Editorial: Battle the Bottle

Booze is a problem that the society ignores at its own peril

The festive season is upon us; a march of weeks and months which will be as much about piety as they will be about excesses, making it perhaps the right time to speak about alcoholism. And no, cops at play with breathalyzers, stopping vehicles and inviting drivers to blow into the equipment is not the solution. It penalizes and keeps the roads and passengers safer, yes, but it does not address the core problem. One could argue about the many levels at which such random stopping [without any apparent reason] for random checks is wrong [inconvenient in the least], but that line of argument will not find many backers in light of the fact that Gangtok roads are dangerous after dark with too many inebriated hands behind the wheels. While checking by cops might lead to some challans and avert some accidents, what remains unaddressed is the root problem – alcoholism, a condition which does not surface only on weekends or only at night and is a 24x7 worry for too many families. The problem of alcoholism is not talked about enough probably because it is substance abuse and HIV/ AIDS which receive funding, leading unfortunately to a situation where this condition is not as widely discussed as the scale of the problem requires. Many people tend to identify alcoholism as a traditional dispensation of the Hill People. This is an ill-informed preconception since alcoholism [as a wide-spread problem] could not have debuted in the hills more than half a century back or six decades at the most. Alcoholism really becomes possible with the arrival of the IMFLs [India Made Foreign Liquors] since the local brews required too much work and time to be manufactured in enough quantities to feed alcoholism on a scale that cause the kind of health and social complications which are now possible and common. It is hence wrong to begin any discussion on alcoholism by suggesting that it is a traditional weakness of the Hill People. The communities here might have allowed ‘drinking’, but that cannot be construed as addictive levels of drinking. The prejudice, however, because it serves so many businesses so well, has been allowed to set in and after it was ignored in the initial years [of IMFLs and other mass distilling units arriving], spread rapidly to ingrain itself in the society. The damage wreaked by alcoholism cannot be stressed enough and media here should carry forward its success with getting the problem of substance abuse addressed and report more effectively and widely on the abuse of alcohol which is just as impairing. But the local media, when it overlooks the problem of alcoholism in the society, ends up reflecting the social acceptance of this malaise. Sikkim’s indifference towards this problem will weigh heavy on its collective conscience some day. Many excuse alcoholism with the argument that the person is earning enough to indulge himself/ herself. Substance abuse, because it usually starts at a much younger age, is more scandalous also because of the petty crimes that the addicts invariably resort to finance their addictions. While there is no denying that substance abuse is a serious concern, alcoholism, because not enough seem to be taking it seriously, is even more worrying. Even if one were to keep the emotions aside, the impact alcoholism has on the economy should attract corrective action. Most people turn alcoholic in what should be the most productive years of their lives, both professionally as well as part of a family. When their faculties are compromised, as alcoholism is wont to do, their work suffers as do their families. Indifference towards this problem puts too much at risk because like with all social problems, alcoholism does not affect only the individual but has the entire family suffering. While the younger ‘addict’ makes the elders of the family suffer guilt pangs, an alcoholic, because in most cases they are working members of the family, end up abusing the family [because they have more ‘power’ but less control]. This is a social problem and requires the community to step forward and engage proactively in its battle against the bottle. Sadly, in Sikkim, even the war-cry has not been sounded yet…