Monday, September 26, 2011

PAUPER’S LOG: The Bar City

The Bar City

By Abu Arsh

There are several names synonymous with cities across India. Kolkata prides itself for being 'City Of Joy', Jaipur is the 'Pink City', Bhubaneswar- 'City of Temples' and many others likewise. Port Blair, the capital city of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, once famous for being a land of pilgrimage, as it bore witness to the sufferings of our freedom fighters has become - The Bar City.
For an unsuspecting visitor to these islands landing at Veer Savarkar International Airport, route to his hotel is lined with innumerable bars either side i.e towards Aberdeen or towards Bathubasti. Bars have sprung up at every nook and corner of Port Blair. These water holes are not frequented by tourists but by our local drunkards' majority of whom are lower ranked govt. employees, daily wage earners, drivers and labourers etc. From the wee hours of the morning to late nights these alcoholics are seen hovering around the back door of bars. These groups of men called 'Bevda's' in the local lingo are habitual Ghoda Chaap (cheap liquor) drinkers; starting first thing in the morning.
Local bars supposedly becomes busy only from 11am to 11pm. Majority of these bars are owned by bootleggers and history sheeters who mysteriously get bar licenses without much of a fuss. The other majority of bar owners are contractors and govt. servants; running 'Benami' hotel units supplying free Black Dog and Johnny Walkers (expensive liquors) to officials for their frequent parties. A bhajan, an azaan or sermon can be heard from next doors in a bar, so are noises from school going children playing nearby during recess. In the name of air conditioner, a restaurant and toilet; these bars are humid, dusty, smelly and stinking places offering nothing much but adulterated booze. Smokers can smoke in public; in the name of food they serve crap from their name sake restaurants. The main counter in majority of these bars is meant for our Bevda's. They come, order a single or two shots of 90's, gulp it down in a single swipe and move out licking the complementary salt on offer. They would return after a couple of minutes at times with a sponsor and the same routine is repeated until they black out. Owing to non existent parking spaces in these bars our Bevda's after black outs end up parking themselves on the streets or in a bar neighbour's compound. Daaru parcels are also on offer either in pouches or a plastic bottle in various measures for people who don't want to hang around these fast service counters.
Alcoholism has touched new heights in these islands with liquor sale touching a whopping figure of Rs 80 crores last year and expected to reach Rs 100 crores this year. This is nothing to be buoyant about. What is known is that alcohol-related problems account for more than a fifth of hospital admissions; 18% of psychiatric emergencies; more than 20% of all brain injuries and 60% of all injuries reporting to India's emergency rooms. The role of alcohol in domestic violence is substantial: a third of violent husbands drink, according to a WHO study in 2004. Most of the violence took place during intoxication. There is evidence even to suggest that the poor are beginning to drink more than they earn-a deadly spiral of alcohol and debt. One recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) found that the average monthly expenditure on alcohol of patients with alcohol addiction is more than the average monthly salary.
Although the Indian constitution includes the prohibition of alcohol among its directive principles, alcohol policy is devolved to individual states-as is the levying of taxes on it. Moreover, there is a long history in India of a powerful alcohol lobby with industry figures influencing the political process, both in the form of party donations and as representatives. But experts argue that Indian society is losing considerably more than it gains. "Because of the political expediency surrounding prohibition, what is not being looked at is demand reduction strategies", says Vivek Benegal, one of the authors of the report and assistant professor of psychiatry at NIMHANS. Administration should be looking at this demand reduction strategy and stop state promotion of alcohol vide indiscriminately issuing bar licenses and selling liquor through its own ANIIDCO. We don't need a dubious distinction of being -The Bar City.

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