The notorious Al Capone, famous for his mob rule, was a key player in the banning of alcohol in America. Now over 80 years later India is embarking on an experiment in prohibition that is, in terms of population, twice the scale of what was attempted in America in the 1920s.
Over 200 million Indians now live in states where the sale of alcohol is banned.
The number of Indians who drink is comparatively low, but those who do drink, drink too much, as statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the increase in alcohol in India is up 55%. More worrying still is how and what they drink. One expert who launched a major study of Indian drinking habits said ‘drinking to intoxication seems to be the goal.’
The reaction has seen a large growth of temperance movements, mostly lead by women- just as there was in America at the turn of the last century.
These organizations argue that alcohol is at the root of a series of serious, growing, social problems, including domestic violence, family debt, petty crime and India’s horrendous numbers of road deaths and injuries.
The fact is prohibition in the 4 states is all very well, but contraband liquor is still easily available and most villages still have a hooch stall. The ban has allowed criminals to flourish, with a thriving industry making moonshine, while illicit alcohol is smuggled in from neighbouring states by bootleggers, who some believe are in cahoots with the police, politicians and officials.
At the end of the day, it is inevitable that banning alcohol in India will fail. The population is too large and diverse, and most live a frugal life, with little entertainment or access to hobbies and treatment groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are not spread out enough to be of help to the millions who need alcohol.