A wife who drinks spirituous liquor, is of bad conduct, rebellious, diseased, mischievous, or wasteful, may at any time be superseded (by another wife). — Manusmriti
Though she is an alcoholic, Madhavi has not had to face the punishment prescribed by Manu. That’s because the 53-year-old from a Delhi-based Tamil Brahmin family hasn’t married yet. That did not ease her trauma though, some of which she will share again with her fellowship at the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) on May 17. It was on that date 13 years ago that she kicked the bottle. But her memories of being an alcoholic are still raw, as if they happened yesterday. She says haltingly, “Though I had been drinking for only four years, towards the end I was counting my days. I could not even hold a pen and sign cheques.” Her sister found out about AA, Madhavi emerged from her nightmare, and in 1997, went on to start in the Capital the country’s first all-women AA chapter. Today, this chapter attracts at least 10 women everyday, says Madhavi. Why such a low attendance? “Most of the women who stay sober stop coming regularly after 3-4 years, because almost all of them are married — and there is always a greater pressure on women to perform in the household. And we are hardly visited by women below the age of 30, though there are many ‘boys’ in the fellowship. It possibly has to do with the greater stigma that’s applicable to the unmarried woman.”
It’s also true that there are far less women than men alcohol drinkers in the country: roughly one woman to every four male drinkers. But the changing pattern of usage is worth a closer look. In a large-sample study conducted in Karnataka by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences found that 65 per cent of the women who drink indulge in hazardous drinking at some point of time or the other (against 80 per cent of men). And that women seem to drink less in a positive frame of mind than men. But the drunken violence that’s often the result of such drinking is a preserve of men. Though the incidence of hazardous drinking is as high among the women of rural India as men, they end up being beaten up most of the times.
Shanthi Ranganathan, founder of TTK Foundation in Chennai, the country’s first rehabilitation centre, says, “This part of the country is full of self-help groups working on micro-credit. The financial independence these women get from the job is all wasted by their men who drink and then beat them up. Some have begun to understand the power of groups and are using that to shift out liquor shops.”
Molly Charles, former deputy director at the National Addiction Research Centre in Mumbai, says, “When the financial power equation changes, men either drink more or accommodate.” Here’s hoping that more opt for the latter.