By Mass L. Usuf –
Another festive season is closing in – Christmas and the New Year. Organisers of the new year eve dinner dances lure the party animals by making offers of a variety of alcoholic drinks. Sometimes the bacchanals at these do’s, in their inebriated bliss, are not even aware that the new year had dawned. In worst cases, the new year had dawned to some while they were in a state of unconsciousness in hospitals. So much for the revellers who gulped several drinks, just the last year,
Each year the ‘Sinhala and Demela Avurudu dawasa’ (Sinhala/Tamil New Year day) unmistakingly revives in me memories of my late dear friend Tissa. During our youthful years, he once poured the contents of a glass of beer on my head for declining to drink it. He threatened me that he would do it but I did not take him seriously. I was a guest at his house that day. The moment he did it, I saw his mum rushing towards me and berating Tissa. Only then I realised his mum had been watching the drama. His mother knew very well, as much as Tissa himself, that as a Muslim I do not imbibe alcoholic drinks. For Tissa, it was Sinhala ‘avurudda davasa’ so to have a drink was part of the celebration. All in good spirits. His mother washed my head while continuously blaming Tissa and apologising to me. Tissa’s mother was like my mother. For her I was like her son. Tissa for me was like my brother and for him too the same.
Tissa’s house was near a mosque. Whenever I was in his house and the ‘Azan’, the Muslim call for prayer was heard, he would remind me, ‘palliyata yanna welawa hari’, time is up to go to the mosque. On some days, Tissa would accompany me to the mosque and wait outside until I finish my prayer. Those were the beautiful days compared to the hate, hostility and enmity with which we live today.
Immediately, following the festive season in April comes the May Day rally. After a brief lull the year end festivities kick in. Each of these events push the graphs in various charts to move upwards – the sale of alcohol, the related tax revenue, the number of deaths and injuries due to fights and road traffic accidents, the amount of alcohol in the blood, the indebtedness in some people, domestic violence, penal code violations. All in the name of Bacchus, the god of wine.
Examining the road accident statistics, focussing only on the festive seasons, for two consecutive years gives a perspective of the issue at hand. On April 14th of 2015, 605 persons who drove under the influence of alcohol were arrested. On April 13th alone of the same year, two hundred and eighty-three (283) persons had been booked for this offense. Among them were 141 motorcyclists and 115 three-wheeler drivers.
In 2016, a total of six hundred and eighty-eight (688) drunk drivers were arrested by Police just within the two days of 12th and 13 of April. During the 24-hour period from 6 am Tuesday (April 12) to 6 am Wednesday (April 13), a staggering two-hundred and fifteen (215) drunk drivers had been arrested.
The off season countrywide special Police crackdown in November 2017 led to the arrests of 5,807 errant motorists and according to the Police Spokesman the number of drunk driving offenders arrested were 999.
Liquor ironically, is consumed when one is happy and, also, when one is sad. A classic instance is a wedding celebration or a funeral house. Besides these, there are several other occasions when liquor is served like at alms-giving, social gatherings, birthday parties etc. This habit or ‘culture’ has become so enslaving that without the ‘bottle’ no event is complete. An additional dimension to this is the Poya Day. A day on which the sale of liquor is prohibited. This day which occurs every month has been declared a holiday and is a day dedicated for Buddhist religious observances. Interestingly, on the day prior to the Poya Day the wine stores are all crowded. The merchants record their highest sales figures on that day. A clear indication of paying homage to Bacchus on a Poya day.
The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act (NATA), No. 27 of 2006, in Section 31 (1), states:
“A person shall not sell, offer for sale, or permit or promote the sale of any tobacco product or alcohol product to any person under twenty-one years of age.”
A law which borders on absurdity and self deception. What is bad for the 21-year-old cannot be good for the 22-year-old. An independent study in 2013 by two organisations Healthy Lanka Alliance for Development (HLAD) and Foundation for Innovative Social Development (FISD), to assess the impact of the NATA Act and its implementation revealed some frightening numbers in relation to this Section 31 (1).
The FISD research indicated that 98.7 % of the merchants sell alcohol to persons below 21 years of age. HLAD figures show that 93.3 % of the merchants sells alcohol to persons below 21 years of age.
The evolutionary path of drinking begins with that first drink for ‘a kick’. It then matures into social drinking which gradually progresses towards heavy drinking. This graduation process over the course of time becomes a burden on the purse. Therefore, one may resort to alternative ways of generating revenue for e.g. forcing himself to work beyond office hours or by gambling to earn quick money or take bribes, banks overdrafts, loans or resort to white collar frauds etc. For him the boss in office becomes a problem. At home, the wife a constant source of irritation and the children a nuisance. Effectively, his family, friends and relations become the collateral damage of his bad habit. The drink he had for kicks in the beginning is now shadowing him making him a social outcast. Empirical observations reveal the common occurrence of a broken family, unhappy wife and disoriented children. Though the above is not the norm, to a greater degree, it certainly represents a staggered resemblance of a serious social problem within the country.
Alcohol use disorder is explained as a physical craving or urge to drink. Advancing to a stage of dependency to the extent that even if the person wants to stop he may suffer withdrawal symptoms. Pushing the alcoholic further down the bottomless pit is the increased level of alcohol tolerance in his system. This tolerance level would want him to drink more to get that ‘kick’ effect. For example, if he is used to take one, he may have to take two. The person becomes a slave to his habit. It advances into a stage where he would not possess the ability both physically and mentally, to control or stop drinking once he starts to drink.
Everyone knows that the way to solve a problem is to find a solution to it. Instead of finding solutions, researchers are seeking justifications to moralise the evil effects of alcoholism. Quite apart from alcoholism being called morally wrong, socially unacceptable or religiously a sin, the US National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has developed a disease model in order to identify alcohol dependence as a ‘medical illness’. The disease model of alcoholism depends on it being a physical addiction that cannot be controlled, distinguishable by specific symptoms and requiring specialized medical treatment. A typical instance of hypocritically treating the symptom and not the cause.
License To Kill
If this model is accepted then very funnily alcohol will be the only disease that is bottled, labelled, advertised and sold in the markets. The only disease which the government issues license to gradually or, in some instances, to instantly kill people; To destroy family life; To breach the peace; To indulge in domestic violence; rape; incest, sexual harassment; To commit suicide and commit various crimes arising from imbibing the licensed alcoholic drinks.
The National Council for Road Safety has recorded 3003 deaths for the year 2016. An average of eight deaths each day. According to reports of the Colombo National Hospital a total of 551 various accident victims were admitted on the last New Year’s Eve and the day before. The number of road accidents reported was 135. Drunk driving being partly responsible for such accidents.
To the bacchanalians without the ‘bottle’, what new year? For the sober, the national tragedy continues.