April 25, 2022
I had two casual labourers in their late twenties named Vijay and Harish. They used to clean the garden, remove coconuts and do other menial tasks. One day Vijay came alone and asked for some work. After half an hour he told me that he had not taken breakfast so he wants some money. I gave him Rs 100 and afterwards he never returned. Later I leant that he died due to drinking. Harish also started coming alone and he had become so weak that he could not climb the coconut trees. Later he became sick and took shelter in my car shed. I used to provide him with food on Sundays when hotels are closed. Soon I admitted him to the Government hospital and later I came to know that he also died of drinking.
I had a part time domestic servant named Mahadevi hailing from Bagalkot whose husband had died due to drinking leaving two daughters (now) aged 23 and 18. However, Mahadevi educated her daughters, one till graduation in engineering and the second PUC (Science). Her sister, Yellamma is a part time domestic servant in my colleague’s house whose husband though living is not working but drinks from his wife’s income. The couple has three male children (now) aged 20, 18 and 16. The elder one completed ITI, the second son completed II PU Science and the youngest is studying in I PU Arts.
Delivering a speech, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana cited the Bihar prohibition law as one example of “lack of foresight” in drafting legislation that leads to courts being inundated with cases and “a simple bail application” taking a year to be disposed of. What Nitish Kumar glossed over is the fact that since the enforcement of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, courts have been clogged and jails overcrowded. State police records show that 3,48,170 cases have been lodged and 4,01,855 arrests made under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise law until October 2021. About 20,000 bail applications relating to these cases have been pending for disposal before the Patna High Court and district courts in the state.
Above are the cases of two individuals and heads of two families who have become victims of drinking. There will be lakhs of people in India who are victims of drinking. Due to drinking the individuals are lost and families suffer. Bihar is a state in India where there is complete prohibition. The above paragraph shows how courts are inundated due to prohibition in Bihar. So, there is a need to understand the problem of drinking, its causes, effects and suggest remedies. 2,500 years ago Gautama Buddha preached the middle path avoiding extremes. Taking the cue from this, this paper exhorts the states to follow the middle path and evolve a sound prohibition policy. At present some states have complete prohibition policy while others do not have.
Alcoholism is excessive drinking of alcohol that results in significant mental or physical health problems. Alcoholic Anonymous divides drinkers into three types: Social drinkers, Ordinary drinkers and Alcoholics. First, individuals start with social drinking, become ordinary drinkers and ultimately become alcoholics. It is estimated that among the drinkers 10 percent end up as alcoholics. Alcoholism is characterised by an increased tolerance to alcohol – which means that an individual can consume more alcohol – and physical dependence on alcohol, which makes it hard for an individual to control their consumption. The physical dependency caused by alcohol can lead to an affected individual having a very strong urge to drink alcohol. An alcoholic starts his day with a drink and ends the day with a drink.
People with alcohol use disorder may engage in the following behaviours: drinking alone, drinking more to feel the effects of alcohol (having a high tolerance), becoming violent or angry when asked about their drinking habits, not eating or eating poorly, neglecting personal hygiene, missing work because of drinking, being unable to control alcohol intake, making excuses to drink, continuing to drink even when legal, social, or economic problems develop, giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use. People with alcohol use disorder may also experience the following physical symptoms: alcohol cravings, withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, including shaking, nausea, and vomiting, tremors (involuntary shaking) the morning after drinking, lapses in memory (blacking out) after a night of drinking, illnesses, such as alcoholic ketoacidosis (includes dehydration-type symptoms) or cirrhosis.
