news Wednesday, July 08, 2015 - 05:30
The last 48 hours have been more effective upping the ante in favour of alcohol prohibition in Tamil Nadu than probably the activism of the last several years. Two days ago, the video of six youth encouraging a three-year old child to drink in what appears to be alcohol in Tiruvannamalai, that was circulating on WhatsApp, was reported by the media. Two of the youth who are seen the video have been arrested; one of the six youth was the boy’s uncle. Soon, another video surfaced, showing a small boy gulping down alcohol from a plastic glass, as the hand of an older boy or man is seen apparently encouraging him and others instructed the child on how to go about it. On Wednesday, yet another video surfaced. A Class 12 student was videographed in her school uniform lying in an inebriated state on the roadside in Coimbatore. Bystanders realised that she was inebriated after she reportedly began using crude words when they tried to help her. These videos have given a shot in the arm to prohibition campaigners, who have lobbied for a total ban without much headway, given that the Tamil Nadu government has a monopoly over liquor sale through Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC). In 2013, Gandhian prohibition campaigner Sasi Perumal went on an indefinite fast demanding total prohibition in the state. After 33 days, he was forcibly taken to a government hospital for medical attention.  Speaking to The News Minute, he says that it is an open secret that whichever party is in power, has connections with companies supplying to the state-run liquor shops.  “I have repeatedly written to the state government asking them to bring in some enforcement (against liquor). They always respond saying that it is an official, government decision. But now it has reached the extent of affecting even school students,” he says. He blames the government for not being pro-active in creating awareness about the harm caused by alcohol consumption. “It’s not the fault of the citizens. If they are ignorant, it doesn’t mean that the government is also ignorant. They know that it is unhealthy, that it is injurious to health, then why don’t they do anything about it?” he says. The Tamil Nadu government has never really run a well-publicized campaign to create awareness about the perils of drinking.  Although there are over 6,700 TASMAC shops in the state, the government’s public awareness advertising has focused largely on other health issues such as dengue through Public Service Messages (PSM) in cinema halls (government ads are compulsory), but alcohol abuse remains conspicuously untouched. But the real question whether the government would take it up seriously given that excise revenues are considerable. The state government expects to generate a quarter of revenue just from TASMAC sales. TASMAC’s revenues have been steadily increasing over the years, and is expected to fetch around Rs 29,672 crore this year, compared to Rs. 26,188 crore last year. With such targets set for 2015, one could easily spot a TASMAC shop from the familiar large crowds gathered around it regardless of the time. While debates on neighbouring Kerala’s decision to prohibit alcohol focused on personal choice and individual freedom, public health, and the unintended possible promotion of the illicit liquor business, even shutting down a neighbourhood TASMAC shop is troublesome, Perumal says. “When we protested and ensured a TASMAC shop got shut down in Mylapore last year, they celebrated its closure like it was Pongal for them,” says Perumal. Later this month, he plans to protest against a shop in Kanyakumari, which the local people want shut down.   Across the state, smaller groups like the People’s Movement Against Liqour and Drugs have attempted to create awareness about the effects of alcohol on a family.  Political parties like the PMK and more remarkably, the DMDK too have come forward demanding government attention to the state’s alcohol problem. Dr.Ramadoss, of the PMK, held a demonstration calling for closure of Tasmac shops citing its negative effects in society. Communist Party of India leader, D Pandian said in a press conference that the number of TASMAC shops in the state needed to be reduced. The government should start monitoring the situation in ensuring that children are not influenced by alcohol use, he said.    
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