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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chp 520. The “hypocrisy” of supporting Total Prohibition

So recently, our Mizoram government made a landmark ruling – A bill called “Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Bill, 2014” was passed in the Assembly House, bringing an end to the 17 years old MLTP (Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition) Act. In layman’s term, it means one can/may soon buy alcohol in Mizoram legally.

This bill was quite controversial, with the Mizoram Synod, the governing body of the Presbyterian Churches in Mizoram, being one of the loudest adversaries of this watershed bill. The moment the bill was passed, my Facebook timeline exploded. Many rejoiced. Others lamented.

[Pic source: father_sphinx @ WhatsApp]

Now people who know me on the outside, like people whom I’m friends with on Facebook but who don’t know me personally, may know that I am indeed not a teetotaler. I like to take the occasional swig from a bottle of Old Monk now and then just to relax or calm down after a hard day’s work. Such people may assume that I am actually happy with this latest ruling.

I mean, put me in a photo line-up with a bunch of other people and ask a question: “Do you think he supports Prohibition or not?”

I’m sure most people would reply: “No he drinks, hence he is against prohibition. He belongs to our Chief Minister Pu Alco-Hawla’s fan club”.

My Facebook albums too are no stranger to photos occasionally featuring alcohol. I do this, not to show-off or promote alcohol, but to remember the good times and memorable incidents that went along with it.

But those who do know me really well, like close friends that I’ve spent a lot of time with, or the few people who have read some of my old blog posts, will know for a fact that I am actually a staunch supporter of Total Prohibition in Mizoram!

Yes I support the MLTP Act.

Now how HYPOCRITICAL of me to support Prohibition when I myself am a drinker who goes home to Mizoram only twice or thrice a year, you may ask. Yes I can feel all those judgmental eyes staring at me...

I may sound like that Facebook friend of yours, you know, the one who lives a wild life partying, cheating, bitching about others, posting raunchy selfies... and yet posts only Bible verses on Sundays. I’m sure most of us have such a friend in our FB friend list. As for me, if being a drinker and supporting Total Prohibition is hypocrisy, then I plead guilty to being a hypocrite. But first, please do listen to my side of the story.

First of all, everything is not always black and white. It’s not always a matter of being in or out. There is usually a large grey area between any two extremities. Yes the reason why our Church supports prohibition and the reason why I support prohibition may be a bit different, but we’re two sides of the same coin actually. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and at the end of the day, we both do not want to live in a society riddled with sin and anti-social elements.

Many of you may not remember how life used to be before the Prohibition days. I clearly remember. Alcohol was legally available then, but for those who lived near places that sell/serve alcohol, life was a mess. And in my case, I live RIGHT opposite one of the most iconic and infamous taverns in Aizawl - Sertawk Bar.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitching about them, they are my neighbors and I grew up with their kids and to this day we are great friends. But yes, because one could drink or purchase alcohol at that place, life was difficult for us.

Every day, scores of drunken men, complete strangers, would knock on our door, asking us for money because they ran out of cash. And you know how difficult it is to reason with drunks. A lot of them were even rude and demanded money, banging on our door as if it was their given right. There would be a couple of drunk people fighting almost every night outside our gate, making it unsafe and difficult for us to sleep, and in the mornings, there would occasionally be one or two guys passed-out right on our doorstep!

Those incidents traumatized me as a kid. Took me a long time to overcome my fear of drunken men. Calling the cops back then was hardly helpful - it was ok for a day or two, and then on the third day the fighting and knocking would start all over again. And sometimes it was even the cops themselves who came to our door asking for a little “show”.

The reason why we were hounded relentlessly was because back then, we were one of the few families in our neighborhood living in a concrete building. Many people were living in an “Assam type house” back then and so every drunk fucktard assumed we were ultra-rich and hence entitled to sponsor their drinks. That did not justify why they made life difficult for us. And that was probably one of the reasons why my parents sent me and my three elder sisters to boarding schools outside Mizoram since a tender age in the late 80’s.

Then came the Prohibition in 1997 and life suddenly was so beautiful and peaceful for us! No more hassles, no more fights and street brawls, no more extortion, no more living in fear. It was once again safe to venture out after dark.