Alcohol prohibition in India is in force in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, and Nagaland and in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. All other Indian states and union territories permit the sale of alcohol. The state of Nagaland became a dry state in 1989 when the Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTP) banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. Gujarat is the only Indian state with a death penalty for the manufacture and sale of homemade liquor that results in fatalities. The legislation is titled the Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2009. Bihar became a dry state in 2015 when the then Chief Minister Nitish Kumar prohibited the sale of alcohol state-wide. The Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Bill, 2019 was passed unanimously in the state Assembly on March 20. The Bill, that received Governor Jagdish Mukhi's assent before the parliamentary polls, replaced the four-year-old Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) or MLPC Act, 2014. Lakshadweep is the only Union Territory in India to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol. Except the island of Bangaram, which is an inhabited island but has a bar, alcohol is banned in the rest of Lakshadweep.
Causes of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a serious social problem and is caused by many factors. The Dutch criminologist, W.A. Bonger has highlighted the misery drinking among the proletariats due to the miserable conditions of their socio-economic environments such as nature of occupation, long hours of work, bad and insufficient food, bad housing conditions, economic uncertainty and ignorance.
Genetics and family history are the important factors of alcoholism. If a person has a parent or a close relative with alcohol addiction, his or her risk goes up. Research shows that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for alcohol addiction. Although there isn’t one true gene that causes alcoholism, many scientists believe that several genes are responsible for about half the risk of developing it. A history of alcoholism among your relatives is both a biological and genetic factor, but it can also be environmental. Alcoholism doesn’t necessarily have to run in your family for you to become addicted. Simply being around family members who drink frequently can cause you to start doing the same. They can glamorize heavy drinking and make it seem acceptable, so you’ll feel better about doing it as well. (Lake, 2020).
Drinking from an early age can cause long-term problems. If one starts drinking before the age of 15, he or she may be four times likelier to develop alcohol dependence later in life. Generally, the general period of alcohol use begins in the late teens, then peaks in the 20s and finally slows down in the early 30s. However, starting to drink at a young age will increase the chances of developing alcoholism.
Men are more likely than women to become addicted to alcohol. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women in the U.S. had an alcohol use disorder. (Manning, 2020) In India too, more men drink than women. It is due to the double standard prevalent in different countries regarding drinking behaviour. The ability to consume large quantities of liquor seems to be a demonstration of masculinity while drunkenness among women is regarded with great disapproval as a sign of moral degradation.
Bad housing and lack of recreational factors contribute to drinking. People drink because their houses are so cold, dark, overcrowded and dismal that they cannot stay there for a long time. It is the case specially people living in slums. The failure of the community to satisfy the emotions in a sane and healthy manner also leads to such craving.
Stress at work or at home can drive people to drink. People who work long hours and have high-demand careers like doctors, nurses, lawyers and construction workers are more likely to develop alcoholism as they drink to keep stress at bay. People drink because their occupation has completely exhausted them. They look forward eagerly to the respite which intoxication affords. We find masons and other construction workers drink because they are exhausted because of lifting heavy stones or objects. Similarly, people working in sanitation pits drink to avoid the stench emanating from the pits. Men who do heavy manual work have long been deluded by the belief that alcohol furnishes added strength and vigour with which they can pursue their labour.
There is a marked difference in the prevalence of drinking among different cultural or ethnic groups in a country. Max Weber observed that one of the reasons for the progress attained by the Protestant groups compared to the Catholics in Europe and America has been the strictures on drinking. In India, the Brahmins being vegetarians do not have the culture of drinking. Even now, some people belonging to backward castes by abstaining from consuming alcohol try to sanskritize themselves and thus try to attain social mobility. Consumption of alcohol is considered haram (prohibited or sinful) by the majority of Muslims.
People drink for business reasons in the capacity of either potential customers or sellers. In big businesses, entertaining the potential buyer is done through serving alcohol. Similarly, when a business man or company wants to get a big contract, the contract giver is entertained with alcohol. Many cases of drinking arise after apparent success in business or professional life.
