Mahatma Gandhi on Liquor



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Present Take through Newspapers:

During India's independence struggle against Britain, Mohandas K. Gandhi identified the consumption of alcohol as a major social evil and urged a ban on drinking. To accommodate him and a powerful anti-alcohol lobby, the Indian Government wrote a section into the Constitution declaring its intention to enforce prohibition. But today, state governments across the country are violating this edict with impunity, officials here say, because the liquor industry is a major source of revenue. The national Government says it is virtually helpless in the face of such open defiance….(A Billion Bottles a Year Defy India Liquor Ban. New York Times. 3/5/87)

In this village half an hour's drive south of New Delhi, the women say they cannot remember a less troubled time. Since prohibition came to the area in July, the daily round of rural life -- walking to and from the fields, into a nearby town or dropping over to neighbors -- has been free for the first time in memory of the menace of local men who are drunk. ''For the first time in years, we can go out without fear of being harassed,'' said Sunita Chaudhary, 35, who was among the women here who worked for a decade in support of a total ban on liquor. On July 1, the women were rewarded when a new state government imposed prohibition throughout Haryana, a region of 17 million that virtually surrounds the nation's capital….(Indian State's Alcohol Ban Pleases Women, Annoys Men. New York Times.18/8/1996).

They are an army of 200-odd women and girls who go around wielding sticks and brooms with a flourish at the enemy — alcoholic men and liquor dens. A unique anti-liquor movement that began among women of Bardhanpur village of Balasore district has spread to at least 12 other villages in Orissa. Villages in these areas have formed an anti-liquor army…(Anti-liquor army. Tribune. 20/11/2002).

“Alcohol is the bane of Kerala and the curse of women, but the State tops the chart of alcoholic consumption in the country, with the Government actively promoting alcohol consumption through increase in the number of foreign liquor shops and opening of beer parlours. Despite the pious claims and the arrack ban imposed by Chief Minister A. K. Antony in his last chief ministerial avatar, alcohol continues to take its toll on lives, men succumbing to liver diseases and women committing suicide in a desperate bid to escape domestic harassment and violence….” (Metro Plus Kochi. Hindu. Rising against a dreaded curse. 17/3/2003).

...In Haryana’s Mohamadpura Majara village, they threatened to beat up drunks unless the thekas (liquor dens) were shifted from the national highway….(Women smash liquor shops in Bhopal campaign. Telegraph. 11/4/2005).

No restriction can be imposed on women from working at a place where liquor or other intoxicating drugs are served to customers, the Delhi High Court said.…The Court struck down as "unconstitutional" Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, which prohibited women, and men below the age of 25 years, from serving liquor at public places…(No restriction on women serving liquor: HC. Indian Express. 12/1/06).

…Unable to undergo the mental torture meted out to them by their men folk who consumed the liquor, women attacked the liquor dens and IML belt-shops and also destroyed the liquor.(Irate women ransack belt-shops, seize liquor. Hindu. 11/9/2007).

A Goa-based women’s organisation has demanded a ban on serving of liquor at the ongoing International Film Festival of India, saying it creates a wrong impression about the state all over the world. "It is shameful that the Goa government is projecting the state as a land where people drink day-long even while working," prominent women organisation Bailancho Saad said (Women's organisation protests serving of liquor at IFFI. Times of India. 27/11/2007).

India is literally on a high. An upwardly mobile young population with a propensity to spend is guzzling booze like never before…A free media and increasing exposure to western influences have lifted the stigma off liquor consumption, while rising income is stoking the shift from country liquor to more refined varieties…..(Young India high on liquor consumption. Times of India. 8/1/2008).

It’s time to say cheers in Kashmir. Liquor has started flowing again in this conservative region 17 years after it was banned by militants. From Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) to beer to desi whiskey, people in Kashmir are saying cheers with gusto. (Liquor flows again in Kashmir. DNA.21/1/2008).