People who do not live near bars and liquor stores will not have the ability to comprehend how life is like for those living near such places. It is so easy to disregard it and say, “What’s the big deal, what’s the problem?” when you yourself aren’t living in the center of the problem.

Likewise, now that the new Bill had been passed, various locality YMA had passed a diktat that despite the latest amendment to the MLTP Act, they would not allow anybody from their respective locality to sell alcohol. And immediately, online forums were abuzz with many people criticizing the YMA decision.

Remember the SRS? I used to be a vehement critic of the way they would mindlessly thrash people. It was a victory for human rights when the SRS was finally disbanded in 2008 due to mounting public pressure. Some of my anti-SRS articles were published in the editorial section of Newslink, an English language newspaper in Mizoram back in 2007, creating a couple of really awkward moments for me since I personally knew a few SRS members and a lot of my friends knew who the person “H” I was talking about in the article was.

But this time I actually understand why some YMA groups do not want licensed alcohol shops in their localities. At the end of the day, nobody wants troublemakers disturbing their locality. There is a total failure in Law & Order in Mizoram when it comes to dealing with drunk miscreants. The people have lost faith in the police. That was the very reason why such frustrations gave birth to vigilantism, like the SRS. Now, even though the SRS is no more, we still find many YMA volunteers on “duty” late in the night at various localities in Aizawl. One thing I have found out is that those YMA volunteers aren’t actually against alcohol per se.

Our car once broke down while returning from a late night “party” at World Bank road, and it stopped right next to a freaking YMA duty booth (of an undisclosed locality). Though my friend who was driving the car wasn’t drinking, I on the other hand was like, oh shit, I am sooo smelling of booze. And then around 5-6 of the YMA volunteers approached our car and I politely explained our situation and they actually helped us fix the car. One of them was a car mechanic and fiddled with the engine while others shined torches, and later they even pushed our car to give us a running start. While they were fixing the car, I chatted with the “leader” of that group and he chuckled at me because he said he could “smell that I had a great time”. I just grinned back at him. It was then that he explained they weren’t against people drinking in general. They were just there to prevent drunken group of people misbehaving or creating loud noises or recklessly driving two wheelers under the influence or fighting with other group of drunken friends.

That is why regarding this amendment to the MLTP Act, many people are skeptical. Unless Law & Order drastically improve, many of us fear the streets will be reduced to lawlessness. I seriously hate the fact that many of us Mizos tend to fight or get violent once we’re drunk. I mean, what is the deal with THAT? I have had my fair share of drinking sessions in “dry state” Mizoram (described as the wettest dry state by our former Governor) whenever I go home, and I just can’t help but admit that most of those events ended up in a brawl. Most of us are hot-blooded and quick to get into fights once inebriated, probably because of our tribal-warrior ancestry or deep rooted insecurity. Once drunk, emotions are elevated and most of us feel we have to prove our alpha masculinity and fuel our egoistical hubris by getting into a fight. And we tend to assume that is normal. It is not!

But then again, maybe that will change in the future too. As one of my friends said, there was a time when mobile phones with camera feature suddenly flooded our Mizo society and there were a lot of “leaked” photos of women in compromising positions and sex video scandals with their partners. Did people blame mobile phones for that and tried to ban it? No. Our society wised up and people are now more careful and cautious. Maybe that would be the case for those who drink as well.

But can the police really guarantee there will not be any public disturbances? Looking up on what the “Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Bill, 2014” is stating, at least it is reassuring to read that – “Under the new law, those who would create nuisance after drinking would be severely punished and could be imprisoned up to two years, while drunken driving could invite the same punishment.” The bigger question is, how effective will this law be? Especially to those neighborhood selling alcohol in the future?

You may be thinking I’m being extremely selfish because the reason why I support Prohibition is only because my family happens to live near a tavern in Aizawl. But you’ll have to put yourself in different shoes to understand the sentiments of others. It’s like the case of a discotheque - Everybody loves to go to one, but nobody wants to live right next to it. People want to enjoy and make noise and have fun late in the night, but when the same people are trying to sleep and they are disturbed by noises made by others, they would be the first ones to complain. In a way, we are all selfish.

And if you think this issue is something that is prevalent only in small cities like Aizawl, then you are mistaken.