Mental health disorders are the important cause of drinking. Having schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder can be frustrating and difficult. People with mental health disorders tend to drink to mitigate their symptoms and feel better. Even if alcohol temporarily eases symptoms of depression and anxiety, drinking frequently can lead to a high tolerance and, eventually, alcoholism. On top of that, alcohol can actually make mental health symptoms worse at times. In the United States of America, about one-third of people with a mental health disorder are also struggling with alcoholism. Similarly, the role of discrimination and stress in health-related risk behaviours, including alcohol use, is well established.
Peer pressure is another cause of alcoholism. Kids in high school and college feel the need to be accepted and they’re in on the fun by joining other teens. Heavy drinking has long been considered an acceptable practice among teens and young adults aged 18 to 35, and keeping that drinking going past this age is a factor in what causes alcoholism. Often affluence of the parents and lack of supervision on the part of the parents cause drinking among the teens.
Community influences on alcohol consumption is well known. This aspect focuses primarily on environmental aspects, such as neighbourhood characteristics and opportunities for alcohol purchasing and consumption. For example, the study of Bernstein et al. found that individuals who lived in a neighbourhood with a poorly built environment, characterized by inferior building conditions, housing, and water and sanitation indicators, were 150 percent more likely to report heavy drinking compared with those living in better built environments. Further, the urbanisation and mechanisation of life along with material mindedness which modern civilization has brought, has also been responsible for the increase in drinking.
Alcoholism as a social problem affecting the individual, families and the society. A healthy life organisation can only be erected upon the basis of normal and healthy social relationships. When used to excess alcohol modifies these relationships, changes the reality of former social values and brings about highly individuated attitudes. The excessive drinker may forsake his home, his family and his business. When under the influence of alcohol he may be talkative or gloomily silent. His conversation may seem vulgar to the sober observer. After consuming liquor, he may become a liar, a scoundrel and may even commit murder. Excessive drinking brings about slurred speech, drowsiness, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach upset, headaches, breathing difficulties and distorted vision, hearing and perception. Some long-term effects of frequently drinking alcohol include persistent changes in mood, including anxiety and irritability, insomnia and other sleep concerns, a weakened immune system, meaning you might get sick more often changes in libido and sexual function, changes in appetite and weight problems with memory and concentration, difficulty focusing on tasks and increased tension and conflict in romantic and family relationships. Any good individual after prolonged indulgence may disintegrate and ultimately end in complete disorganisation. Drinking and driving cause many accidents. According to WHO report, alcohol kills 2.6 lakh Indians every year either by causing liver cirrhosis, cancer or leading to road accidents caused by drunk driving.
The problems of drinking and family disorganisation are closely connected. Drink is also a motivating factor in many family tensions. With the consumption of alcohol, when one partner is sexually aroused by others, it creates tension later on. Such promiscuous relationships are not conducive to healthy family relationships. Sometimes such situations result in savage conflicts. It is generally said that liquor has been a traditional enemy of love and marriage. A strong prejudice against drink on the part of a husband or wife of one who drinks is a constant source of friction in the family and may lead to divorce. Often, mothers when they find that children are subjected to the vagaries of an alcoholic father, to save their children from such bad effects resort to divorce. In lower class families where people have neither the knowledge nor the resources for divorce, drunkenness often causes untold misery. The habit of consuming alcohol on a regular basis may drain family finances which take a toll on the family’s overall well-being.
Drinking leads to community disorganisation. Alcohol can also have social consequences such as contributing to violence, crime and antisocial behaviour in the community. In the US, alcohol is involved in more than 88,000 deaths per year. Continued drinking enhances healthcare expenses. Alcohol consumption is a risk factor in numerous chronic diseases and conditions, and alcohol plays a significant role in certain cancers, psychiatric conditions, and numerous cardiovascular and digestive diseases. Additionally, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. In the economic front, alcohol consumption increases absenteeism, leads to work related accidents, lessens productivity leads to unemployment and ultimately to poverty. In addition, public halls or hotels where drinking along with other allied activities such as dance, prostitution, gambling goes on brings community disorganisation.
