The debate over the dry State tag To be dry or not !
The Sangai Express missed the report, but already the announcement of Chief Minister N Biren that the it is better for the die hard liquor aficionados to consume Indian Made Foreign Liquor or IMFL than to wet one’s throat with the locally brewed liquor appears to have rubbed some organisations the wrong way. The Chief Minister reportedly passed the remark during an election meeting on February 24 and while there will obviously be different takes on what the Chief Minister had to say, it has nonetheless opened up the question of whether ‘Manipur should or not’. According to a video coverage of the said event which has gone viral on the social media, the Chief Minister made this remark in a light hearted manner, but it hangs heavy over the dry State status of Manipur, which has been in force since 1991. There are reasons why organisations which have been at the forefront fighting against intoxicants feel outraged. Manipur officially became a dry State sometime in 1991 when the Manipur People’s Party was at the helm of affairs. It was also during this time that a number of organisations, primarily armed groups, which had taken it upon themselves to reform society, took the leading role to check the rampant use of intoxicants including liquor. Even before the State Government stepped in and proclaimed Manipur a dry State, a number of vigilante groups had sprung up in all the leikais and leiraks to check drunkenness. The drive against drinking went hand in hand along with the crackdown on drug peddling and this was at a time when many youngsters of Manipur had got hooked to hard drugs such as morphine, later followed by heroin and brown sugar. Intoxicants such as different cough syrups with high codeine content and WY tablets came later, but Manipur’s fight against intoxicants goes back many decades and it came along with the official declaration of a dry State. It was also a common sight to drunks loitering around the roads and lanes of each and every leirak and when the dry State tag was formally announced, it went down well with quite a large number of people.
It is now a little over 30 years since Manipur officially became a dry State, but the important question is whether the dry tag has meant anything meaningful or not. For a little over three decades Manipur has been under the dry tag, but has this helped in keeping a check on the sale and consumption of liquor ? The answer should be obvious to all. To those who have the means, getting hold of a bottle of the high end single malt whisky, which costs a fortune would not be a problem. For those with no connection at the right places, wetting one’s throat is as easy as buying lollipops and from visiting the localities where liquor is brewed according to the traditions and customs of the people and sold, it is now a question of whose door to knock in each and every leirak and leikai. A dry State that Manipur has been for the last 30 years, but there is nothing much to suggest that liquor consumption has been kept under check. Rather it has given rise to some sort of an organised trade, where only those with connection can sell a bottle of IMFL at a price much higher than the market value. No mechanism to check the sale and consumption of the locally made liquor and Manipur has already experienced death due to liquor poisoning. In the process, Manipur too has lost revenue which it could have collected from legally sold liquor. This is not the first time that the Government at Imphal has mulled over the question of lifting the dry status of Manipur and one just has to remember that former Chief Minister O Ibobi even informed the Assembly some time in 2014 that the State Government was seriously looking at the possibility of lifting prohibition from the State. The question is whether prohibition is there only on paper or whether it has served the intended purpose or not. To be dry or not is the question and it is out there in the open.