Crime Spikes in Indian Region After Imposing Alcohol Ban

A man checks an alcohol bottle inside a wine shop in Siliguri August 19, 2008. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files
REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files

The Indian state of Bihar imposed a ban on alcohol last April, as promised by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to women voters during the 2015 elections.

Women supported the ban because they felt alcohol consumption was linked to “domestic violence, harassment, and poverty,” as the BBC put it when reporting on a spot of courthouse trouble for the booze ban in September.

Nine months after the ban went into effect, the Hindustan Times reports that contrary to early boasts by Kumar, there has been no significant reduction in crime. In fact, crime rose by 13 percent between April and October 2016.

“Every major crime – murder, rape, kidnapping, rioting – increased in the months following the liquor ban,” the Hindustan Times writes, citing the results of an analysis of Bihar police reports by data journalist group IndiaSpend. IndiaSpend parenthetically noted that crime tends to be under-reported in Bihar, which would suggest their analysis might even be underestimating the bump in crime.

A great deal of effort went into enforcing the Bihar prohibition, which has resulted in over 14,000 arrests for selling, consuming, or even possessing liquor.

The Washington Post described the early months of prohibition as “mayhem,” with entire villages effectively losing their primary source of income, jailhouses bulging with new prisoners, smugglers stepping in to create a thriving black market, and vigilante gangs hunting the smugglers.

The Bihar law is so heavy-handed that landlords can be fined if a tenant is caught drinking on the premises, and all of the adults in a family can be held responsible if one of them drinks. Jail sentences of up to 10 years have been handed down. Opposition politicians described a “climate of fear” settling over the province.

The legal setback reported by the BBC in September was nothing less than a court striking down the entire law as “illegal, impractical, and unconstitutional,” but it didn’t matter because, under Indian law, the legislature can effectively override the courts, even on constitutional issues. The Bihar government revived its anti-alcohol law in two days flat after the court struck it down, according to the Hindustan Times.

It is uncertain whether the bad news about crime rates will do anything to slow India’s march toward nationwide prohibition. The Times of India quotes Kumar urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order liquor bans in all states governed by his BJP Party to create a “favorable environment” for a national law.

“All protests against prohibition will vanish when everybody unites against it,” Kumar declared.

Modi had earlier praised Kumar for his state’s ban on alcohol, as did the Tibetan Dalai Lama, who is currently visiting India. Several other Indian states have imposed partial bans, while the western state of Gujarat has a total ban.


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