementation, with liquor being widely available despite the law.
Around the world, prohibition has been difficult to enforce. In the United States, prohibition gave rise to the mafia as jazz clubs, and booze filled reverie led to the decade being referred to as the “roaring ’20s” — a time of excesses. The (in) famous gangster Al Capone ruled the roost as he transported liquor and corruption were at an all-time high. Over the years organised protests against prohibition took place as support for it in society diminished, including those who had believed its implementation would resolve social ills like domestic violence and debauchery. It became such a hot button issue that Franklin D Roosevelt, included repealing prohibition as a campaign promise. Prohibition just hadn’t worked.

It is noteworthy here, that prohibition movements have seen women participate, organise and lead them around the world. It was the case in the United States and was so in Bihar as well, the chief minister keeping his promise to them. In the state of Tamil Nadu which has had a moody relationship with prohibition, women are once again championing this cause. And it is no surprise, alcohol tears apart lives and impacts families in irreparable ways, even those that survive its assault. This is a serious concern, and there is no easy answer. But often prohibition comes up as the easy answer. But in societies where it is introduced, there is a surge in alcohol consumption and crime and a whole set of new problems that didn’t exist earlier. As mentioned earlier, organised crime found its way into American life as a result of prohibition.
So what is the way forward? To toss out the personal freedom argument would be in a sense to shut out the very real problems that alcoholism presents. Recently we had some optimistic news; young India is smoking less, a 54 per cent drop in tobacco consumption was recorded in the age group of fifteen to seventeen years and 28 per cent for the age group of 18 to 24 years. The solution has been multi-pronged, there has been government focus, with the health minister JP Nadda stating that his ministry’s policy has been to “catch ’em young” to control the spread of the habit. Also, the public health campaigns mandated by the law, graphic advisories on cigarette packets, making cigarettes more expensive, banning the sale of tobacco near school premises, disseminating information on the ill effects of smoking, etc. have contributed. Similar campaigns have to be undertaken to introduce and educate the public about the signs of alcoholism and how to deal with it. State governments that earn revenue from the sale of alcohol must also fund facilities for deaddiction, rehabilitation and counselling. It is almost a moral compulsion to do so. Prohibition fails to stop or curb the consumption of alcohol; this has been proven on repeated occasions, the only solution then is a sustained effort to change drinking behaviour.

(Advaita Kala is a screenwriter and a columnist)
Advaita Kala