Since the lockdown has started, alcohol availability has been a topic right at the forefront. It hasn’t been classified as an essential item by the government. This has meant the liquor shops all over the country have remained shut for over a month now. In some states where they were opened for a while, they were quickly closed after the orders of the central government.
The issue of liquor shops is a contentious one. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics would see that there are two parties to it. Demand and a supply side. Each of these sides wants liquor sale to resume for contrastingly different reasons.
The Argument Of The Alcohol Suppliers
The supply side, which is the alcohol manufacturers and the shop owners naturally want shops to open. They are business owners too, and a clampdown on alcohol sale is hurting their business massively. Revenue in the alcohol drinks market amounted to US$52,575m in 2020, with the market being expected to grow annually by 6.8%. Closure of such shops robs them away from their revenue generation potential, which subsequently has an impact of the thousands of workers employed in the various associated industries of packaging, transportation, distribution etc.
Another reason they want shops to open is that irrespective of the lockdown alcohol is being sold in the black market. We even did a piece on how much alcohol is costing during the lockdown, and the prices will astonish you. Deepak Roy articulated the plight of the industry in a statement to the economic times.
“Shuttering down liquor stores is self-defeating as state governments currently need revenue more than ever to fight the pandemic. Second, piracy has doubled during the shutdown as big brands are being copied and sold in smaller markets, which is not safe for consumption and impacts our brand value.”
Finally, it has also been touted that relaxation in the sale of alcohol will prove to be profitable for the states as well. About 8-25% of the state’s revenue comes from liquor. No sale means less revenue collection for the state governments, which is a massive loss at a time when the economy has come to a standstill. These are not even small amounts. For example, in 2020, states like Delhi, Karnataka and Maharashtra earned 5,500 crones, 20,958 crores and 16,667 crores from alcohol-related exercise earnings alone.
Alcohol Is Essential For A Few People
Now let’s come to the demand side. It is the final consumers of alcohol, i.e you and me that are demanding for alcohol sale to be restored. Even this demand section can be divided into two. The first is the set of people who are addicted to alcohol.
Addiction to alcohol is no laughing matter. It is reported that as many as 14 million people in India are dependent on alcohol and in need of help. With more and more people consuming alcohol, this number is bound to increase over the years.
When people from this section of the population demand for alcohol, it is important to understand that sadly, it is a necessity for them. According to some media reports, by March 30, Kerala had registered eight cases of suicide by individuals, who failed to cope with alcohol withdrawal. When Manipur has reported instances where people have attempted suicide due to non-availability of liquor.
Therefore, with no end in sight as far as alcohol availability is concerned, the going may get tough for alcohol addicts. An AIIMS doctor even stated how alcohol addicts in the severely dependent category may have to cope up serious health ailments, which may even prove to be fatal.
For this group, there’s nothing incorrect when they demand alcohol, and frankly, adequate action whether it is the availability of counselling or government-sponsored rehab or provision of alcohol in regulated quantities needs to be looked at.
Why Us Asking For Alcohol Is A Privilege
Now let’s come to the final and most important part of the argument. You and I and every around us has long been complaining about the fact that we miss alcohol and how we can’t wait to have it once the lockdown is over. We have even called for it to be open during the lockdown.
However, these conversations and a few threads online have made me realize how that demand reeks of our inherent privilege.
If alcohol sale is opened as we would like it to be, the decision would be pan India. What is done in the urban cities needs to be done in rural areas as well.
This will ultimately lead to a majority of men in the rural areas flocking to the liquor shops to buy alcohol, which was a common practice when times were normal. People sitting at homes will only increase alcohol consumption. At a time when they don’t have an income and savings are meagre, this will eventually lead to money being used for alcohol that was earlier marked for essentials such as food and medicines. Unchecked alcohol is highly likely to use the family income to satisfy his cravings, leaving his family members to suffer the consequences of his decisions.
Additionally, the opening of alcohol shops will also lead to the flouting of safety precautions and social distancing norms. When a man comes back to his home after buying alcohol from a packed shop, he is ultimately risking the lives of the elderly and the children in the family.
Not only this we also fail to see how our demands will give rise to the case of domestic violence and abuse in India. The slightest disturbance in a home with an alcoholic can lead to physical abuse for the family members. Sometimes the incidents are so serious that it results in broken noses, ribs, bruises and much more. A personal story I came across is proof of that. Since alcohol has been banned, my house help has told us that since there’s no alcohol available right now, her husband is sober and he longer comes home and physically abuses her. Getting alcohol to flow again will change that. At a time when police forces and medical authorities are fighting a pandemic, her cries for help may not even be heard.
There’s nothing wrong in asking for alcohol during the lockdown. It is your right to do so. However, it is also important to understand and acknowledge the privilege you and I have been granted with. We want the decision just because it favours us and makes the lockdown and fun time to spend at home. This is a privilege not everyone in our country has. Therefore, in times like these, it is important to keep away your personal gains and demands and look at the broader picture.
If you do that, you’ll truly see why your demand for alcohol during lockdown is nothing but trivial and a sign of our inherent privilege.