Over here in Mumbai, I live in one of the more upmarket localities called Bandra. Bandra was once the hub of late night parties where people could pub-hop and drink till they drop. Not anymore. A lot of renowned pubs like Zenzi, Poison, Banana Bar, Temptation, etc had all been closed down or relocated because numerous Bandra Housing societies had complained to the Home Minister R.R. Patil about the noise and ruckus created by late-night revelers.

Why are “such people” from Bandra Housing societies being such kill-joys? Why aren’t they letting us have fun? Because of the basic reason that you can’t disturb others and yodel all night at their expense. Nobody wants to hear that!

Yes, everybody has the right to live freely. But your freedom ends at the boundary where it violates another person’s freedom. It is not about curbing one’s freedom to enjoy, as long as you don’t disturb others around you. If you’re entertaining people and serving alcohol, then it should also be your responsibility to make sure they do not harass others nearby.

Here in Bandra, I live in Union Park, right opposite three extremely popular pubs - Big Nasty, Olive Bar & Kitchen, and Out of the Blue. Every night, at closing time when all the tipplers come outside, there is always a huge crowd around our apartment, but you should see how efficient the staff handles the situation. Valets and bouncers move around everywhere, organizing the crowd, and within minutes, the street is perfectly clear and peaceful. The management staff of these three establishments invested a lot in additional manpower to control their customers and they made sure none of them caused any inconveniences to the residents.

Likewise, in Mizoram if the police are going to be more active and efficient in the way they handle lawbreakers (late night drunken street fights, intoxicated men shouting “Tu nge min cho?” and challenging random strangers for a fight etc) INCLUDING domestic abuses that may increase due to availability of alcohol, if all that is going to be handled with an iron fist (though not like how the SRS used to handle things of course) then I will welcome this change. But until then, I remain a skeptic.

Last but not the least, I may be a hypocrite, but I do not have an icy heart. Just because I support prohibition (because of the above mentioned reason) doesn’t mean I don’t want people to have access to good booze. I have a lot of friends in Mizoram and it breaks my heart to see them drinking that so called bootlegged McDowells Rum, the one that is packaged in a plastic bottle and smuggled from Assam/Shillong. THAT is not rum. As a regular rum drinker outside Mizoram, when I drank my first sip of that McDowells rum in Mizoram, I literally choked. It IS NOT freaking rum. It is 50% rum mixed with some 50% chemical shit. That is freaking injurious to health, but sadly, my friends in Mizoram were so used to the taste that they didn’t know the difference. Since bootlegged alcohol are hard to smuggle in, people “increase the quantity” by using a syringe to extract some of the content and then adding chemicals to replace that amount, so that they can make twice the money. I mean, what kinda diabolic thought must one have to poison people just to make a few extra bucks? That is another group of assholes I really hope our police goes after once this new law comes into place.

Until then, guess all I can say is cheers for now, cautiously...


Anonymous said...

Great post, as usual.
It's a real shame that we still don't know how to 'drink'. I've completed three years in Hanoi, Vietnam where there are street-side joints everywhere you look where you can get beer and any drink of your choice any time of the day or night. These joints are usually full of old/young folks enjoying their drinks and chatting/laughing from early evening till late and in all my three years here I've not seen a single person getting drunk or misbehaving/fighting. It's not that they drink less or don't get drunk. I think it's more to do with the culture of 'drinking' where it is just another part of one's social interaction with friends where the emphasis is on enjoying each other's company and the drinks are mere incidentals that complement the whole experience. They probably wouldn't understand a world where you drink to get drunk (like we do) and sometimes the whole purpose is to take a few drinks and start shouting “Tu nge min cho?” ;)The problem lies, I think, in our hypocritical attitude of treating all those who drink as 'sinners' who will go straight to hell. This directly influences those who drink into thinking that they are sinners going to hell anyway and, since that is the case, what does it matter whether they get into a few fights along the way ;)
One can only hope that, someday, we too will awaken to that 'heaven of freedom'

Mizohican said...

"attitude of treating all those who drink as 'sinners' who will go straight to hell. This directly influences those who drink into thinking that they are sinners going to hell anyway and, since that is the case, what does it matter whether they get into a few fights along the way"

Wowww, Pu John. Truer words have never been spoken! Amen to that.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I 100% agree to the first comment.. :)