Saturday, August 15, 2020
Home Opinions Bihar's liquor war: Prisoners of prohibition and the conspiracy of silence

Bihar’s liquor war: Prisoners of prohibition and the conspiracy of silence

President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has launched a war on drugs and this war has been bloody. More than 7000 people, mostly addicts and drug pushers, have been killed by the police and the vigilantes ever since Duterte came to power eight months ago.

We have another politician much closer to home who has launched a campaign against alcohol with the same sense of purpose as Duterte. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s prohibition campaign has not spilled that much blood as has been spilled in the Philippines (though there have been cases like this). But it has definitely managed to rob 35000 people of their liberty.

This is no doubt a staggering number. With so many people behind bars, the Bihar government has been forced to consider the expansion of jails. Although the overburdened courts are hearing large number of bail applications related to prohibition violations daily, there are thousands, including poor women,  waiting for freedom for as minor a violation as a liquor bottle found near the wooden chulha.

So what are the reasons for this deafening silence regarding the incarceration of thousands of our citizens when even the arrests of terror suspects cause much debate and discussion in our media and polity? Let us analyse:

- Advertisement -

Silence of the alliance partners: Nitish has been in power in Bihar in alliance with his foe turned friend Lalu Yadav and former adversaries the Congress party. Despite having more number of seats in the Vidhan Sabha than JD(U), Lalu has accepted the leadership of Nitish for the sole purpose of establishing the next generation of his family in politics.

Many liquor traders have lost businesses and thousands of jobs have been lost after prohibition as government licensed liquor outlets had mushroomed around Bihar in the previous Nitish led government. Many of these people left unemployed are voters of Lalu. But when the careers of the sons and daughters are at stake, it is difficult to imagine that Lalu will make job losses an issue.

Congress party, which prides itself in its liberalism going to the extent of defending the freedom of expression of even separatist elements, has conveniently forgotten the right to liberty of thousands behind bars or the right to choose the food and beverages of the millions of Biharis for the sake of power.

Silence of the opposition: The principal opposition party in Bihar, the BJP is suffering from a huge dilemma. While BJP leaders have opposed the draconian nature of the prohibition laws and the singular focus of the Nitish government on prohibition, the party is still analysing the electoral costs of an all-out opposition to prohibition.

The moral angle of prohibition in a deeply conservative society as well as the fear of antagonising women voters has dissuaded BJP from opposing prohibition strongly, despite the fact that governance and development work in Bihar have taken a backseat due to priorities attached to prohibition.

Matters have been further complicated by Prime Minister praising Nitish Kumar for enforcing prohibition in Bihar, perhaps as a reciprocal gesture to the support he received from Nitish on demonetisation.

Silence of the bureaucracy: Bureaucracy in Bihar is under deep depression. Last one year has seen major scams in Bihar; in intermediate examinations, recruitment in an agricultural university, as well as in the most recent case of examination paper leak which led to the arrest of a senior IAS officer.

The IAS Association of Bihar has the grouse that while politicians involved in these scams roam freely, it is the bureaucrats who have to face the music. There is also much debate around the rivalry between the two All India Services – IAS and IPS.

In these difficult circumstances for the Bihari bureaucrats, the government has brought further stringent provisions regarding prohibition for government servants. Now, anyone serving the Government of Bihar cannot consume alcohol anywhere on this planet without attracting disciplinary action. So for the next tipple, the civil servant from Bihar will have to travel to Mars. Or perhaps the extra-territorial application of prohibition laws is also valid for Mars.

Not a murmur of protest was heard from the civil servants regarding the introduction of these new provisions. Nitish has definitely managed to put the civil servants in their place.

Silence of the media: It is the primary responsibility of our ‘fiercely independent’ media to bring to the fore any transgressions of the state. However, in the case of implementation of the harsh prohibition laws in Bihar, the media has generally failed.

For an outsider, the imprisonment of thousands of people for a minor offence like possessing liquor bottles may seem very ‘North Korean’ and the silence of the media may be surprising. However, the print media in Bihar suffers from a unique problem. Because of very low levels of industrialisation and the small service sector, the major newspapers are mainly dependent on the government for advertisement revenues.

This weakness has been very deftly used by the government so much so that it has even embarrassed major newspapers. For example, the largest selling Hindi daily in Bihar, Hindustan carried the news of the hooch tragedy in Gopalganj, which killed at least 16 people, as deaths due to diarrhea, and had to change its tune only when its error was too glaring after coverage in other newspapers and TV channels.

Our national media, though not dependent on the government of Bihar, has generally ignored the problems related to prohibition in Bihar. Channels which pride themselves in fighting for the rights of the terror suspects have nothing to say about the rights of the thousands behind bars in Bihar.

While prohibition has its virtues and has made a positive impact on savings of the poor households and could have the support of women, the draconian nature of the law in Bihar has given it a bad name. Police can put one behind bars without bail on such grounds as possession of  a bottle of liquor and even the property where liquor is found could be attached.

It also makes it easier for people and police to frame law-abiding citizens. There has already been a case of a house of a senior Department of Post official being raided on the suspicion of possession of liquor. It was an attempt to frame the officer and was a traumatic experience for the family. Anywhere else this will be considered as measures implemented in a dictatorial police state.

The ostensible social aim of the prohibition law is to protect the weak, the vulnerable and the poor from the dangers of alcoholism. However, it is they who are also facing the brunt of this very blunt instrument. It is safe to assume that out of the 35,000 people in jail in Bihar due to the prohibition law, majority consists of the weak, the vulnerable and the poor as they have little means to navigate our legal system to set themselves free again.