Prohibition in India
The use of intoxicating drinks in India dates back to ancient times. Liquor was largely confined to lower strata of society. However, it is encouraging to note that during Hindu and Muslim periods, the masses generally refrained from drinking. The British Government did not follow the Indian tradition and tried to enforce the pattern in vogue in England with regard to drinking. The year 1790 saw the enactment of excise laws and framing of excise rules in British India in consonance with the policy of maximum revenue with the minimum of consumption. The consumption of liquor was extended among the people by the personal example set by the average Englishman. Drinking was given a social acceptance and more and better opportunities were provided.
The Indian Excise Committee was appointed in 1905 with a view to examine the excise administration of each province. The committee observed that drinking in India has increased especially in urban areas and among industrial workers. The Government of India in their excise policy of 1905 pointed out: “The Government of India have no desire to interfere with the habits of those who use alcohol in moderation and it is necessary to make due provision for the needs of such persons. Their settled policy is to minimise temptation to those who do not drink and discourage excess among those who do.” Seeing the increased use of liquor, in 1920 the Indian National Congress passed a resolution to abolish of liquor and drug shops. Mahatma Gandhi, the great advocate of prohibition, placed it as one of the eleven demands before the Viceroy in 1930 for the settlement of Indian problems. In 1937, with the inauguration of Provincial Autonomy, Congress Ministries assumed office in certain provinces that real efforts were made to implement the policies of prohibition in selected areas.
After independence, the prohibition policy made good progress in some Provinces and by 1955 there was complete prohibition in the states of Madras, Andhra and Bombay while in states such as Assam, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Mysore and Himachal Pradesh there was partial prohibition and in the rest there was no prohibition at all. In 1954 the Government of India appointed Prohibition Enquiry Committee to examine the experience gained regarding measures adopted to promote prohibition. The Committee after studying the prohibition mentioned specific benefits accrued such as reduction in consumption, economic benefits and social gains. It also mentioned the difficulties encountered in the implementation of prohibition and drew some conclusions and made some recommendations.
In 1963 the Chief Ministers of States after discussing the various aspects of prohibition came to the conclusion that there should be no relaxation in the existing system. In April 1963 the Planning Commission appointed a study team under the chairmanship of Justice Tek Chand to study the working of the prohibition programme for the country as a whole. At this time the states of Gujarat, Madras and Maharashtra were completely dry while Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Mysore, Orissa and Punjab were partially dry and Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi were mostly wet. The study team was pained to see that there was increasing consumption of alcohol in wet states. So, the study team suggested making the wet states completely dry within 10 years. The team also suggested many social, legal and penal measures to curb illicit distillation and sale.
At present, prohibition in India is in force in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, and Nagaland. Lakshadweep is the only Union Territory in India to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol. The state of Nagaland became a dry state in 1989 when the Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTP) banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. The state of Gujarat has remained mostly dry and the present prohibition in Gujarat is based on the legislation titled the Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2009. In fact, Gujarat is the only Indian state with a death penalty for the manufacture and sale of homemade liquor that results in fatalities. Bihar became a dry state in 2015 when the then Chief Minister Nitish Kumar prohibited the sale of Alcohol state-wide. The Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Bill, 2019 was passed unanimously in the state Assembly on March 20 replacing the four-year-old Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) or MLPC Act, 2014.
Advantages of Prohibition
One of the main benefits of prohibition is the betterment of mental and social health around us. It would also lead to less number of health problems associated with alcoholism leading to a healthier population. Prohibition in the states of India that have implemented the policy has led to lower rates of drinking as well as a decreased incidence of violence against women, increased women empowerment and women have started feeling safe.
