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Problem of Alcoholism Riding a Tiger in Tamil Nadu

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Alcoholism is becoming widespread problem in the Indian society and Tamil Nadu is no exception. The age of first exposure to alcohol in the state has dropped to 15 years. Added concern is the increasing numbers of women specially girls becoming addicted to alcohol. This trend is causing socio-economic problems but little is being done to arrest this social trend.

On the contrary, the state government is encouraging alcoholism to gain revenue. Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) is a company owned by the Tamil Nadu government which has a monopoly over wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in the state.

The state government, for years has been adding a huge amount of money to its exchequer by licensing and selling the liquor through its 2500 government controlled TASMAC shops. Liquor sales in 2011-12 has touched 18,081.16 crore rupees, registering a 20.82% increase. Every year during the New Year and Pongal festival, TASMAC is making around Rs. 500 crores selling liquor in wholesale and retail market.

‘Whether GDP rate grows or not, the alcohol consumption rate has been growing at 8 per cent every year, says Lakshmi Vijaykumar, head of the department of psychiatry at the Voluntary Health Services, Taramani, Chennai.

‘No government is willing to stop it because they get revenue from it, but the costs are higher’ she says adding, ‘dealing with problems caused by alcoholism costs three times more than the amount of revenue the government gets from liquor sales.’

In order to understand the magnitude of the problem and to feel the pulse of the society, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai based NGO conducted a survey in Tamil Nadu to ascertain the views of the people about the TASMAC shops, believed to be the root cause of this social problem

This study was necessitated because in recent times, there have been number of agitation by group of people in several places in Tamil Nadu, demanding that TASMAC shops to be removed from the residential areas. There were also protests that the TASMAC shops should be barred near the places of worship and educational institutions. Judiciary have also given instructions that the highways should be free from the TASMAC shops. However, all this is having little impact on checking the sale of liquor in the state. The sales turnover of TASMAC shops are steadily increasing and proportionate to it the number of liquor addicts is growing among various age groups.

Methodology of study

The study was conducted to find out what the common man thinks about the proliferation of TASMAC shops in the state, given the fact that the government itself is managing such liquor shops.

The study was conducted on the basis of primary survey that was randomly spread all over the state. Around 243 men and women were interviewed both in rural and urban areas through questioner method. The respondents include; higher secondary and college students, youth, software professionals, senior citizens, domestic maids, etc.

Findings of the study

There were respondents who regularly take liquor did not feel guilty about their habit. They view consuming liquor nothing differently from taking other beverages. They cannot visualize their life without consuming liquor. To a question, in the event of government imposing prohibition, the respondents had no hesitation in saying they will opt for liquor from the black market. Some even justified the TASMAC shops as they were necessary to prevent illicit liquor trade.

The NGO ‘Nandini- Voice for the Deprived’ found that the liquor habit is fairly well spread throughout the state. However, its impact is clearly evident in the rural areas, where more than 40 % of the male population are addicted to consuming liquor regularly.

The study has also found that serving liquor has become a fashion in marriage parties and in funerals, particularly amongst lower income groups in Tamil Nadu. What was noticed that for sake of social status, even those who do not consume liquor, arrange liquor for others during such events.
It’s not uncommon site to find students stacking liquor bottles in their rooms at college hostels with the warden keeping a blind eye. Much to its surprise, the study has found out the students of higher secondary schools are getting addicted to liquor.

The study has also found that women from affluent families are also taking liquor, though occasionally. Some girls are also picking up this habit, especially those living in hostels.

Seeing women in the lower income group visiting TASMAC shops is not an uncommon site in Tamil Nadu, though their numbers remain microscopic.
Effect of liquor consumption on the society

With men increasingly becoming alcohol addicts, large numbers of poor families in Tamil Nadu are suffering economically and emotionally. Women getting beaten up by drunken husband and sometimes even by drunken sons and sons in law, desperate women hitting back the drunken men to protect themselves , children unable to concentrate in their studies in such disturbing conditions and sometimes women even committing suicide, unable to bear the torture, have become a regular feature of Tamil Nadu society.

As alcohol addicted men seem to lose values in life, the trend of promiscuity and Illicit relationships is growing, leading to breakdown of marriages. This phenomenon is common both in the lower as well as upper income groups, the study has found. What is even more disturbing is that while such matter is regularly reported in the media, they no more shock the people. Everyone seems to be reconciling to the fact that it is inevitable development of modern times.

In many poor families, the household is mainly run by the earnings of women. With the men folk frittering away the earnings in liquor and several of them not going to jobs regularly, due to poor health condition and indiscipline, life has really become hard for women in such households.

Mothers shoulder the responsibility and are seen pleading with NGOs and others for financial support for the education of the children, particularly due to the increasing realisation that imparting good education to the children, especially to their daughters, is the only way to protect their long term economic and social well being.

There was an overwhelming response from the non alcohol consuming people, particularly among the women in lower income group that the TASMAC shops have encouraged liquor consumption in a big way. They also blame political parties in power for many decades in the state in providing legitimacy and sanction to such social evil.

The respondents widely felt that the Tamil Nadu government alone can set the conditions right. The best way to do so is to gradually close the TASMAC shops and create a climate where liquor consumption is once again seen as a taboo. Such response mainly came from the poor women who are not informed about the revenue earned from liquor sales and have high hopes that government may educate the people of its ill effects.

However, well informed people responded that the government will not close the TASMAC shops as it is one of the main sources of its revenue. Without it several social measures and freebies offered by the government may be withdrawn. This may create social unrest and may lead to mass agitations and protests among the poor people. This may also have an effect on the vote banks particularly from lower income group, who are the recipients of the freebies. In such case, no government may like to face such conditions and think about clamping prohibition.

Speaking on this issue Mr. N.S.Venkataraman, founder of the NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, said that situation in Tamil Nadu has changed a lot from the fifties and sixties. There was a time particularly during the Chief Minister Kamaraj’s rule, when liquor consumption was seen as a social taboo. Liquor was taken in privacy and secrecy and families were unhappy about it. He cites the names of stalwarts like Kalki Krishnamurthy, Rajaji, Kamaraj and others who in 50s and 60s with their social campaign kept this problem under check.

Venkataraman, says the root cause of today’s condition is the passing of an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937, by the Tamil Nadu government in October 2003. This has led to increase in the habit of liquor consumption and this habit has spread amongst all age groups and all economic groups, he rues.

Similar efforts that were made in fifties and sixties to check this growing trend is required today, says the NGO founder, adding unfortunately, now we do not have any political leaders of such caliber, sagacity and wisdom who can initiate such anti liquor campaign. It appears that this habit has come to stay forever, he laments.

In such situation it’s only the people, particularly the women in the lower income group who are the worst hit and are desperately looking for relief should come forward and advocate prohibition in the state. They can democratically exercise their will in the forthcoming election and vote for the party that feels their sentiments, Venkataraman suggests.

However, the question remains, in a politically charged state like Tamil Nadu, which political party can convincingly assure people on this and which political party enjoy the credibility and has consistency in its stand on such issue, he asks?

He goes on; not everything is lost, the well informed people who think ahead of the time and feel concerned about the serious damage being done to the posterity due to rapid spread of alcoholism should come forward and rally behind this social cause. This alone can kindle a ray of hope in other wise depressing situation to control the growing trend of alcoholism in Tamil Nadu, Venkataraman, concludes.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]
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