The worst justification for any policy is to proclaim it is being done for women voters. It makes men roll their bloodshot eyes and exclaim “Women!” There’s a world of meaning in that word. It implies humanity is being held hostage to creatures who are so irrational, it’s pointless to pander to their whims. Men feel that women always play the spoilsport whenever they bond with their friends (usually over a drink) and always say that the best things in life are vices. The most graphic representation of this attitude is the Hindi joke that translates: “It’s men’s job to drink, women’s job to prevent them.”
So no thanks to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for saying that women voters are going to love Prohibition. The right policies should not be a kind of currency to buy votes. If Mr Kumar had said, “I want Bihar to be a state high on happiness, like Bhutan not so far away. In the interests of a harmonious family life, I want to reduce alcohol addiction and for that purpose, scatter de-addiction centres across my land. Then we’ll give disincentives for those who spend more than 10 percent of their income on alcohol. And finally, we’ll introduce Prohibition.”
His initiative, however, does not strain incredulity as much as Kerala’s. Bihar is mostly not on the tourist circuit, except when it comes to Buddhists heading for Gaya. And they come on a quest for spirituality, not to unwind or drown the memories of their childhood traumas. So when CM Oomen Chandy proclaimed Kerala would go dry in 10 years to protect the future of youth, many people choked on their drinks. Prohibition in the land of toddy? Instead, in a Leftist state, one expected the ban on Indian Made Foreign Liquor to please those wary of multinationals and their regime-changing ways. Well, times have changed. India now has its own home-grown multinationals and if the youth could only get a job there, they would not any despair to drown.
Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa is orchestrating some female bonding by declaring that she would introduce phased prohibition if voted back to power (Assembly polls are on 4 May 2016). First, the number of retail shops would be reduced, then their working hours reduced. De-addiction centres would be set up and finally, Prohibition imposed. She doesn’t say this policy targets women, but judging from the fact that earlier freebies included mixer-grinders, it is a fair guess. The DMK was first to offer Prohibition as a bait, so one presumes liquor will not flow like water on election eve. Saying this in all innocence.
It’s all the more disturbing if you remember that old Gandhian aphorism, “The end does not justify the means.” All you CMs, if what you really want in life is votes, kindly refrain from using women’s humble desire for a happy family life as a building block. That block is anyway hollow and likely to crumble when faced with some other hurdle, for the fairy tales always pretend a couple can live happily ever after.
So many men will tell you, especially if you’re sitting in a bar having this conversation, that Prohibition led to the creation of gangsters like Al Capone and the mob. However little one may know personally about gangsters, I would say they made their money from wine not due to lack of women and song, but because this was the historical opportunity afforded to them. It’s not as if they had decided early in life that bootlegging would be their vocation, come hell or high water.
If we must understand history in order not to repeat it, here’s a factoid: The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was set up in 1826, and in 10 years, a million Americans belonged to an anti-alcohol group of some kind. It was mostly championed by the Protestants, ‘a large proportion of whom were high-minded middle-class women’. That’s the thing about male-dominated society. It makes women the repository of the community’s honour and then damns them for caring about that culture. So rise, women, say, Prohibition ki jai! Show zero tolerance for alcoholism.