“ ..There will who will continue to drink even through Swaraj is established. Those must be tackled after Swaraj..(15/10/1924)

“..But there is no moral justification for saying that if one man commits a vice, others also should do like wise, or may do likewise. Why should I tell a lie because tens of thousands of my neighbours may be telling lies? If thousands commit suicide, why should I commit suicide? And I want to say that taking intoxicating liquors is almost like committing suicide, because a man or a women who takes intoxicating drinks and gets mad, kills his or her soul, for the time being. Surely death of the soul is worse than death of the body. (18/2/1934)

 “..Drink makes a man forget himself. He creases to be a man for the time being. He becomes less than a beast and he is unable in his drunken state to distinguish between his wife and sister. He loses control over his tongue and other limbs. It never does the slightest good. I hope, therefore, that you will combat the curse with all your strength..”(23/3/1925)

To the Moderates

…I ask you to accept my evidence that the country as a whole is sick of the drink curse. Those unfortunate men who have become slaves to the habit require to be helped against themselves. Some of them even ask to be helped. I invite you to take advantage of the wave of feeling that has been roused against the drink traffic. The agitation arose spontaneously. Believe me, the deprivation to the government of the drink revenue is of the least importance in the campaign. The country is simply impatient of the evil itself. In no country in the world will it be possible to carry on this traffic in the face of the united and the enlightened opposition of a people, such as is now to be witnessed in India. Whatever the errors or excesses that were committed by the mob in Nagpur, the cause was just. The people were determined to do away with the drink curse that was sapping their vitality. You will not be deceived by the specious argument that India must not be made sober by compulsion and that those who wish to drink must have facilities provided to them. The state does not cater for the vices if its people. We do no regulate or license houses of ill fame. We do not provide facilities for thieves to indulge their propensity for thieving and perhaps even prostitution. Is it not often the parent of both? I ask you to join the country in sweeping out existence of drink revenue and abolishing the liquor-shops. Many liquor-sellers would gladly close their shops, if the money paid by them were refunded.

 What about the education of the children? May be the question asked. I venture to suggest to you that it is a matter of deep humiliation for the country to find its children educated from drink revenue. We shall deserve the curse of posterity if we so not wisely decide to stop the drink evil, even thought we may have to sacrifice the education of our children. But we need not. I know many of you have laughed at the idea of making education self-supporting by introduction of spinning in our schools and colleges. I assure you that it solves the problem of education as nothing else can. The country cannot bear fresh taxation. Even the existing taxation is unbearable. Not only must we do away with the opium and the drink revenue, but the other revenue has also to be very considerably reduced if the ever-growing poverty of the masses is to be combated in the near future.

 And that brings me to the existing system of government. The country is the poorer for the reforms. The annual expenditure has grown. A deeper study of the system has convinced me that no tinkering with will do, A compete revolution is greatest need of the time. The word revolution displeases you. What I plead for, however is not bloody revolution, bu a revolution in the thought-world, such as would compel a radical revision of the standard of life in the higher service of the country. I must frankly confess to you that the ever-increasing rate of salaries paid to the higher branches of the Civil Service fairly frightens me, as I hope it would frighten you. Is there any correspondence between the life of the governors and of the governed millions who are groaning under their heels? The bruised bodies of the latter are a standing testimony to the truth of my statement. You now belong to the governing class. Let is not be said that your heels are no softer than your predecessors or your associates. Must you also rule from Shimla? Must you also follow the policy that, only a year ago, you criticized severely? …..I would gladly think that , as I really believe, that you are not responsible for the atrocities that are at present being perpetrated in the name of peace and justice. But you will not let the public or me to day that you are helpless, where you are not hood winked. That, however, would being me to a discussion of our ideals, which I must not enter upon at this moment. If the country can only get your assistance in stopping the drink traffic, you will certainly add to the many services that you have rendered in the past, and, may be, that one step will open your eyes to many other possibilities. (Young India, 8/6/1921)

….It is criminal to spend the income from the sale of intoxicants on the education of the nation’s children or other public services. The government must overcome the temptation of using such revenue for nation-building purposes. Experience has shown that the moral and physical gain of the abstainer more than makes up for the loss of this tainted revenue. If we eradicate the evil, we will easily find other ways and means of increasing the nation’s income. (Mahatma Gandhi. Harijan. 21 September 1947)

How can total prohibition be brought about immediately if at all? By ‘immediately’ I mean an immediate planned declaration bringing about total prohibition not later than three years from 14th July 1937, the date of the taking of office by the first Congress Ministry. I imagine that it is quite possible to bring it about in two years. But not being aware of administrative difficulties I put down three years. I count loss of revenue as of no account whatsoever. Prohibition will remain a far cry, if the Congress is to count the cost in a matter of first class national importance.

