Being an ‘intoxicating’ country for its visitors, India with all its colours and glory and history to offer, sees a sizable portion of its population intoxicated by the empress herself, alcohol. The aftermath of having such a wide consumption of the “delectable substance”, as described by its many aficionados is now currently being interpreted as the reason for violent acts, un-parliamentary behaviour and downright notoriousness. These various reasons were why back in April 2016, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of Bihar imposed a ban on consumption of alcohol within the state. Albeit it being a political move to keep the promises made in his polls to the women to stop their men from accessing and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.
Movies like Raees (shown above) are on the move to showcase the status of alcohol consumption, its distribution and the politics behind it in India.
However, nine months post the move, in January an “IndiaSpend analsysis” of the Bihar Crime database of the police shows that common crime (that which can be investigated without court orders and overseen directly by police) has seen a raise upwards of 13% mark. This seems in contradiction with the immediate statistics revealed a month after the ban which saw a 27% reduction in crime rates. This was after the imposition of strict laws such as imprisonment for upto 10 years or fines upto 10 lakhs for anyone storing alcohol. So wherein lies the influence of alcohol in this 13% rise in crimes and lesser conviction of criminals? And more importantly, the question to be asked is, how far should we go in blaming alcohol in the recent acts of man?
HISTORY OF ALCOHOL IN INDIA
Mythological writings, scriptures and even vedic texts place the presence of alcohol in our country dating almost back to the times of the Indus Valley civilization. Its beginnings are almost pristine, where often it is equalled to being the drink of the gods and emperors, classified separately as “sura” and “soma”. One being the drink of the gods, akin to “amrit” (ambrosia to the foreign world) while the latter being a fermented drink reserved for warriors before going to battle or after conquering wins.
The whole evolution of alcohol in itself can be spread out over four periods of time. It began to be documented back in the Vedic era circa 1500 to 700 BC. Post 700 BC till around 1100 CE, the land witnessed the rising of many religions that condemned the consumption of this very drink that was previously prophesised to be the drink of the gods. Jainism and Bhuddism are some such examples of religion. In fact, these influences can be attributed to the reason why over a global scale, geographical regions such as Asia and India in particular have been documented to have lower consumption of recreational beverages. Nothing like a “God will condemn you to hell” to stop you from reaching out for that spiked cuppa joe right?
Moreover, ayurvedic texts written by well known practitioners such as Susruta showed them advocating the use of alcohol, as narcotics for surgery times and even healing period antidotes. However this was again opposed during the Mughal period as Islamic influences grew across the country. Caught in the midst of the battle of religions and the patronising of different societies, alcohol still managed to hold a vice grip on the consumers, treating them with its only power, Intoxication. Being one of the most widespread and enjoyed substances, people cannot help but try it. However, as much blame as we put on the drink itself, if more attention was paid, it would be noticeable that the drink itself is not to be blamed as much as the consumer and their attitude.
This is a very factual conclusion that can be made from the statistical evidence from the Bihar case. The lack of correlation between consumption of alcohol and violence should be a standing testimony to the standing dignity that alcohol has held through the ages. Am I saying alcohol consumption is fine and should be done? Well, not as much as I am saying alcohol consumption should be held responsible solely for the behaviour of man, regardless of whether or not they are under the influence. Being Coimbatorians, this topic is closer to heart than many would imagine. A lesser known fact about the history of Coimbatore is its beautiful weather that plays mother to growing one of the most native fruits of the city, Muscat Grapes.
A trip along Siruvani Road and a friendly visit to the nearby farms would show you vast vineyards plump with these jewels, that are essential to the survival of many of the farmers and producers. And history has shown that some of these fruits have made their way to being turned to wine, post the British Colonial period. And even today, come Christmas, many of the Christian households of Coimbatore and nearby Kerala who also benefit from this trade, turn to these very grapes, to uphold their winemaking traditions at home. The stopping of such cultures could not only impact the consumer, but severely damage the producers’ livelihood.
This article is a simple testimony to the thought that alcohol need not be judged purely on today’s trending stories, but be given the respect and consideration that it’s rich history demands. So be it when we question a drunk man on the road or an alcohol supplier, ask the question whether it is the drink to be blamed or the attitude of the person.