Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has some very original advise for those craving alcohol in his state where there is a blanket ban on consumption and possession. “Turn off the lights and drink juice, you will feel the same,” suggested Kumar primly. He continued to bait recreational drinkers not just in Bihar but everywhere in India by declaring that enforcing prohibition has been the highlight of his career. “I feel a deep sense of fulfillment after banning alcohol,” he claimed. Not that it was likely to feature on anybody’s bucket list, but there’s now yet another reason never to go to Bihar.
Drinking in India has always been frowned upon. An earlier generation of Indians never drank in front of their parents. That’s come full circle. Today’s teenagers in Delhi insist on parents serving Bacardi breezers at their parties. Parents have resigned to the fact that if they don’t, the kids will get it anyway and, wisely, emphasise drinking responsibly. However, morally motivated laws find favour with segments of the electorate and conservative traditionalists, of which India has a never-ending supply.
Mr Kumar, undoubtedly, is an excellent citizen and astute politician, a righteous teetotaller determined to improve the lot of his people. He’s not entirely wrong about deriving a buzz from juice either; there is something called a sugar rush. It works when you’re four. That’s why all parenting books advise never giving toddlers chocolate at bedtime; it gives them an instant high. Sadly, for the vast majority of us, our taste buds were contaminated at the cusp of adulthood and we need something a lot stronger than juice and darkness to fade into a pleasurable, easy zone. It might be clutching at straws to poke a hole in Mr Kumar’s theory but if he’s so concerned about his citizens’ health, he should be banning juice as well. In some cases, people with type 2 diabetes, especially, are better off having 30 ml of vodka with water than a glass of canned orange juice that has over 12 spoons of sugar.
The real question, however, is why people living in the world’s largest democracy are not allowed to decide for themselves what they want to, or don’t want to consume. By all means, restrict sales to minors and educate the public on the dangers of liquor. They can make an informed choice.
The reality is prohibition never really eliminates drinking, it just shoves it underground. The rest of the world has moved on, with countries contemplating legalising intoxicants like cannabis and hashish. Currently, you can buy hallucinogens and party pills at bars in Amsterdam over the counter, with detailed descriptions of the effects of the drug. Mature democracies know that when you take illicit drugs off the street and make them legit, the seller is responsible for the quality of the product, which ultimately reduces fatalities. It also reduces the thrill factor for the consumer. Half the fun of doing drugs is knowing you shouldn’t be doing them. Where’s the excitement and intrigue if you can simply order MDMA as a side with your pizza? Like the luxury market that thrives on scarcity, prohibition increases the attractiveness of alcohol, especially among the young, who are by nature defiant. And the most susceptible to bad decisions and spurious alcohol.