Let it be remembered that this drink and drugs revenue is a form of extremely degrading taxation. All taxation to be healthy must return tenfold to the tax-payer in the form of necessary services. Excise makes people pay for their own corruption, moral, mental and physical. It falls like deadweight on those who are least able to bear it. The revenue is largely derived, I believe, from industrial labour which together with field labour the Congress exclusively represents.

The loss of revenue is only apparent. Removal of this degrading tax enables the drinker, i.e, the tax-payer, to earn and spend better. Apart, therefore, from the tremendous gain, it means a substantial economic gain, it means a substantial economic gain, to the nation…

The cry of great expenditure in preventing illicit distillation is thoughtless where it is not hypothetical...In America drinking carries no shame with it. It is the fashion there to drink. It reflects the greatest credit on the determined minority in America that by sheer force of its moral weight it was able to carry though the prohibition measure however short-lived it was. I do not regard that experiment to have been a failure…In no part of the world is prohibition as easy to carry out as in India for with us it is only a minority that drinks. Drinking is generally considered disrespectable. And they are millions, I believe who have never known what drink is.

But why should prevention of illicit distillation cost any more than prevention of other crimes? I should make illicit distillation heavily punishable and think no more about it. Some of it will go on perhaps till doomsday as thieving will. I would not set up a special agency to prey into illicit distillation. But I would punish anyone found drunk through not disorderly (in the legal sense) in streets or other public places with substantial fine or alternatively with indeterminate imprisonment to end when the erring one has earned his or her keep.

This, however, is the negative part.Voluntary organisations especially manned by women will work in the labour areas.They will visit those who are addicted to drink and try to wean them from the habit. Employers of labour will be expected by law to provide cheap, healthy refreshment,reading and entertainment rooms where the working men can go and find shelter, knowledge and entertainment rooms where the working men can go and find shelter, knowledge,health-giving food and drink and innocent fun.

Thus prohibition means a type of adult education of the nation and not merely a closing of grog shops. Prohibition should begin by preventing any new shops from being licensed and closing down some that are in danger of becoming a nuisance to the public. How far the latter is possible without having to pay heavy compensation I do not know. In any case, generally, licenses that lapse should not be renewed. No new shops should be opened on any account. Whatever immediately is possible in law should be done without a moment’s thought so far as the revenue is concerned….

Harijan. 31 July 1937

Curse of Drink

A sister writes:

“ On going to the village, I was more than grieved to hear of the havoc drink is working among these people. Some of the women were in tears. What can they do?…As usual it is the women who has to bear the burden of this self-indulgence on the part of man….It is so hard to face anger and even cruelly…Can’t you write an appeal to the people on the question of drink? Is is sad to see these people literally going to perdition because of this curse”.

My appeal to those who drink will be in vain. It must be. They never read Harijan. If they do, they do so to scoff. They can have no interest in being informed of the evil of the drink habit. They hug the very evil. But I would like to remind this sister. And all the women of India that , at the time of the Dandi march, the women of India did listen to my advice and made the fight against drink and plying of the wheel their specialty. Let the writer recall the fat that thousands of women fearlessly surrounded drink-shops and often successfully appealed to the addicts to give up the habit. In the prosecution of their self-imposed mission, they put up with the abuses of the addicts and sometimes assaults by them. Hundreds went to gaol for the crime of picketing drink shops. Their zeal produced a marvellous effect all over the country…There must be enough women with proper equipment to study the statistics of drink, the causes that induce the habit and the remedies against it, They must learn the lesson from the past and realize that mere appeals to the addicts to give up drink cannot product lasting effects. The habit has to be regarded as a disease and treated as such. In other words, some women have to become research students and carry on researches in a variety of ways. In every branch of reform, constant study giving one a mastery over one’s subject is necessary. Ignorance is at the root of failures, partial or complete, of all reform movements whose merits are admitted. For every project masquerading under the name of reform is not necessarily worthy of being so designated. 

Harijan. 24/4/1937