Hic-Hic Hush

A year ago, my cousin’s friend drank more than he should have. Undeterred by his state of high intoxication, he chose to drive back home and his friends let him. But he never reached home that night. He drove like a maniac in the wrong lane and got hit by a truck. The car and the driver were badly mangled. It has been a year now, and he still in coma. He will never be able to walk again.

I was extremely happy to see our Health Minister actually take a step to curb binge drinking. It is not alcohol which is bad; it is irresponsible drinking which does all the damage. It has been the cause of road accidents, for destroying families, for domestic violence, for health problems and several such troubles. In urban (but more so in rural areas) drinking of illicit liquor has lead to many unfortunate deaths. However, I was left a little perturbed by Mr. Ramadoss’ statement that, ” …on weekends in cities like Bangalore and Chennai, even women are going on smoking and drinking binge. It’s a dangerous trend. We’ll have to intervene and regulate the system,”

Is he linking binge drinking with morals? Why is he only concentrating on metropolitan cities? We know how grave this issue is in rural areas as well. By his special mention of cities (especially Bangalore which has been condemned by many for its supposed westernization), is the issue of alcoholism being linked to the ‘evil influences of the West’? If any of my suspicions are true, then I’m afraid the real issue at hand, irresponsible drinking, will never be dealt with adequately,

Before any concrete policy is rolled out, we must have a clear demarcation between drinking alcohol and drinking alcohol irresponsibly. There is nothing wrong in having a drink or two; it actually helps unwind after a long stressful day. Moreover, many people drink not to get drunk, but because they like the taste alcohol. In fact, I personally believe it is okay for people to get drunk once in a blue moon as long as they have a non-drinker to drive them back home. I hope drinking, like it has always been, does not get mixed with morals. The Health Ministry must treat it purely as a health issue. Who can deny that binge drinking does take a toll on one’s liver?

Bullying people into not drinking and not smoking will not go far. Education about the ills of smoking and heavy drinking (without any moralistic or religious overtones) should help in curbing the practice. If this awareness permeates to the lowest strata of the society, much of government’s work will be done already. The emphasis needs to be both on urban population and the rural, on adults and on the youth. The problem is prevalent in much of India. To target a specific type of population and specific locations would not be as effective.

While Mr. Ramadoss is at it, I hope he does look into other health and sanitization issues which warrant much of his attention. According to official figures, we have 1.8 million new cases of tuberculosis each year, 10 per cent of global HIV patients are Indians, 20-25 lakh cases of cancer are reported every year, several millions are victims of malnutrition and iron deficiency. The plight of the government hospitals is shocking, with most of them choking with patients and very few doctors. There is not enough awareness about HIV and people with HIV continue to be discriminated against. Cancer treatment is exceedingly expensive and most government hospitals don’t even have facilities to provide chemotherapy. Due to the high cost of medicines, fake drugs are being sold at cheaper rates. It would do our country good if the Health Ministry concentrated on all pressing issues, not just those in the limelight.

Shravya Jain

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