Indian youth starting to drink at 19
Urban youth in India is taking to alcohol in a big way and that is one of the reasons why Health Minister A Ramadoss has decided to formulate and launch the country’s first national policy against alcohol. A NIMHANS study has revealed that the average age of alcohol consumption in India has fallen by nearly nine years over the past decade, from 28 to 19, and this is predicted to fall to 15 in another 5-7 years.
Our Constitution encourages prohibition
What I also found out was that one of the Directive Princples of the State Policy (Article 47 of the Constitution) says that:
The State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purpose of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health…
In fact India wants October 2nd to be declared as World No Alcohol Day.
Alcohol and drinking is as old as the hills
Nothing will stop people drinking however. All traditional societies consumed and brewed alcohol and there are indications that distillation of liquor happened as early as 150 B.C. in India. However drinking alcohol was always disapproved of in India…but regarded as a minor sin only.
Decreasing disapproval of alcohol drinking is driving up consumption
In India today drinking alcohol is still considered only a minor sin (as long as men do it) but attitudes are changing. Social drinking is slowly catching on and societal tolerance towards drinking is going up. Today 32 percent of our population consumes alcohol (National Family Health Survey NFHS-3, 2007) and between 4 and 13 percent have it daily…and there is no distinction between rural and urban population. And consumption is going up…particularly amongst the young.
I don’t think the government is going to succeed in its policy to curb drinking. This is not just because the government cannot fight against the strong liquor industry (India has now become a thriving producer of alcohol, producing 65 percent of alcohol in the South East Asia) but because Prohibition doesn’t work in India because of weak implementation of laws here…it simply drives alcohol underground…not that I approve of Prohibition. As for the age limit set for drinking…that’s only on paper. No one follows the law and the law doesn’t care.
Enforcement of underage drinking in other parts of the world
India is not the only place where there is no enforcement of the law to stop underage drinking. It happens in Britain too. In fact Britain has a real problem with preteens and teens from vulnerable social groups indulging in binge drinking which leads them into violent activities and crime. In fact youth from every country in Europe except Turkey (ages 15-16) indulged in more binge drinking than youth in America. What’s worked in America is the the raising the legal drinking age to 21, which is one of the highest in the world…but more important…enforcing the law with some amount of strictness. It says here:
The teen binge-drinking rate in the U.S. is about 22 percent, compared to 60 percent in Denmark, 57 percent in Germany, 54 percent in Great Britain, 34 percent in Italy, and 28 percent in France, the PIRE report said.
In India the legal drinking age varies from state to state and ranges from 18-25 but that has no meaning anyway as no one enforces it. If the NIMHANS study is correct and Indian youth start drinking at 15 in another five years, the law certainly won’t stop them.
India has a problem
Whether it’s rich kids going on binge drinking and crashing cars…or illiterate people on the brink of poverty who drink regularly ruining their families…or the middle classes who drink themselves till they land in the hospital, India has a huge problem. In rural India, it has prompted whole villages to adopt a no-alcohol policy…and well, it has had its benefits..
Since prohibition came to the area, the daily round of rural life — walking to and from the fields, into a nearby town or dropping over to neighbors — has been free for the first time in memory of the menace of local men who are drunk…
This works only as long as the women themselves keep a close watch on their men…it cannot last forever. That story I mentioned is an old one (1996) and though one keeps hearing of such villages…I wonder how long these bans last…
Alcohol education a must in India
I always had a tolerant attitude towards drinking as I took my first sip of alcohol at 15, and that too with my family. I grew up in an Army atmosphere where alcohol was not a bad word and although I didn’t drink regularly I was always encouraged to have wine or a glass of beer when we had a party…and no one ever disapproved, not my uncles and aunts or anybody else and we had a large extended family.
Ofcourse I knew that most of India had conservative ideas about alcohol…and people believed that if you drank then you must be a drunkard and if you are a woman who drank you are worse than that. In fact in India people usually do drink to get drunk. In our family we always made fun of those who got drunk and made a fool of themselves…but at no time did we attach moral labels to them.
The way I was brought up, it was the behavior which was disgusting, not the drink. My dad was always proud of the fact that he could hold his drink and never in my whole life have I seen him drunk although he is a regular drinker. I learnt from an early age that alcohol is potent, that there are ways to drink, the right time (and situation) to drink, how not to mix drinks, how much to drink and so on. As the word alcohol or drinking was never a taboo subject in our home, the subject was discussed freely. It was excessive drinking which was bad, and it was lack of control which was bad…not drinking in itself. A drink had to had slowly, with food in the stomach, and in moderation, and if at all one had to have that extra drink, one had to be careful if one was in a public place. Having that extra drink with close friends and family was never taboo.
Another thing we (my brother and me) were taught was that drinking alcohol from our parents hard-earned money wasn’t the right thing as drinking was a luxury and as such it had to be had with one’s own hard earned money…after other more important things were taken care of. Alcohol was leisure and fun, and it had to be dispensed with if need be.
As Prohibition will never work in India, what’s important is awareness of the dangers of addiction. Today in India (unfortunately) alcohol hasn’t come out of the closet…and therefore educating people about drinking becomes difficult.
(Photos by me and all copyrighted)
Related reading: Social drinking in India
Stricter laws on drinking and driving in Mumbai
Pot can cause mental illness says the Lancet
Road accidents in India
An invention to stop drunk drivers
Fear of jail stops people from breaking traffic rules