Thursday, August 21, 2014

Time To Say "Cheers"? or Time To learn from Kerala?

After 17 years of being a dry state, Mizoram is relaxing its curbs on alcohol.Ratnadip Choudhury explains how the booze ban was a bane in the Christian-dominated state
James Pachuau, 23, takes out his Royal Enfield motorcycle every late afternoon and zips down the roads of Mizoram’s capital Aizawl, towards Lengpui on the outskirts, where the state has its lone airport. He parks his bike with several others lined up on the roadside. Hundreds of Mizo youth in their 20s and 30s are gathering in front of a group of shacks where Zu, Mizoram’s locally brewed liquor, is sold. Bootleggers hover around, making discreet deals for foreign liquor, sold at three times the MRP and often spurious. They earn in lakhs and it is anybody’s guess that they cannot be operating without taking Excise Department officials and policemen into confidence.
Misdirected? At least 70 people died in Mizoram due to spurious liquor during 17 years of prohibitionIt’s an everyday affair in a state where alcohol has been banned for the past 17 years. And in this period, more than 1,700 people have been treated for alcoholism by the Department of Psychiatry of the Aizawl Civil Hospital. Worse, at least 70 people have died after consuming spurious liquor.
“The world is changing fast and Mizoram cannot be immune to change,” says James. “The booze ban has done no good. You can get any IMFL (Indian-Made Foreign Liquor) brand from the black market if you can pay for it. And if you can’t afford it, you can always go for the cheaper Zu. The problem is, you can’t be sure of the quality and many have died because of spurious liquor.”
Zu is often adulterated with methyl alcohol, which makes it toxic. Moreover, an investigation by the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at the Aizawl Civil Hospital found that a kind of yeast called BEDC, found in plenty in Myanmar and smuggled into Mizoram, is used in making spurious liquor that resembles IMFL.
“The locals usually brew the liquor in jungles and under unhygienic conditions since it is illegal,” says Lalringthanga, an engineering student from Mamit district.
However, all this could change in a few months. On 10 July, the Legislative Assembly passed the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition and Control (MLPC) Bill, which will replace the existing Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition (MLTP) Act, 1995. This move comes after nearly half-a-decade of debate in the state over the pros and cons of prohibition.
The new law, however, does not lift the ban on alcohol totally. “It is a modification of the earlier Act and incorporates a system of proper checks,” says Mizoram’s Excise and Narcotics Minister R Lalzirliana. “The previous Act did not yield the desired results and so it had to be modified.”
In effect since 1997, the MLTP Act was legislated after the Presbyterian Church, the largest denomination in Christian-dominated Mizoram, came out with an assessment in 1994 that 65 percent of the women in the state were losing their husbands to alcohol abuse. The powerful Church, whose followers account for nearly half of Mizoram’s population of 1 million, prevailed upon the government to get prohibition imposed in the state.
Even now, the Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church are dead against any change in the 1995 law. “Total prohibition has been beneficial in ridding Mizo society of various social evils. The Church has played a pivotal role in creating awareness against alcoholism and has organised many special drives against it. It has also been involved in rehabilitation programmes. We are against any change in the 1995 Act as it would make people more prone to alcoholism. The state is already plagued by widespread drug abuse,” says Robert Halliday of the Mizoram Presbyterian Synod. “We have organised mass prayers against the lifting of prohibition and will continue to oppose any change in the law.”

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