Does anyone care for them?

  Support Us  

Whether NDTV or 'The Wire', they never have to worry about funds. In name of saving democracy, they get money from various sources. We need your support to fight them. Please contribute whatever you can afford

Related Articles

Trending now

The Communist betrayal of the Hindus on Direct Action Day and support for the Pakistan Demand

The Communist Party of India (CPI) was one such organisation that left an obtrusive footprint upon the history of the mass independence movement, for reasons good and bad, significantly, for betrayal during Direct Action Day

Operation Polo: When India annexed Hyderabad from the Nizam and Razakars, the suppression of Hindus and the role of Nehru

On the midnight of August 15th 1947, India gained its independence from the British and was partitioned into two countries- Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan

On its first Independence Day since the liberation of Ram Janmabhoomi, India must pledge to return Kashi-Mathura to its true inheritors

The 74th Independence Day celebrations are underway across the country and it is a momentous occasion for the country for more reasons than one.

Made in India Coronavirus vaccine soon? Here is what PM Modi said in his Independence Day speech

During his Independence Day speech, PM Modi said that the vaccine is being developed in India for the Wuhan Coronavirus.

From Article 370 in 2019 to CAA and Ram Mandir in 2020: How PM Modi used his I-Day speech to talk about promises delivered

On India’s 74th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his 7th speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

Breaking taboos from the ramparts of Red Fort: From speaking about open defecation in 2014 to the importance of sanitary napkins in 2020

On India's 74th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his 7th speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort

Recently Popular

Karnataka: Controversy erupts after SP pressurises priests to place photo of Jesus Christ inside the Garbhagriha of Hindu temple

The temple priest has apologised for the incident and said that they did not have any evil intentions to hurt any religious sentiments

He may have flings with actresses, but is not a murderer: Subramanian Swamy says Aditya Thackeray has nothing to do with Sushant Singh Rajput’s...

Swamy said in the Q and A session that some other powerful persons are involved in the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, and Aditya is not one of them.

Wikipedia page on Bengaluru violence calls it a ‘clash’, refuses to identify rioters as Muslims: Here are the reasons given by the ‘editors’

On the 11th of August, when Hindus of the country celebrated Janmashtami, a Muslim mob indulged in violence in Bengaluru after being offended by a Facebook post that was allegedly against the Prophet of Islam.

Former SP leader Shahzeb Rizvi announces bounty of Rs 51 lakh on Karnataka Congress MLA’s nephew Naveen’s head for ‘blasphemous’ Facebook post

Shahzeb Rizvi said that whoever beheads Naveen for insulting the Prophet and brings his head will be given a bounty of Rs 51 lakh

‘Shut up or else, you will also be put to sleep forever’, mother of deceased actress Jiah Khan accuses director Mahesh Bhatt of intimidating...

Rabia Khan, mother of deceased actress Jiah Khan, accused Mahesh Bhatt of being a 'mouthpiece' of the Bollywood mafia.

Exclusive photos: The massive task of laying over 2300 km of optical fibre cables under the sea in the Andaman islands

With the new OFC network, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands can now have high speed internet. It is one of the many development projects planned around the strategically important island chain.

Outrage grows in Somalia as bill legitimising child marriage tabled in Parliament, UN and other international bodies criticise the move

Bill tabled in Somalia parliament legalizing marriage of girls without their consent once they achieve sexual maturity

The Communist betrayal of the Hindus on Direct Action Day and support for the Pakistan Demand

The Communist Party of India (CPI) was one such organisation that left an obtrusive footprint upon the history of the mass independence movement, for reasons good and bad, significantly, for betrayal during Direct Action Day

PM Narendra Modi announces National Digital Health Mission, citizens to be provided with Digital Health ID: Read details

A unique ID will be issued to citizens under a 'One Nation One Health Card' scheme under the National Digital Health Mission

Punjab: Pro-Khalistani elements hoist Khalistani flag on administrative building in Moga amid Independence Day celebrations

Two miscreants hoisted Khalistani flag on the DC office building in Moga in Punjab, CM has ordered a probe and case registered

Operation Polo: When India annexed Hyderabad from the Nizam and Razakars, the suppression of Hindus and the role of Nehru

On the midnight of August 15th 1947, India gained its independence from the British and was partitioned into two countries- Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan

Price of freedom: How Beant Singh, now a rickshaw puller in Meerut, witnessed his mother and brother burn during partition in Rawalpindi

Beant Singh is one of the few survivors of partition that witnessed 2 million casualties and the displacement of 14 million people.

From self-reliant India to Coronavirus vaccine, Ram Mandir, warning to China: Here are 15 points made by PM Modi in his Independence Day speech

PM Modi began his Independence Day speech by paying tributes to freedom fighters, security forces and coronavirus warriors

On its first Independence Day since the liberation of Ram Janmabhoomi, India must pledge to return Kashi-Mathura to its true inheritors

The 74th Independence Day celebrations are underway across the country and it is a momentous occasion for the country for more reasons than one.

Made in India Coronavirus vaccine soon? Here is what PM Modi said in his Independence Day speech

During his Independence Day speech, PM Modi said that the vaccine is being developed in India for the Wuhan Coronavirus.

From Article 370 in 2019 to CAA and Ram Mandir in 2020: How PM Modi used his I-Day speech to talk about promises delivered

On India’s 74th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his 7th speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

Connect with us

239,751FansLike
430,599FollowersFollow
301,000SubscribersSubscribe