Thursday, August 11, 2022

Total liquor prohibition enforcement: Possible or impossible

On reaching Pfütseromi Village to part take in the Celebration of a hundred years friendship between Lhisemia of Kohima Village and Pfütseromi Village (1922-2022) I was welcomed and received at the village gate with a choice to either take bamboo cup of rice beer (Zutho) or Jobs-tear-beer (Keshi Khe). Both are traditional energy drinks and customary to be offered by the hosts to their guests usually amongst Tenyimia, during those bygone years before Christainity came to Nagaland. I made a very difficult choice by going for a cup of Zutho to quench my thirst and to regain the energy lost travelling on bumpy roads from Kohima Village via Viswema and Kidima Villages. The celebration held at the Pfütseromi Village on 27th April 2022 was for “Reviving and Reaffirming the Age Old Century Friendship”. The celebration lasts for over three hours but I never got tired nor thirsty on that hot dry sunny April day, rescued by the reasonably big bamboo cup of invigorating Zutho, sufficiently enough to last throughout the program. I was sipping every now and then during the whole program and even took some sips after having a sumptuous friendship Centenary feast. So did other participants but none including me, got drunk. Above all, welcoming with a cup of Zutho on the day brought me back memories of many days of my past life.
As I went down memory lanes, I could vividly remember my mother offering a cup of Zutho, her own preparation to our visitors both males and females-neighbours, friends and relatives, usually as soon as they sit down to chat or have a discussion of any matter. I did remember my mother calling my father that his cup of Zutho is ready. I even remember my mother calling her siblings to gather together over a cup of Zutho, especially during festivals. Those words of my mother calling me “Nu-u come and have your share of drink”. Those sweet words are still ringing in my ears. My mother never complain that my father was drinking too much Zutho or never refuse to hand over a cup of Zutho to her beloved husband. Our parents never restrict us to have Zutho with them. Instead encourages us to have Zutho, sharing even from their cups. Zutho was never considered an alcoholic drink, as of today, but taken as an energy and healthy drink by most of the families of those days. Almost all take locally prepared drinks like Zutho at least to quench their thirst. Only very few used to take tea or water. As late as the late 1960s or the early 70s, taking tea was a taboo for the pagans, particularly during paddy harvesting season, as tea was considered a faministic drink, that is, the drink taken during famine time only. Hardly anyone abuse locally prepared drinks like Zutho, that is, getting drunk and creating problem for individual, family or community. Those were the days when locally brewed drinks like Zutho were taken as a part and parcel of our culture and an important item of hospitality. Majority of the families brewed their respective requirements and there is hardly any need for any person to go to the booze joins. Those days, the now called foreign alcoholic drinks, like beer, whisky, rum etc were sparingly taken as medicine. Women take one or two bottles of beer as part of their post-birth health care. Rum, Whisky etc were taken as medicines to cure constipation, diarrhoea, dysentery etc.
While I was wondering what went wrong, that made liquor, this is inclusive of local and foreign liquor which was taken as a part and parcel of our rich culture and an indispensable item of our hospitality, revolted against us all on a sudden and became so wild, poisonous, devilish, murderous, divisive and destructive to the individuals, families and communities, it was publicly announced loud and clear that the Century old friendship would be celebrated purely in a Christian manner as hundred percent of the Lhisemia and Pfütseromi have already converted to Christianity. On going through the program all the core Committee Members who plan the program of the day were found to be Christians. Likewise, all speakers and others whose names were given in the program were all Christians and there is not an iota of lies in the announcement made. The announcement must be cent percent true. After all Nagaland is a declared Christian state and we fondly like to say, “Nagaland for Christ,” though this is to be ascertained through the test of the fire of the Holy Spirit.
