Prohibition or Public morality?

B Thohü

The polemical debate on liquor prohibition in the State is now less intense but it will continue to smolder because the issue involves opposite sentiments uphold by the two school of thoughts over the issue. Interesting, like chemical agent is adulterated into spurious spirit, off the track issue is adulterated into the debate on the question of ‘prohibition’. So the polemic on the issue will apparently continue between the advocators and opponents each trying to justify its stance. Apparently the advocators see free permissiveness of liquor consumption by the imbibers in public as bad but at the other end the opponents see liquor consumption as free choice and also argue that passing of law is nothing but just an empty law put on a white paper. 

It is fair to say that alcoholism is detrimental to an individual, family and society but we also must not overlook the fact that alcoholism is caused by deep down unresolved personal problem and also to certain extend by external factor. Alcoholism is a complex problem of personal disorder, and an attempt to solve the problem is not an easy solution even at personal level. More confusing the problem is how that personal problem can be effectively addressed by law of ‘prohibition’ alone given that liquor is accessible and available even with the passing of law. The point is, the debate, far from focusing on the real question of ‘prohibition’, got drifted away to sidetrack debate between the advocators and opponents; the former trying to impose personal conviction on public issue and the later questioning on how right is it for some individuals’ opinion to become a law for policing public morality. 

The problem with drinking is excess. Too much booze is bad but so are compulsions to stop drinking because the forcible denial of drinking through prohibition makes many moderate social imbibers into determined drinkers. When some people who for religious or personal convictions believe that drinking in any form or in any quantity is an evil or immoral, their moral extremism can provoke drinkers to excesses.

The unfortunate side of the debate is the shifting away from the main focus to tendencies of imposing personal convictions loaded with religious overtones by the enemies of drinking who tend to put the drinkers on the wrong side of morality. While admitting the fact that alcoholism is damaging individuals in a society, we also must not forget that forcible imposition of personal convictions on public issue disregard of cross public opinion is equally bad and it is an illegitimate policing on public morality. What is wrong with the enemies of drinking is their  personalization of public issue into their own line of religious values and personal convictions. 

Prohibition has never been successful wherever it has been tried. It has failed in the U.S.A. In India too prohibition failed in five States. Prohibition failed in the three attempts in Andhra Pradesh and even in Gujarat where prohibition has lasted the longest. In Maharastra, prohibition was enforced for 15 years but it failed. Studies showed that prohibition made almost all the Maharastra’s young males into drinkers who had been proud to defy the law. At that time, the consumption of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) in Tamil Nadu was roughly the same as that of Andhra Pradesh. After two years of prohibition the consumption in Tamil Nadu was 30 (thirty) percent higher and continued to remained higher. Prohibition in Haryana also indicates that while womenfolk earlier wailed that their menfolk were wasting their time and money in booze they also later cried because their menfolk are sometimes absent for days in the nearby ‘WET’ States. In the case of the States where no prohibition was enforced there was no indication that consumption of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) was higher in percent or was there a higher rate of incidents of brawls, rowdiness or indebtedness induced by drink. 

Nagaland State too has been under enforcement of ‘prohibition’ for the past few years and it is extended again for which there has been a debate in the recent past. Practical and fundamental questions that need to be asked but are short of answers on the issue of ‘Prohibition’ is, has ‘prohibition’ really helped in bringing down the consumption of IMFL in percent in the State? Has it helped in reducing rate in brawls, rowdiness, and drink-drive road accident in every day life during the period of prohibition? Or has it helped in bettering public morality? The real debate on the question of ‘prohibition’ must be based on whether or not enforcement of prohibition in the past has resulted practical difference and what efficacy will it have in the future with continuation of prohibition in the State and not on religious values or personal convictions on the issue. 

Prohibition booms the bootleggers in their business only. Liquor is cheap and easy to make. The bottle, label, cartons cost more. Freight storage and dealer margins account for about 30 percent of the retail price and the numerous State taxes account for about 60 percent. When safe and regulated supplies are stopped, spurious spirits are easily made by the bootleggers and sole at huge margin of profit. What is actually available in all the low graded restaurants and illegal dealers’ shops in ‘DRY’ States are all spurious spirit which can cause adverse damage to health when consumed. Prohibition, thus, results in funds for the State being diverted to funding gangs of bootleggers. It is an opportunity for the corrupt politicians and the police because bootleggers pay well for their protection they need. It is a big business which encourages a mafia who often become too strong for the police to control. The huge ill-gotten earning can create an evil force encouraging drugs, gambling, prostitute and crime that last for many decades after prohibition is lifted. 

Nagaland may continue to be a ‘DRY’ State with extension of ‘prohibition’ but Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and beers, which are spurious and poisonous, from the nearby States or within are readily accessible and available for the habitual imbibers and young revelers at their wish. To the drinkers drinking is a matter of private domain and law will not stop them if they want to drink. This has been the reality though we may try to deny it. In practical aspect passing of law is nothing but an empty ritual. No society, even the most conservative one, can have consensual opinion on ‘prohibition’ for there will always be a puritans and moderates/liberals within the same society. It is better to be realistic and allow safe and regulated supplies for safety sake than passing a ritual ‘prohibition’ which is defied in practice. The issue demands a practical solution and not cosmetic solution.