Pro­hi­bi­tion Poll Talk Isn’t Women’s Em­pow­er­ment

Politi­cians are aim­ing at cre­at­ing a new vote bank by mix­ing wine & women

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

New Delhi: From Bi­har to Tamil Nadu,politi­cosare­des­per­ate­lytry­ing tomixwine­and­wo­m­en­to­bre­wanew elec­toral elixir that will bring them power. This could be a spe­cial brand of gen­der politics aimed at cre­at­ing a new vote bank. Like every­one ap­pro­pri­at­ing the Dal­its and the OBCs, or the non-BJP par­ties seek­ing to own up the mi­nori­ties dur­ing elec­tions, women are be­com­ing a new tar­get group for politi­cians.

But women as a sep­a­rate group are be­ing wooed merely as vic­tims of their own al­co­holic hus­bands. The whole premise of pro­hi­bi­tion as ‘an elec­toral prom­ise for women’ is the idea of a woman as an ap­pendage to her vi­o­lent, al­co­holic hus­band, who can­be­lib­er­ate­donlyif the­hus­ban­dis de­nied his daily drink.

“The fram­ing of women as vic­tims is wor­ri­some,” points out so­ci­ol­o­gist Shiv Vish­wanathan, “and pro­hi­bi­tion is just a quick fix for so­cial prob­lems. Elec­torally this means that they are run­ning out of So­cial­is­tic ideas. Pro­hi­bi­tion may look more rad­i­cal thanNREGA,bu­ti­tis­not.Pro­hi­bi­tion can only cre­ate a few Bi­hari Al Capones. In re­al­ity, what­ever sub­sidy gains are of­fered in terms of so­cial wel­fare mea­sures will all fail with dwin­dling rev­enues.” From M Karunanidhi to Vaiko to An­bu­mani Ra­ma­doss, all Tamil Nadu­par­tieshave­turned­pro­hi­bi­tion into their big­gest poll is­sue, forc­ing chief min­is­ter J Jay­alalithaa to an­nounce phased pro­hi­bi­tion when she re­turns to power. Po­lit­i­cal ob­server A Marx ex­plains that the feel­ing among wo­m­en­thattheirhus­bandsshouldbe de­nied al­co­hol is only borne out of pa­tri­archy and lack of em­pow­er­ment. “Women be­ing made to de­pend on their hus­band’s in­come is not em­pow­er­ment. And at the po­lit­i­cal level, noth­ing­couldbe­mor­einsin­cerethan this is­sue of pro­hi­bi­tion. Af­ter long years of pro­hi­bi­tion, DMK had lifted the­banin1971.Ra­ja­ji­was­sup­posedto have met Karunanidhi to plead with him not to do this,” rem­i­nisces Marx.

He pre­dicts that “pro­hi­bi­tion will only cause crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of the poor, greater cor­rup­tion among lawen­forcers and op­pres­sion and ha­rass­ment by the po­lice.”

US of­fers the best global ex­am­ple of the fail­ure of pro­hi­bi­tion. Ac­cord­ing to vary­ing es­ti­mates, over 10,000 peo­ple died of spu­ri­ous liquor be­tween 1920 and 1933, when Al Capone is sup­posed­to­have­builta$100-mil­lion­boot­leg­ging in­dus­try. The boot­leg­ging gang­sters vir­tu­ally es­tab­lished the Amer­i­canor­gan­ised­crimer­ack­etsin nar­cotics, gam­bling, pros­ti­tu­tion, loan shark­ing and ex­tor­tion. If re­li­gion was the driv­ing fac­tor in the US, it is politics here.

Does pro­hi­bi­tion re­ally help work­ing class women from the poor­est sec­tions, par­tic­u­larly the Dal­its? NT Ra­maRaowasthe­firstchief min­is­ter to have turned pro­hi­bi­tion into a woman’sis­sue,when­hebanned­coun­tryliquor­inOc­to­ber1993and­brought in to­tal pro­hi­bi­tion in Jan­uary, 1995. Mallepalli Lax­ma­iah, founder of Cent re f o r Dal i t S t udi e s in Hy­der­abad, points out the fal­lacy of the ar­gu­ment that pro­hi­bi­tion helps women lead a hap­pily mar­ried life.

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