When I went deeper, it became crystal clear that consuming liquor of any quantity was historically declared a sin by the Christians, as Christianity took its roots in the Naga country. Since then liquor became a forbidden item adding one more sin to the many prevailing sins for those Christians who touch liquor. Prohibition of liquor permeated on a war footing from the homes to the churches and Villages that embrace Christianity. In many villages the non- christians were often called drinkers. This may be taken as an all-out war between the traditional culture and the new Christian culture. Correct me, if I am wrong but the writings on the walls and the happenings on the ground seems to be in my favour. It may not be too much to say that a certain Christian community has openly attacked the traditional culture by declaring that drinking liquor of any form, quantity or quality irrespective of the concentration of alcohol content in it is forbidden and sinful as Christianity spread like wild fire. I am nobody to judge whether it is right or wrong. But by their standard, anyone consuming even a small cup of liquor is a sinner. By that standard there is no differentiation between occasional drinkers, regular drinkers and drunkards/ alcoholics. By occasional and regular drinkers I mean those who drink one or two cups of liquor occasionally or regularly but not get drunk or keeping their limits and never abuse liquor. Drunkards/ Alcoholics are those who abuse liquor and get drunk regularly thereby become a burden to themselves, their families and their community at large. Those drunkards drink not only liquor but also their wealth, health and may be their souls. One of my uncles openly declared that he has already drunk one big R.C.C building before he gave up drunkenness. Such an abuse of liquor need to be condemned and forbiddened by one and all and deserve stern punishment. The old tradition did has some restrictions and punishments for those drunkards/ alcoholics.
The liquor prohibition war continues un-abeted. Initially it was confined to the Christian families and the churches between husbands and wives; parents and children; the so called believers and non- believers and so on. Then escalates into a full blown war involving not only the churches but the civil societies such as the Women Association, the Student Unions, the Youth Organisations and so on and so forth. The Government of Nagaland was forced to get in with the promulgation of the Nagaland Total Liquor Prohibition Act 1989. Even the National workers or the Freedom Fighters got entangled in the war without invitation.
As the years passes by the war became fiercer and fiercer and like any other wars of arm conflict no winners are on sight. But the war still continues and getting murkier day by day with more and more parties getting involved. The whole State Government law and order mechinary is geared to enforce the total liquor prohibition in the State. But the treacherous liquor has gone underground and spread its tentacles through out the length and breadth of the state recruiting more and more of its forces to fight back – drunkards, suppliers, sellers etc. Thus making the State hypocritically dry but wet all over. Foreign liquor in sufficient quantity is available in any place at any point of time. Earlier the war on Foreign liquor was fought meanly in urban areas and townships but now the army of liquor has started conquering even some rural areas and crucial villages killing individuals, ruining families, exposing the hypocracy of the churches, eating up the very social fabric and peace and tranquillity of the people at large.
Well, then, are we fighting a winnable battle? I mean, can the State Government make sure that the Nagaland Total Liquor Prohibition Act 1989 is enforced in letter and spirit? Here we need to ask ourselves whether we are asking the State Government the possible or the impossible? To get an answer to this, let’s critically examine the prevailing ecosystem built around enforcement of the Total Liquor Prohibition Act. At the top, we may all agree that majority of our law makers are liquor drinkers. Please don’t get me wrong, hardly any of them can be categorised as drunkards or alcoholics but the prohibition act doesnot acknowledge any differentiation so do I. Then comes the Administrators and police concerning the enforcement of the act, majority of them are liquor drinkers. Majority of the officials of the Excise Department of the State are liquor drinkers. From where and from whom are they getting their required drinks, as there is blanket ban on consuming and selling liquor of any kind. Capping all, almost all drinkers, suppliers and sellers are Christian, should I say by faith, belonging to one church or the other. This ecosystem, I find, makes the implementation of the Prohibition Act practically almost impossible. Is it possible to change this ecosystem? Or Are we ready to change this ecosystem? If not, are we not asking too much from the Government?
Dr Kiyasetuo Vizo, Billy Graham Road, Lower L. Khel, Kohima Village

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