The money, which now remained unspent on account of the non-availability of liquor found its use in fruitful directions. Debts incurred before were being repaid, houses were being repaired or rebuilt, earthen utensils were being replaced by copper and brass ones. They were now able to afford better food and clothing and make even ornaments for their wives, give toys to their infants and education to their children. Most of the ex-addicts were able to improve their farm lands, purchase farm equipment and even live-stock. Thus, prohibition brought about a marked change in the standard of living of the poor working classes. Industrial labour on account of prohibition was able to retain 20 to 30 percent of the wage bill previously spent on drink.
There are social gains too. Improvement in the condition of addicts had been a great asset to the society at large. The ex-addicts had now regained the lost social prestige and were looking upon as active and useful members of the society. Addicts have become conscious of their rights and duties as citizens. They actively participate in social and political activities. Family quarrels and street brawls have been eliminated. The health of the ex-addicts has considerably improved. There is improvement in the standard of living and the social and physical health of the family as a whole has improved.
Disadvantages of Prohibition
Though there are many advantages of prohibition, there are also disadvantages. Complete prohibition is not solution for alcohol addiction. Due to prohibition supply of illicit liquor will be increased. Smuggling and liquor mafias will be increased. Smuggling to the Nagaland state from the neighbouring state Assam is an example for this. In Bihar, in October 2021, one policeman evading arrest while three others have been arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle liquor in the escort vehicle of Madhepur SP. In another incident, an ambulance was seized in Bihar’s Saran district after it was found ferrying a large consignment of ‘country-made’ liquor and its driver arrested, police said. Facing criticism over poor implementation of the liquor ban, the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar is likely to give some relaxation to the violators. As per the proposal, the violators who are caught in drunken state can be let off after paying penalty on the spot. Though, it is not applicable to the repeat offenders. A person repeatedly violating the norms of liquor prohibition law would be liable to face jail term. According to the latest news of February 2020 Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked officials of the excise and prohibition department to explore the possibility of using drones, dog squads and motorboats against the violators of the prohibition law.
Gujarat is another dry state. Once I was invited to deliver the Valedictory Address during a conference in Gujarat University, Ahmedabad. Before starting from Mangalore, I enquired with my friend, a Professor in Gujarat University, whether I should carry some liquor for him. He told me not to bring any liquor because they can bathe with liquor there. After the Valedictory Function he served me and his friends a sumptuous dinner. In fact, he had eight bottles of whisky and he asked me to select any brand. He also told me that once he had no liquor when some guests arrived in his quarters. So, with the contact with the higher ups in the police department, he collected a bottle of whisky from the nearby police station.
Use of alternative addictives such as drugs will be increased especially among youth. The study of Lupin Rahman has shown that as a result of prohibition illicit liquor increased in rural areas and in urban slums. In the absence of liquor, the urban youth turned to drugs. As a result of prohibition in Bihar, de-addiction centres have been receiving an increased number of cases of substance abuse, ranging from cannabis, inhalants, and sedatives to opioids.
Prohibition has its pros and cons, and its implementation has proved to be a challenging task, to the point of becoming impractical. Despite heavy monitoring and regulation, the illegal manufacture, sale and consumption of liquor continues to cripple the prohibition efforts of the Gujarat government. Data from various sources indicate that the number of deaths caused by the consumption of illicit alcohol is one of the highest in Gujarat. Between 2012 and 2016, spurious liquor claimed 177 lives in Gujarat. A more recent example is from Bihar, where bootlegging, illegal trade and consumption of alcohol are rampant since the government brought in prohibition in 2016.
The immediate effect of prohibition is a dent on states’ revenues. Post the introduction of GST, revenue from excise has become one of the major taxes collected by states on their own. When the Bihar government announced the liquor ban in September 2016, it cost the state heavily, as the receipts from state excise fell sharply from 3,141 crore for 2015-16 to 29 crore for 2016-17. Because of fiscal constraints, the government has been forced to withdraw all capital incentives including subsidy for industries investing in Bihar, as per its new industrial policy. Moreover, there has been an adverse impact on economic activity as well.
