Monday, August 11, 2008

Article in The Hindu dated 10th Aug 2008

Alcoholism – sipping and slipping
The wine industry has grown by nearly 35 per cent last year. This is hardly in the legion of ‘happy statistics of mountains of edible happiness’ as Robert Lynd described the British fondness for chocolates. The varying levels of alcohol content and the health benefits from controlled consumption apart, wine can hardly be hailed as the next best thing to organic foods or sprouts. This is the age of freedom and individual freedom is to be respected, untempered by responsibility or even the best interests. Hence advocating a ban on what is without question a vice would be shouted down as too prudish.

Ill effects of addiction
Addiction is a habit which begins with the most innocuous sip. For all our rocket science and space odysseys, we have very little scientific temper. While judging age-old practices rooted in culture, tradition or religion or changing lifestyles, we are supremely rational and critical. We seek to usher in bold new ideas. Yet when it comes to denouncing alcohol and its milder cousins, we quail.

Alcohol has also made it to the basic necessity list and governments actively participate in its procurement, distribution and control all in the public interest of earning revenue. The wine industry has been nurtured with duty cuts. Hours for serving liquor have been extended in the interest of consumers. The ‘representatives of people’ take cover under such arguments as livelihood, consequences of a sudden closure and public ire and, more specifically, discouraging illicit brewing and prohibition proving fruitless in many countries.

However, the same stories do not appear to hold good while constructing dams across the Narmada, displacing people or closing down vaccine manufacturing units in Kasauli or Coonoor. Ideally, the government should propagate the merits of abstinence, stem the free availability especially near schools and colleges, enforce law regarding location of such shops near temples and residential colonies, but then ideals are unattainable.

Rationing system
The market for wines and the sojourn to harder drinks is set to grow phenomenally in the wake of rising incomes of people under 30s, adoption of a ‘broader’ outlook, global culture and etiquette. Governments may examine rationing of alcohol and all its variants. It has had admirable success in rationing wheat or rice and no one has faced the ill-effects of over-eating. Sweden had reasonable success with the Dr. Bratt rationing system instead of outright prohibition. In Bratt’s words, the fight against excesses was lost to profiteering purveyors of alcohol, and the rise of continental drinking habits when Sweden joined the EU.

We look westward for ideas of progress and to measure up to the various statistics of health or per capita income, legal systems and imbibe without learning from their mistakes. We must learn to separate the chaff from the grain. Equality, fraternity, liberty, punctuality, professionalism are all very well but lack of public censure, shame, flexible morals, money splurging, or problem of underage drinking, ought to be taboo. There is no romance in scarred livers (in cirrhosis), or a riddled esophagus nor any enjoyment in being victim of a drinking bout or brawl as people sleeping on pavements of Mumbai would testify if they could.

We cannot be callous to normal healthy people and in particular generation next wasting away in hangovers and playing with its health and the well-being of a good many others. What we need is an ice-cold resolve and a drop of unadulterated reason.

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