Will prohibition really serve its purpose? 

Shishir Rao
Saturday, 5 August 2017

Goa Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar has said people found drinking on beaches can be arrested and will face strict action. Liquor is banned along national and state highways and the Pune Municipal Corporation doesn’t want to de-notify such roads that pass through the city; the end result is a long trip for a nip! If I’ve to travel so far, I might as well pick up a bottle. India is clearly moving towards a society where liquor has no place.

Goa Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar has said people found drinking on beaches can be arrested and will face strict action. Liquor is banned along national and state highways and the Pune Municipal Corporation doesn’t want to de-notify such roads that pass through the city; the end result is a long trip for a nip! If I’ve to travel so far, I might as well pick up a bottle. India is clearly moving towards a society where liquor has no place.

The one thing that holds true about history is that we learn nothing from it. Morarji Desai’s prohibition policy gave rise to bootleggers that charged an arm and a leg for poor quality liquor and prohibition in the United States gave us Al Capone and his extremely profitable laundry, besides a reign of violence that made it easier to find a hit-man in Chicago than it’s to find beef curry in Maharashtra.

Every state in India where liquor is banned, and almost every country in the world with a prohibition law, witnesses illegal sale and consumption of liquor. This seems fairly harmless; it’s a demand and supply industry after all. But where does the money made from this underground industry go?

This should be of a special concern to a country that is already grappling with ‘hawala’ channels, which often funnel money into terror activities. In fact, it would not be inappropriate to say that the only sector that will benefit financially from prohibition is organised crime since it already has the infrastructure required to run bootlegging operations.

Then there are also quality concerns which must be considered, and I don’t mean being given cheap booze labelled as premium, I mean more on the lines of poorly fermented garbage that can turn you blind or kill you, and if you’re really unlucky, both.

Right now, the urban middle-class Indian thinks this is something that happens only in outbacks of the country; it happens to poor people, those illiterate daily-wage worker types. But that’s where we are wrong; it happens to desperate people and it doesn’t take too long for a man to get desperate enough.

Sure, supporters of prohibition may point out the ill-effects of alcohol consumption. And in pointing out the same, the talk will soon snowball into alcohol ‘destroying lives’; but that’s saying every person who likes a drink now and again is an alcoholic, which is pretty much the same as saying a person who eats vegetables at some meals is a vegetarian. Abstinence from alcohol is wonderful, no doubt about it, but forcing abstinence: I’m not so sure.

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