Prohibition seems to have become the leitmotif of the Bihar government. Chief minister Nitish Kumar raises it at every meeting with other leaders urging them to impose prohibition in their states. Recently, he raised the issue with the prime minister with reference to Uttar Pradesh. Now, to celebrate the 350th birth anniversary of the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the Bihar government is gearing up to organise the world’s longest human chain today to create awareness about the benefits of prohibition. The space agency ISRO has been approached by the state government to capture satellite images of the human chain. The chain will span a distance of 11,000 km with over two crore people joining hands across the state. The chain was to initially cover 5,000 km but the government revised the length to 11,000 km.
The aim is not to create a world record, which it just might, but to impress upon neighbouring states the positive effects of prohibition. But Bihar’s anti-liquor drive and its often harsh prohibition story has not been quite the runaway success it is being projected as. Violent crime has risen in the state and the liquor trade driven underground. Among the laws put in place to ensure prohibition are such draconian ones as arresting a whole family if one member is caught drinking. Further, entire villages can be held culpable if someone who resides there drinks. There are also measures to drive out people from a village if they are found guilty. These measures simply open up avenues for corruption among the police and also can be used to settle personal vendettas. If the business is driven underground, the state loses revenue which then goes into the hands of mafias. Additionally, this leads to people being sold spurious liquor with often fatal results.
The example of Kerala should be an eye-opener. The state imposed partial prohibition which just led to people going across borders and buying liquor leaving a huge hole in the pocket of the state government. It also led to a sharp decline in tourists coming to the state. There is no doubt that alcoholism is often at the root of domestic disharmony. But while the state has every right to spread awareness and discourage excessive consumption, to punish vast cohorts of people is undemocratic and eventually counterproductive. Unfortunately, prohibition is seen as an easy way to win the women’s vote and this is why politicians often resort to it. But they do not display the same enthusiasm for measures which could promote real empowerment for women like education and job skills. The human chain will certainly make for a good photo-op but beyond that, it is doubtful whether it will do much to spread the benefits of prohibition.