Many people, who are working in the alcohol industry, will lose their jobs. Alcohol industry includes manufacture, bottling, distribution and retailing. Alcohol prohibition will also leave thousands who work in liquor shops or bars unemployed. Tourism is an industry that generates maximum amount of employment. Limiting bars or prohibiting the consumption of alcohol has a very negative effect on tourism where it is implemented.
Sound Prohibition Policy
Alcoholic beverages can be divided into 3 types – Beers (4-6% alcohol), Wine (9-16% alcohol) and Liquor ((or hard liquor) up to 40% alcohol). In developed countries people are accustomed to drink beer or wine. I have visited departmental stores selling liquor in the US, UK and Australia where the entire stores sell beers and wines and there are only one or two shelves of hard liquor. So, we too can encourage people to drink light liquors as beers and wines and see that people stay away from hard liquor which can even kill them.
Sound prohibition policy includes the middle path in the prohibition policy which is based on Indian philosophy of Ashramas or stages of life. According to Indian philosophy ashramas are four: Brahmacharyashram, Grihasthashram, Vanaprasthashram and Sanyashashram. The first ashrama, Brahmacharyashram is devoted to study and acquisition of knowledge, Grihasthashram is the stage of the householder where the individual returns from the Guru’s residence, gets married and establishes a family. In the Vanaprasthashram a householder deputes all his responsibilities to his son and retires to the forest. Finally, Sanyashashram is the state of complete renunciation. These four stages can be divided into a stage of 25 years each. Brahmacharyashram would be from birth till 25 years, Grihasthashram would be from 25 years to 50 years, Vanaprasthashram would be from 50 years to 75 years and Sanyashashram would be from 75 years till death.
As Brahmacharyashram is the stage of study, no individual should be permitted to intake intoxicating drinks or substances. Otherwise college going boys and girls especially from affluent families taking to drinks and drugs which may affect their studies nay future life. It is unfortunate that in December 2021, the Haryana government reduced the age of drinking from 25 years to 21 years. It is essential that the states where there is no prohibition should not allow people below 25 years to drink. Drinking and addiction to drugs at the early age will make them alcoholics within 10 to 15 years or drug addicts within a year or two.
Next stage is Grihasthashram which is a stage of begetting children and establishing a family. The stage extends from 25 years to 50 years. The states where there is no prohibition could allow people to drink only light drinks as beer or wine. It is required for some people for relaxation after heavy work. The third stage is that of Vanaprasthashram which starts from the age of 50 years. Here both the states, states having prohibitions and not having prohibition could allow its citizens to drink both light and hard liquor. If people start drinking hard liquor after 50 years there is very less chance of becoming alcoholics. So, in the states having no prohibition can have two types of bars; first, beer or wine bar where people from 25 to 50 years could be admitted to drink beer or wine and second, regular bars where people above 50 can be admitted. While selling liquor also same yardstick can be used. So, the states having prohibition could allow its citizens above 50 years to drink which would help them to relax and there is no danger that they become alcoholics. In such instances mechanisms like a ration card or a fixed quota could be used, while taking care not to allow sales to youngsters. Moral education regarding dangers of drinking is the need of the hour.
Liquor has been used since time immemorial but the misuse of it has created problems not only for the individuals but also for families and communities. The states as the custodians of people have the right to protect the health and lives of people. At present, five states of India are having prohibition whereas the remaining states do not have. These are two extremes of the spectrum. So, a middle path in the prohibition policy has to be adopted. The author suggests that in those states where there is no prohibition policy, people from 25 to 50 years should be allowed to drink light liquors as beer and wine and people above 50 years should only be allowed to drink hard liquor. Similarly, the states where there is prohibition could allow the citizens above 50 years to drink both hard and light liquor. As health is a state subject, various states follow different rules. If the legal age limit for alcohol is 25 years in Maharashtra, it is 18 for certain drinks in Goa. It is time for a Central law to standardize norms for alcohol use across the country.