What explains our attitude towards alcohol?
Once upon a time, drinking tea was a taboo in this land. When tea was introduced here, people, especially the young adults, had to take tea in a hideout. One had to toil a lot to have a pot of tea. Then, slowly, tea drinkers were accepted in society and tea became a commoner’s commodity. These days, no one scolds you for drinking tea.
However, they, the elders, who often became pious persons in their later life in pro-religion societies, would admonish you if you drank alcohol. The old-age converts would tell you that alcohol is prohibited in the scriptures and you’d go to hell in your afterlife -- when you cross the border of flesh and blood and become a spirit.
I am not very sure when humans invented alcoholic drinks and started to enjoy getting tipsy. But since ancient times, societies across the world have developed the practice of drinking at the end of a day’s hard work. Some societies even have designated gods and goddesses for alcoholic beverages. Everyone in ancient Rome, Greece, and Scandinavia drank together. Feasting has always been associated with drinking. The Soviets allowed vodka at a subsidized price to keep the citizens happy.
Our relationship with drinking is a funny one. Quite funny. As an extremely religious society, drinking alcoholic beverages is prohibited.
This prohibition has been imposed by the state. Carrying alcohol is illegal. You could be arrested if any such beverage is found on your possession. The person who is arresting you will also drink if he has an opportunity to possess a bottle. And then again, we have our own breweries. One owned by the government and the other in the private sector.
The idea is you have to drink your own brew. Do not drink the foreign liquors. If you want to import and consume foreign beverages, you must pay exorbitantly high taxes. You cannot buy alcohol from the duty-free shop in our airports and enter the country. That privilege is only for foreigners. But as a local, you can consume foreign liquors if a physician prescribes it for you on health grounds. And you have to acquire a license to drink issued by the narcotics department.
Many do that. They have licenses which they carry with them and are supposed to show when they go to bars and clubs in order to drink. The license says that you can consume seven units of alcoholic beverages a month, provided you have a legal stamp on your license at the time of purchase.
Then again, most of the bars and clubs do not have licenses to sell foreign liquors. That’s another problem. They will not put a stamp on your license when they sell a bottle of scotch whisky or Russian vodka to you.
Despite being a religious society, drinking is high fashion here. The New Year, Pohela Boishakh, Eid, Puja, Christmas -- all these celebratory moments would be very dull without alcohol. Some of us drink openly and some do it secretly so that no one can know. Our approach to drinking alcohol is shrouded in hypocrisy. To allow drinking or not to allow has always been a question here. We take one step forward to make alcoholic beverages available, and then we take two steps backward fearing religious sentiments.
Now, please be honest. Those who nurture religious faith deep in their hearts will never drink. Those who have half-faith and no faith will drink. What are we scared of? Do we fear that people will go crazy after drinking? Will they break the social discipline and commit crimes? Then look at the countries such as India and Sri Lanka, where you could sit at a roadside stall and drink a bottle of beer.
Are the Sri Lankans and Indians going crazy?
Now, answer another question. How crazy would we become when we consume drugs such as yaba and ice? These drugs are abundantly available across the country and are more harmful than any alcoholic beverage.
We need to do some serious thinking. We need to rethink our fallacious logic around alcohol. We know people will drink no matter how many restrictions or obstacles you put up. The dishonest people will brew spurious beverages which will kill people. Look at the recent deaths. Do you think the Saudis do not drink? Well, they go to Bahrain and Dubai and drink. Drinking alcohol is not preventable.
If you restrict, people will consume alcohol made from date juice. We already have many indigenous alcoholic beverages which are very easy to brew. Our adivasis brew rice wine in their homes. Others will also learn that recipe and prepare their own brew.
Let us draw a clear picture around our desires, demands, and prejudices around alcoholic beverages. Humans have a tendency to be attracted to things that are most prohibited for them. Take a prudent call on this.
Citizens are not as crazy as you think. Making alcoholic beverages available will not create a crazy nation. On the other hand, this hide and seek game is quite harmful. Let us cease to be a hypocritical society.
Kindly think about it.
Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.