India is fast becoming a country of bans: ban on eating, ban on drinking, ban on reading, ban on expressing opinion etc. The list seems to be endless. There are bans imposed by the fundamentalist groups and bans imposed by the government. Cow vigilantes attack people who transport animals from one place to another place and it has created terror among the people who are involved in animal trade. The ban by the central government on purchase and sale of animals for slaughter in the markets has almost chocked animal trade, buffalo meat export industry, and leather industry etc. which is going to take away the livelihood of about five crore people involved in these businesses.
“Hurting the religious sentiments” has become an important source of ban. Even criticizing blind faith and superstitious practices which are totally irrational is also “hurting the religious sentiments”. It appears that India is being converted into a land of sentimental beings bereft of scientific temper and rational thinking. The following statements by those who hold high constitutional positions show the abyss of ignorance to which the nation has sunk. “Cow is a substitute to mother”. “No meat, no sex during pregnancy”. “The peacock is a lifelong celibate. It does not have sex with peahen. The peahen gives birth after it gets impregnated with the tears of the peacock. A peacock or a peahen is then born”.
For centuries people in India lived together having different kinds of eating habits and following various cultural practices. How all of a sudden certain eating habits or drinking habits become criminal? Spread of religious fundamentalism in all religions seems to be an important reason for the craze for bans. In the context of India the craze for bans is mainly due to the Hindutva agenda of the Sangh Parivar of which BJP is the political wing. The Sangh Parivar is putting pressure on the central government to impose its exclusivist and fascist agenda on the people of India.
Ban is the last resort for bringing about change in the people’s choices. There are many other ways people could be persuaded to give up a particular habit or to adopt another habit. Persuasion through information dissemination and awareness generation is the healthiest approach. For example, large number of people in India and abroad is practicing yoga for their physical and spiritual well being. This is because people see and experience the benefit of practicing yoga and those who have positive experiences persuade their friends and relatives to adopt yoga. Unfortunately, the BJP government is imposing yoga on the school children, which in the long run will only boomerang. Anything that is imposed will be rejected.
The Indian Express, The Hindu and the Times of India wrote editorial, appreciating the new liquor policy announced by the LDF government of Kerala. It has given up the policy of the previous UDF government reducing the supply of liquor, leading to total prohibition within a period of ten years. The new policy allows full-fledged bars in three and four star hotels and freeing those with even fewer stars to run wine and beer parlours. Government expects that the new policy will revive tourism industry, besides generating additional employment.
Banning the sale of liquor is issue that widely discussed in some parts of India. The experience of India and of some other countries show that total prohibition of the sale of liquor has proved to be a failure and in some cases a disaster. It leads to illicit liquor production and sale. Often the poor people become the victims, as they are likely to consume unsafe or even deadly concoctions. The N T Rama Rao government had introduced total prohibition in Andhra Pradesh, but later the TDP government of Chandrababu Naidu government overturned it. After 17 years of prohibition Mizoram gave up the exercise and cancelled prohibition in 2014. The new problems that prohibition creates are much more than the problem it tries to solve. Nitish Kumar of Bihar is proud of introducing total prohibition in Bihar, but one has to watch and see what would be its future and how sustainable it would be.
Alcoholism is more an individual problem than a social problem and it occurs in a personal space. Of course, alcoholism results in increasing crimes in the society. The only intervention the state can make is to reduce its supply or totally stop it. If a change does not happen in the individuals, the efforts of the state to stop the supply of liquor may not succeed because people often resort to illegal ways of brewing liquor and consuming it. That is why, total prohibition of liquor sale failed not only in India but also in almost all parts of the world.
Religious leaders in India in general support total prohibition of the sale of liquor. The Catholic Church in Kerala is a firm supporter of total prohibition in Kerala. Some Church leaders are planning an agitation against the new liquor policy of Kerala government. Every citizen has the right to protest using non-violent means against the policies of the government, which he or she considers harmful to the people. At the same time the Church leaders have to introspect why are they not able to motivate the faithful not to consume liquor or consume in very limited quantity in such a way it does not affect adversely their health, family finance and peace in the family.
The Catholic Church has ample opportunity to educate and motivate its members. From class 1 to 12 there is compulsory catechism through which the students could be educated about the evil effects of consuming alcohol and they could be motivated for self-abstinence. Every Sunday most of the Catholics go for Mass in the church and the priests have the opportunity to motivate and inspire the faithful through their homilies. There are youth organizations for inspiring the Catholic youth. Most of the parishes in Kerala organize annual retreat for the members of the parish. Above all retreat centres are mushrooming in Kerala and thousands of people throng to these retreat centres.
In spite of having these many opportunities why are not the church leaders able to motivate the faithful to abstain from alcohol consumption? It is heard that alcohol consumption among the Catholics is more than in other communities. It seems that there is something wrong in the methodology pursued by the Church or the leaders of the Church do not have the capacity to motivate the faithful. The teaching of Catechism focuses more on the dogmas and learning lengthy prayers by heart. Inculcation of human and ethical values in the students and emphasis on behaviour changes has less priority than teaching dogmas in the long period of catechism teaching. It is observed that often the students are not interested in catechism classes. Because of the compulsion from parents they attend the catechism classes.
The leaders of the Church in Kerala, instead of fighting with the government, have to focus on educating and motivating the Catholic faithful, especially the youth either to abstain from liquor consumption or drastically reduce the consumption of liquor. In order to be successful in its attempt the church leaders have to present themselves as role models in the practice of the core values of Jesus: love, compassion, sensitivity, forgiveness, justice and non-discrimination. Only then they will have the moral power to advise the faithful. Secondly, the focus of teaching catechism and other religious practices should be inculcating the core Christian values in the Catholic faithful. This may require giving up many religious practices and rituals that do not make any change in the faithful. The leaders have to liberate themselves from the obsession with rituals. Because of the obsession with the rituals they often fail to practice the core Christian values; the practice of rituals make them often self righteous and complacent.
Once a remarkable change takes place among the Catholics of Kerala with regard to alcohol consumption, it will be an inspiration as well as a challenge to other communities also. Thus the Catholics in Kerala will be able to function as ‘salt and light’ of the wider society. The LDF government is in a way challenging the Church leaders to teach their faithful voluntary abstinence. The Kerala Catholic Church should accept the challenge of the LDF government and prove that it has the capacity to bring about moral and ethical revolution in the Kerala society.
In the context of India today Hindutva fundamentalism promoted by the Sangh Parivar is more harmful than liquor consumption. The BJP government is taking the country towards fascism. It seems that the leaders of the Church in Kerala have not yet become aware of this danger because they have not yet started experiencing alienation, persecution and elimination. The Catholic Church in Kerala has to fight against the Hindutva fascism along with accepting the challenge thrown by the LDF government of Kerala. The best way to attack Hindutva is building harmony and understanding among the different religious communities of Kerala by accepting, appreciating and celebrating the religious and cultural differences. In this process it may have to restrain the fundamentalists within its fold.(Published on 03th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 27)