Given the fact that Gandhiji had strong dislike for alcohol, total ban on production, marketing and consumption of all sorts of liquor would have been the best way to remember the Father of the Nation on October 2. Instead our Health Minister launched a crusade against smoking of cigarette – or say use of tobacco in all forms – in the public place.
No doubt addiction to tobacco is not a pious or healthy practice and all-out efforts should be made to contain its growth. People should be educated on its devastating social as well as physical impact. No one can contest the fact that passive smokers suffer for no crime of his or her. According to an estimate a million people lose their lives every year in India because of the diseases spread by the consumption of tobacco of any form.
It is not that Dr Anbumani Ramdoss is promoting liquor as some of the state governments – Bihar is the latest example – are doing for the sake of earning more and more revenue. But it is true that, till date, he is not as harsh on the use of alcohol as on tobacco or cigarette. Barring the criticism of on-screen drinking and smoking by film-stars and accusing Indian Premier Leaguer of promoting alcoholism he had done precise little to contain the menace of liquor, which is really wreaking havoc in the society.
The surrogate advertisement of Bag Piper, Kingfisher and other brands of whisky and champagne are done in such a subtle manner that young boys and girls refuse to accept that health-wise these beverages are more harmful than cigarette. I was recently surprised to find boys and girls of a purely Muslim school, where Islamic teachings are routinely taught, questioning my observations that liquor is harmful for health. “We know drinking is a sin and declared haram (prohibited) by the Qur’an. But how is it that it is harmful for health. We only know that cigarette is injurious to health,” the boys of Class-X said. A girl with fully covered head seriously asked, “If liquor is really bad for health then why is it that the cricketers drink and advertise it.”
I cited several examples of journalists and other persons known to me who died very young because of excessive drinking. I explained to them how the consumption of alcohol is harmful and also gave them recent examples of drunken film stars, players and officials creating scenes in full public view.
These teenagers were honest enough to concede that they knew about various brands of whisky and champagne through advertisements in television and magazine. It is the mastery of advertisement that students of even an Islamic school innocently believe that alcohol is not harmful or injurious to health. Though they all agreed that alcohol is prohibited in Islam yet some of them think that it is good for health.
The vociferous campaign against the cigarette and tobacco makes us believe there is strong national and international liquor lobby behind it. The political clout of Vijay Mallaya, Rajya Sabha MP of Janata Dal (United) is a known fact. What is strange, the president of the party, Sharad Yadav, who boasts of his Socialist background, shamelessly supported his candidature by saying that he only owns a wine firm, but does not play any role in spreading alcoholism.
True, smoking in the public place is a wrong and unhealthy practice, but why is it that we do not penalise or fine those drinking in trains, planes and other public places and under the influence of liquor doing all sorts of nuisance. Remember the bottom-pinching case in which the former DGP of Punjab Police, K P S Gill, was involved. He did this with an IAS officer, Rupan Deol Bajaj, and not with any ordinary woman.
Travel in AC-Ist Class or AC-IInd Class in any prestigious train to see politicians, big businessmen, IAS, IPS officers, top executives openly drinking and sometimes even passing lewd remarks on woman travellers. Only last year a DIG of Railway Protection Force under the influence of liquor allegedly tried to molest a lady IAS officer and her sister, who in fact was also the wife of another IPS officer, in a prestigious train of the country. Some years back a passenger created a scene and misbehaved with an airhostess in a plane while it was still in air.
Cigarette or bidi-smokers or tobacco-chewers may be causing ecological imbalance and harming their own health or that of their partners and/or colleagues – by making them passive smokers – but they are no match to drunkards. Who is not aware that thousands of people perish in India every year because of the drunken driving, not to speak of hundreds of thousands of death occurring due to the diseases caused by the consumption of alcohol? Cases of film stars, industrialists or their sons running over cars over the pavement dwellers are quite common – all under the influence of liquor.
Why after all are we not aggressively campaigning against the growing trend of alcoholism, even among women. At least very few women still smoke in India, but the number of woman drinkers have increased astronomically in the recent years, especially in the urban centres.
A National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) study shows that the average age of initiation of alcohol has reduced from 28 years during 1980s to 20 years now. But none in our health ministry has made any effort in this direction. It needs to be mentioned that women in many states, for example, Andhra Pradesh, went on warpath against the government policy on alcohol as children and women are the main victims of its menace. Cases of wife-beating and suicide by the alcohol-addicts have risen sharply in all parts of the country, especially in Kerala, which incidentally sends largest number of skilled labour force abroad.
According to Article 47 of the Constitution of India, one of the Directive Principles of the State Policy is: “The state shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purpose of intoxicating drinks and of drugs, which are injurious to health.”
Instead of taking this line the Nitish Kumar government of Bihar on July 1, 2007, brazenly adopted a new Excise Policy. According to the policy the number of liquor shops will increase by at least two times and the state will now have more than 13,000 wine outlets. This has been done just to increase the excise revenue of the state. Shockingly, then the excise minister of the state was Mrs Sudha Srivastava, a woman, a Gandhian and niece of Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan. Sitting beside her and announcing the new Excise Policy in a Press conference was none else but Amir Subhani, the Excise Secretary of Bihar, the all India IAS topper of mid-1987 and a ‘devout’ Muslim with flowing beard and Tablighi Jamaat connection.
What is more shocking is that after April 13, 2008 cabinet reshuffle Nitish Kumar made Jamshed Ashraf, the Chairman of the State Haj Committee, as the Excise Minister of Bihar – thus it is all a Muslim affair.
When Maulana Nizamuddin of All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board publicly asked the Chief Minister to allot Jamshed another portfolio, Nitish Kumar ridiculed him and rejected his demand. Not surprisingly, Jamshed too stood behind saying that he would help Islam by holding this portfolio. Mind it, he is still the Chairman of the Haj Committee.
The land of Gandhiji now boasts of one of the largest alcoholic beverage industries in the world. His and former Prime Minister, Morarji Desai’s (he was strongly against liquor) home state, Gujarat, too is not immune to it. On paper advertising of alcoholic beverages is prohibited but the manufacturers take the help of surrogate advertisements.
It seems that by nature we are hypocrites. In our society the entire family, including women-folk, can drink and enjoy together. In doing so we boast that we are modern, progressive and advance. But still in this 21st century we deem it ‘morally’ and culturally wrong for a younger brother to smoke before the elder brother, or a son before the father.