Bilal Handoo

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In the summer of 2005, eight veiled women while chanting Islamic slogans ransacked a liquor shop in Srinagar. One of them lit a match to set the shop ablaze, but was stopped for the safety of entire building. The women were later identified as the Maryam Squad of the DeM (Dukhtaran-e-Milat or Daughters of the Faith). The squad was led by DeM chief, Asiya Andrabi, against what she termed “the mother of all vices.”

The campaign was started at that time when complaints against the opening of liquor shops were rubbished by concerned authorities under Mufti government. The opening of liquor shops was termed “as a sign of normalcy returning to the state.”

DeM’s crusade against “social evil” sent positive signals around, but couldn’t maintain a long run. Soon, HK Lohia (then DIG police) termed the attacks as “illegal”. And on Sep 2 that year, Andrabi along with her six members were put behind the bars. “Who are they to impose their code of conduct?” Muneer Khan, then senior police officer was quoted as saying.

After eight and half years, Valley’s chief cleric and chairman Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has asked state government to ban the liquor or face agitation.

“Efforts are underway to make wine, which has been called as mother of all evils, a part of Kashmiri culture,” Mirwaiz said recently. “Under the garb of promoting tourism in the valley, the authorities are promoting a culture contrary to our ethos.”

Mirwaiz alleged that the state government was promoting “liquor and immoral activities at tourist spots and clubs like Kahsmir Golf Club, Amar Singh Club.”

But Mirwaiz isn’t single separatist leader who smelt ‘intoxicating ploy’ behind the rising liquor sales in the valley. Before her arrest in 2005, Andrabi said: “Indians are fighting on several fronts in Kashmir and the moral degradation in our Muslim society is part of their plan. And we decided to counter this.”

PIL(ing) Liquor!

Now, when Mirwaiz is talking about agitation, at the same time Doctor’s Association is gearing itself to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking ban on alcohol in Kashmir.

Dr Nisar ul Hassan, President Doctors Association of Kashmir, said that that state government is “promoting alcohol consumption in the valley.”

“The liquor has been prohibited in many states of India like Gujarat, Manipore, Mizoram, Nagaland and Lakshadweep,” Dr Hassan said. “When states like Gujarat and others have banned the liquor trade, why not in Jammu and Kashmir?”

The medico too sniffed some ‘sinister design’ behind liquor promotion in the valley: “The use and trade of alcohol in Kashmir is a conspiracy to make our society morbid and socially wreck.”

Stimulating Sales

There is no official ban on sale of liquor in Kashmir. And before 90’s, sale of liquor was reality of the valley. But in the autumn of 1989, arms uprising led to the closure of liquor shops. The militant outfit ‘Allah Tigers’ then had issued a blanket ban on liquor. Many liquor shops were ransacked, forcing them to shut down.

But a decade old lull over booze ended in the beginning of 2000, when some liquor shops opened in Srinagar.

By the end of 2008-09, Kashmir had consumed liquor worth Rs 13.59 crore. And the thirst only mounted next year. In 2009-10, the valley ended up drinking liquor worth Rs 19.39 crore. The rising numbers made certain quarters believe that it was one of the “peace indicators”.

Alcohol_desgraciaBrewing Booze

As the valley’s first liquor shop opened on the boulevard along Dal Lake more than a decade ago, both locals and non-locals were seen in long queues to get a bottle of booze.

The liquor trade was earlier run by non-Muslims, but now these shops are run mostly by Muslims. The local hand in liquor selling, as per observers, is flourishing the trade.

State’s Keenness

The liquor promotion in the valley is seen as “Hindu-India’s cultural aggression against a Muslim-majority state”. At the same time, it seems, state has two immediate motives behind the promotion.

First, it is believed that authorities consider it “a sign of normalcy” returning to the valley. And second, the authorities say this will boost tourism.

Separatist Take

One of the main arguments reflected by separatist camp is that free availability of liquor will help create an image of Kashmir as a normal place. It will damage, they say, the quest of a political solution for the Kashmir problem.

But then, people heard Hurriyat hawk, Syed Ali Geelani speaking at a seminar ‘Azadi – The Only Way’ on Oct 21, 2010 that the sale of liquor would be allowed in an “independent” Jammu and Kashmir. The speech was repeatedly disrupted by Kashmiri Pandits.

“The system of justice in an independent Jammu and Kashmir would be such that even liquor would not be banned for non-Muslims,” he said. “It would be prohibited for the Muslim majority but if minorities feel they want to have liquor they would be allowed to consume as their right.”

Morality v/s Economy

The liquor industry is valued over Rs 25000 crores in India. And direct and indirect taxes on booze fetch extra crores to central and state exchequers.

But majority in Kashmir (a Muslim dominated place) believe that Islam prohibits all intoxicants including alcohol at all places, at all times.

And then, there are economic constraints involved. Liquor consumption is believed a more deplorable for the economy of the poor families. The labour class / low income people are often found spending three forth of their daily income on the alcohol.

But the argument given by government is that selling liquor and allowing marketing of it boost the revenue. And hence, “there is no question of ban”.

Mainstream Stand

Of late, Senior NC leader Ali Muhammad Sagar is saying that liquor is the source of immoral activities in the society: “If people are demanding the closure of liquor business in Kashmir then concerned department should look into the matter.”

But NC patron, Farooq Abdullah doesn’t endorse his party man’s view.    While religious organizations were pressing government to ban liquor in the valley in past, the senior Abdullah advocated the opening of more liquor shops and cinemas in Kashmir “for the promotion of tourism” in the state.

As usual, his statement evoked strong emotions in people.

Why liquor should be banned?

So, there is this one question, as why liquor should be banned. Researches and findings tell us that excessive drinking remains a serious problem that is killing many people around the globe.

Foundation for Help Against Drug Addiction (FAD), says liquor causes many more problems than all illegal drugs combined. And the same foundation is planning Ad campaigns which are being issued in the United States, with the motive to take hold of guilt to warn about the problems of liquor abuse.

A different Yard Stick

In India, sale of liquor around the holy places has been put under ban. The same holds true in many parts of J&K. But when it comes to Kashmir, the TDR factor (tourism, development and revenue) give a free hand to liquor sales.

Fatal consequences

On November 15, 2012 an employee working in a liquor shop in Dalgate was killed by gunmen. The deceased Mushtaq Ahmad of Aloochi Bagh was fired from pistols near a liquor shop at Heemal Hotel on the banks of Dal Lake. The killing sent a strong message against the practice. But soon, these shops started selling what they sell best under security cover.

Online Petitions

The matter went online as well when the people and civil society of Jammu and Kashmir filed a petition for banning liquor in the valley in-not-so distant past.

“We take strong exception to the government’s decision to authorise the opening of new liquor shops in Srinagar.” The petition reads. “We demand that all establishments engaged in the enterprise of moral corruption be shut down.”

The matter, in fact, was taken to global online petition forum, Change.org. Filed by one Aaqib Banday from Srinagar, the petition sought ban alcohol/wine shops in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Most drink in the hope of having a good time,” read the opening line of the petition. “If the family and friends of an alcoholic are concerned about the problem, the alcoholic should be too. Sadly most of the times, the alcoholic does not even realize he or she has a problem. That makes remedial measures even more difficult.”

Last Word

Though no change has been felt on the ground as of now, but it seems, PIL(ing) the liquor might strike some change in near future.

Now don’t cross your fingers in speculation. We all know, judiciary is the only executive in state at the moment!

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