Indians and booze: Talk about pouring a double peg of hypocrisy

I was in Delhi last week. We went to a restaurant — a sign informed patrons that alcohol would not be served to anyone below the age of 25 — for sheer idiocy this is hard to beat. In a nation where the booze policy is steeped in sermons and soda water and splashed with rocks of hypocrisy this age limit is truly laughable.

You can be a captain in the army and die for your country but you cannot have a flipping beer. Take a bullet but no booze. You can be a doctor and save lives but you cannot have a vodka tonic. You can be a director in a company or head of a company branch or the editor of a paper but you cannot pour yourself a whisky.

This age limit is effective in Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana. No one has ever asked why in a nation where thousands die drinking moonshine such absurd laws are allowed to be on the books.

File image of Nitish Kumar. Reuters

File image of Nitish Kumar. Reuters

Then we had a diktat this week from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar banning all officials from drinking anywhere in the world. How the heck he is going to police them is beyond comprehension but you cannot legislate how to run people’s lives.

Imagine a bureaucrat from Bihar sitting on an international flight surreptitiously pouring rum into coke like a rascal of a schoolboy up to a prank and looking around in fear of getting caught.

These are individuals with great bureaucratic power whose moods, let alone decisions, affect the lives of thousands of people. And if they are treated like children when they are in their fifties then at what price public confidence in them?

I took a trip to Gujarat recently. That booze was so easily available in the dry state was a joke. I think just about everyone had alcohol in their checked-in baggage. In any case, bootleggers abound and booze is as cheap as duty free. The delivery system works beautifully.

And while we are on the subject, why are the armed forces exempt? Ironically, contrary to the common imagery of a .12 bore carrying Col Blimp at the bar, most officers do not drink… and those that drink do so responsibly. Go check the mess bills and the Canteen Stores Department in military bases and you will find that alcohol consumption is lower but the sale may be higher because stock is being sold to civilians.

If soldiers are given tots of rum to keep up their morale, why can’t civilians also feel good? Where is it written that the services must drink? And if they are posted in a dry state then take your piety all the way to its logical conclusion and ban alcohol consumption for men and women in uniform. But you won't do that—so there goes the credibility of your sanctimonious command. Are you telling me when a brigadier invites the Collector or the District Collector for dinner they drink nimbu pani?

Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Gujarat, Bihar, Manipur and Nagaland as well as the union territory of Lakshadweep. It's not a big problem, just a little hassle. Those from Bihar go to the Nepal border or to Uttar Pradesh, spend the night, have a binge and return home, as sober as judges. Those in Gujarat either link up with their supplier or trot off to Rajasthan where alcohol is plentiful. Right across the border are dozens of ‘rest houses’ to fit every budget.

It is much a of a muchness and a cruel blockade because the illegal industry thrives and moonshine of the deadly variety becomes the alternative to controlled alcohol consumption. According to modest estimates, every hour, one Indian dies of alcohol poisoning. Multiple deaths following hooch drinking are so common they don't even rate follow up stories in newspapers.

Prohibition can never succeed. By all means, control it. Limit the official distribution through a licences, earning power and even outlet service...sorry, Sir, that is your quota. It may not work always but it is a lot more mature and safe than the underground option. Twenty-four years old and you can't have a gin and lime.

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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2017 14:06:12 IST

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