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Why women are in forefront in opposing new liquor vends in various parts of India

By Bharat Dogra 

Women have been gathering for several days in Jogindernagar, Himachal Pradesh, to protest against the opening of a new liquor vend which is located near a gurudwara, a temple and a residential area. Recently they became so angry that they even stopped the traffic on the Mandi-Pathankot highway. The protesting women have explained that their opposition had started much earlier when the proposal for opening the new liquor vend was being considered. They had made written submissions to the concerned authorities explaining the reasons for their opposition, saying that a liquor vend close to residential area will create many problems. This was the right time to cancel this liquor vend, they feel. Despite this opposition, a liquor vend was opened in the darkness of night to avoid resistance. But the women have said that as soon as they became aware of the opening of this liquor vend, they came forward to oppose this and they will continue to oppose this till this is removed.
This is just one of the several cases of opposition to new liquor vends in various parts of the country, particularly in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh in recent years, and generally women have been in the forefront of these movements. If we look at these protests in the context of not just local details, but also much wider studies on the adverse impacts of alcohol on not just health but also on violence against women and social disruption, then there is solid ground for keeping liquor vends away from villages and busy residential areas of cities, educational and religious institutions as well as highways.
According to the WHO status report on health and alcohol about 3 million deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption. The same report has pointed out that the harmful use of alcohol is a component cause of more than 200 diseases and injury conditions, the most notable being alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers and injuries, the latest causal relationships established are those between alcohol consumption and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDs.
The World Report on Violence and Health (WRVH) says that alcohol abuse may also be an important factor in depression. More ominously the WRVH report says that alcohol and drug abuse also play an important role in suicide. In the USA, at least one quarter of all suicides are reported to involve alcohol abuse.
A recent study published in the Lancet has identified alcohol consumption to be among the top causes of cancer related deaths, in India as well as worldwide.
New British guidelines on liquor have also been seen as a big help by campaigners against the many-sided risks of alcoholic drinks not just in Britain but in other countries as well.
Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer of Britain, overcame a lot of resistance from liquor industry lobbyists to radically change two decade old guidelines which had understated health risks of liquor while also either implicitly conceding or at least not adequately refuting imagined claims of some health benefits ( for example in the context of red wine) spread by lobbyists and sellers of liquor.
The new guidelines came in the wake of growing concern over reported 500 per cent increase in deaths from liver disease among working age people in Britain since the 1970s. Another serious concern came with growing evidence of higher risks of a range of cancers associated with liquor, including red wine.
The evidence regarding the closer link between liquor and a range of cancers was supported by a new review from the Committee on Carcinogenicity in Britain.
The development of the new guidelines was chaired by Prof. Mark Petticrew, Prof. of Public Health Evaluation at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and by Prof. Sally Macintyre, Prof. Emeritus at the University of Glasgow.
he guidelines on liquor consumption released on 8 January 2016 by the Chief Medical Officer to replace nearly two decade old guidelines warn that drinking any level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers. The guidelines also make it clear that no level of alcohol is safe for drinking in pregnancy.
These guidelines inform that drinking regularly over time can lead to a wide range of illnesses including cancers, strokes, heart diseases, liver diseases, and damage to the brain and nervous system.
On the other hand, these guidelines also make it clear that there is no justification for drinking for health reasons.
Coming to social mpacts,the WRVH says that both from the perspective of the assaulter and the victim, alcohol and drug consumption increases the risk of sexual violence, including rape.
According to a widely cited paper on ‘alcohol and sexual assaults’ by Antonia Abbey, Tina Zawacki and others of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (USA), “atleast one half of all violent crimes involved alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or both. Sexual violence fits this pattern. Thus across disparate population studies, researchers consistently have found that approximately one half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol.
According to the WHO, alcohol consumption in adolescents, especially binge drinking, negatively affects school performance, increases participation in crime and leads to risky sexual behavior.
The WRVH report says that reducing the availability of liquor can be an important community strategy to reduce crime and violence as research has shown alcohol to be an important situational factor that can precipitate violence.
There are very heavy social costs of alcohol consumption in the form of various forms of violence, crime and disruption of relationships. The WHO status report has presented various estimates that have been made from time to time about financial implications of these social costs:
i) Estimate for the European Union, Year 2003 - 125 billion euros
ii) Estimate for UK, Year 2009 – 21 billion pounds
iii) Estimate for USA, Year 2006 – 233 billion dollars
iv) Estimate for South Africa, Year 2009 – 300 billion Rand (10-12 per cent of GNP)
These estimates would be much higher at present day prices. Hence the efforts made by government to increase their income from taxes on liquor by increasing liquor consumption by opening more and more liquor vends in villages are ridiculous considering the very high social and health adverse impacts.
Increase of liquor production and consumption causes environmental ruin due to very serious pollution caused by distilleries and the vast amounts of water wasted or polluted in the course of increasing alcohol availability. The Economist reported some time back that 960 litres of water is required to make available one litre of wine. To produce 274 million hectoliters of wine in a year the amount of water needed at world level can be well imagined. About 19 million acres have to be devoted to grow the essential raw material for the wine industry. Hence a lot of precious land and water are taken away from producing staple food at a time when food security is increasingly threatened.
Hence a well-organized, continuing campaign against alcohol and its adverse social and health impacts is needed and can make a very useful social contribution. In the context of poorer regions in particular it should be noted that the economic ruin brought by liquor consumption in families which are already hard pressed for meeting basic needs can be the biggest problem related to liquor. Women cannot see that the few savings they keep for educational expenses of children are being squandered in liquor, they oppose this and get beaten too, all this having a very traumatic impact on children too. In this context the distress of women at the time of opening of liquor vends close to their homes should be understood. In one of the famous struggles of women again a liquor vend in Pather village of Saharanpur district ( UP) the feelings of women were so strong that they did not back down even after being beaten most brutally by policemen and ultimately they succeeded in getting the liquor vend removed. It is important for such women-led movements to get wider support from various sections of society.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril’, ‘A Day in 207’ and ‘Man over Machine'

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