Message in a Bottle
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What keeps the prohibitionists going, generation after generation?
Anna hazare recently explained his three-step de-addiction programme in Ralegan Siddhi to turn alcoholics around: "We will give three warnings because after all, they are our people. But after the warnings, we drag that person to the temple and make him promise that he will never drink again in his life. Even after all this if he continues to drink, we will tie him to a pole near the temple and beat him."
Moral panic around alcohol is probably as eternal as the urge to imbibe it. In his time, Mahatma Gandhi warned about the ruinous effects of alcohol on individuals and families, and campaigned for total prohibition across India. Though "dry days" are grudgingly observed on his birth anniversary and a couple of other occasions, only a few states like Gujarat and Manipur have actually been scrupulous about prohibiting alcohol. Of course, that ban only redoubles the determination to get a drink — ask anyone who went to college in Gujarat.
We know that banning liquor leads inevitably to bootlegging, rule-dodging and moonshine markets. In the early 20th century, prohibition movements surged in much of the world. In the US, temperance campaigns urged people to get out of saloons and bar-rooms, and choose a more wholesome uplift and companionship in churches and clubs instead of in the "demon rum". Between 1921 and 1933, the manufacture, sale, or transportation of liquors was made illegal in the US through a constitutional amendment. The minister Billy Sunday then told his radio audience: "The reign of terror is over. The slums will soon be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corn-cribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile and the children will laugh. Hell will forever be rent."
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