Scoring high on liquor consumption Hic ! Hic ! Cheers Manipur

Officially a dry State since 1991 and 30 years down the line, Manipur officially occupies the fifth spot in alcohol consumption, in a survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey. A damning statement on the slip between what is on paper and what goes into one’s mouth and warms or burns the gullet. No official findings as such, but prohibition is a big failure in Manipur and there is nothing to cheer about it, though there must be a lot of cheers, and clinking of the glasses behind closed doors and in the ‘joints’. The figure says it call. Manipur has 37.2 percent of its population (not adult population, but all those who come in the age group of 15 and above) ‘enjoying’ or ‘drowning’ their joy, sorrow, frustration, whatever it is with a peg or two or three or one or two or even three paos or 250 ml of the crystal clear liquid neatly packed in polythene bags or chekhao. Talk about banning the use of plastics and one will get a fair idea of how effective this would be if 37. 2 percent of the population drink and most of them prefer to opt for the liquid that comes wrapped in polythene, for afterall Indian Made Foreign Liquor is meant only for the moneyed and well connected class of people. Not to be outdone, some of the more enterprising ‘brewers’ have gone in to bottle their products, with chic names and there is simply no dearth of buyers. The question is, why should the Government continue with a policy that has been a big failure and instead see if revenue can be earned by lifting prohibition ? There could be many answers to this poser, but one fundamental fact is the staunch opposition against any design to lift prohibition adopted by some organisations, including the powerful and influential Meira Paibi Lups. To get a better understanding of the situation, one will obviously need to go back to the late 70s when the Nisha Bandh movement began, which soon metamorphosed to the Meira Paibi movement of today. Those were the days when womenfolk would stay overnight at a Meira Shang to pull up anyone who would be found loitering around drunk or high after downing a peg or two or three or four. Broken families, poverty stricken families, drunk and abusive husbands and sons, were rampant during those days and it was only right that some sort of a mechanism to check the loud and drunken conduct of some folks had to be adopted. It was also at this point of time, when Manipur was reeling under alcoholism and rampant drug abuse that the then MPP Government came under severe pressure to do something and the answer lay in Prohibition and the  Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act was passed in 1991, with the exception that ST and SC communities may brew their own liquor for traditional purposes.
Prohibition has been a flop. It has not worked and today Manipur ranks right up there at the 5th spot with 37.2 percent of the people above the age group of 15 reported to drink. It is this line antagonists of Prohibition would point out while the protagonists would surely say that situation could have been worse if Prohibition was not there. The answer may lie somewhere in between, but it is undeniable that after Prohibition was enforced, illicitly brewed liquor made its way to the leiraks and leikais away from the khuns. The reality is today one does not need to go to Sekmai, Phayeng or Andro to procure their quota of drinks for these are sold illicitly at many joints in Imphal itself. This is the reality and this is despite the fact that it is not only the Government which has enforced the ban on sale and consumption of liquor but Meira Paibi Lups and local clubs. It is also the same in the hill districts of Manipur. Despite this Manipur ranks right up there on the table of liquor consumption. Wouldn’t it make better sense to lift prohibition, flush out the bootleggers and in the process somehow regulate the sale of liquor ? This is another line of argument that will be put forth by those who are against Prohibition, which has anyway not worked. How the Government responds to the finding of the National Family Health Survey remains to be seen, but it is a significant finding and it may well revive the debate over Prohibition. In the meantime, Hic ! Hic ! Cheers will carry on inside closed doors !