By Dr R. Balashankar
Anna Hazare’s remarks on flogging the drunkards in public has made several people tipsy (pun intended). The media is full of comments against Anna’s views. There are two issues in this: one is public flogging and the other is drinking. Their combination is of course potent.
The habitual and compulsive drunkards are Anna’s target. India has witnessed anti-drinking drive by women in several regions, Andhra Pradesh being one of the most outstanding examples. The Government of India spends hundreds of crores of rupees on campaign against drinking. It is equally true that governments in the states and the centre promote drinking by facilitating it, — setting up more liquor outlets and relaxing drinking hours. Here it is the duplicity of the state policy on drinking. For instance, for entertaining foreigners officially, at the government level, special permits are required to serve liquor. Because the government’s routine laws do not permit serving liquor. But autonomous bodies and PSUs can lavishly entertain.
Total prohibition is also a goal laid in the Constitution of India under the Directive Principles. So it should be no Indian’s case that drinking is not a vice, though drinking is not a crime either in India.
Now to flogging. Anna’s statement on this has a socio-economic content and context that escapes the urbane, westernised, well-living population of the NCR. In rural areas, drinking habit of breadwinners in the family is a major cause for pathetic living condition. Men spend a substantial sum of their daily earnings on liquor, depriving the family of the cash to buy necessary provisions. This is not a romanticised plot of an Indian movie. It is the reality.
Many a family have been ruined and pushed into deep pits of poverty because the hard drunkards take away all moveable and saleable property in the house for a quick peg. In several women-prompted movements in the past, the campaigners have taken to beating up and locking out their men folk to make them come to senses. In some elections recently in Haryana and Andhra Pradesh prohibition was a vote winner. But the present government in Haryana is assiduously cultivating drinking habit by offering liquor in pouches to village heads and incentives for selling more pouches, through panchayats.
Anna Hazare, living close to the hard realities must have seen several homes being destroyed because of drunkards. In his village, there is hundred per cent prohibition. It has also been reported that he had laid his army belt on a couple of drunkards when they created a ruckus in stupor.
In a recent book In Defense of Flogging author Peter Moskos advocates flogging as a remedy to de-crowding jails. After all, the jails are maintained by the tax payers’ money, so why waste it feeding and safe-keeping offenders, he asks. His argument is of course America specific, where 2.3 million people are in prison. He also reasons that most culprits are repeat offenders, which goes to prove that jail term is no deterrent. On the other hand, he says one round of flogging would be such a humiliating experience that anyone would think twice before committing a mistake. The book was aimed at provoking a discussion on the subject.
The media in India, especially the English, campaign day in day out for reducing age limit for drinking and opening more pubs and public places for liquor sale and service. The media takes a cavalier attitude towards any campaign that raises any moral and ethical issues. The films in India romanticises drunkards aka Devdas.
Anna Hazare too might have taken the extreme position to spark a debate on drinking and prohibition. An honest, adhering Gandhian that he is, Anna might have been disturbed by the liquor mafia – politicians cozy relationship. The liquor barons in India walk in high places and enjoy a respectability which is even denied to a dedicated social worker or saint. Hence the understandable angst.