Governance and Policies

India: A nation of bans: Prohibition never achieves intended objectives but inflicts massive collateral damage

“Prohibition did not work even in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple.” Those were the words of Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico who represented change people were hungry for in his country.

Jun 5, 2017
By Jaiveer Shergill
“Prohibition did not work even in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple.” Those were the words of Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico who represented change people were hungry for in his country. If we look back in history it’s apparent that prohibition, wherever practised, has created parallel problems while failing to achieve its intended objectives.
Not only are the facts of prohibition misunderstood, it is also misapplied by the government and the judiciary in India. Our nation is now in the forefront of bans, with the government banning anything and everything that goes against its understanding of nationalism and cultural ethos, and the judiciary imposing bans based on its judicial prudence.
From alcohol to TV programmes and social media, bans have been imposed based on the premise that conscience of the general public is disturbed by such things. The reality is we are curbing democracy and the constitutional rights of citizens with these bans. They are based on the flawed premise that by closing our minds we can resolve a problem. The more the political anxiety surrounding an issue, the more is the propensity to ban.
The government’s addiction to bans without realising the consequences and inherent contradictions in their own policies is reflected yet again in the recent notification banning sale of cattle (which includes buffaloes and other bovines) for slaughter at animal markets.
On the one hand the government permits operation of legal slaughterhouses, which in turn have a thriving export business, and on the other hand, bans the sale of cattle meant for these very ‘legal’ slaughterhouses. Has the government thought about the consequences of this ban on income of farmers who sell their buffaloes in animal markets? Will this ban not provide another opportunity to murderers in guise of gau rakshaks to kill innocents?
We live, at present, in troubled and troubling times where not a day passes without some outrage in the name of nationalism. But what do we achieve with bans? Bans on beef and cow vigilantism have disturbed the economy and social order. The same Constitution which provides for cow protection as a directive principle also provides, by way of fundamental rights, the right to life and liberty which also includes the right to livelihood.
In matters relating to law and order facts have to take priority over emotions. And the fact is uninterrupted murders and attacks by cow vigilantes have adversely affected the dairy, leather and allied businesses which employ millions of people – besides disrupting social harmony.
Similarly, increasing cases of substance abuse ranging from cannabis, inhalants and sedatives to opioids have been reported from states where liquor prohibition has been imposed. Behavioural science has proved that a state will achieve more by creating a movement and building awareness on issues such as alcohol abuse than by banning the substance.
Competing with the government, the Supreme Court banned sale of liquor near highways. The order did not serve any purpose other than imposing another ban. States and civic authorities found their way to circumvent it. For instance, the government of Odisha renamed state highways passing through cities and towns as ‘urban roads’. Since these roads are no more highways, liquor sale goes on as usual.
Another block off the ban wagon series was the ban on social media in Jammu and Kashmir. Is there any concrete evidence that riots can be contained by blocking channels of communication? On the contrary, such measures increase distrust between people and the establishment.
J&K should learn from the Chhattisgarh example. The tribal-dominated state is infamous for censoring information and targeting journalists and civil rights activists working in Naxalite areas. Did it help the state government curb Naxalism? Incidents in Dantewada, Bastar and Sukma offer ample answers.
A nation cannot be built on bans. Democratic order implies that there are moral limits on what states can do to individuals and their choices. The culture of bans and censorship are components of a theocratic order and not of a democratic order.
Citizens of the largest democracy in the world are mature enough to take rational and logical choices. They do not want the state to determine what they should eat, how they should dress or what movie they should watch. In fact, the idea of ban is antithetical to the idea of India. India has a great tradition of openness with a faculty for assimilation and spirit of dialogue is the essence that strengthens our democracy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for building a new India, in stark contrast to the attitude of his government and party. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the only way for India to thrive and survive is to remain open and inclusive and be a functional democracy. We should not present ourselves as a ban happy state. Instead of banning, debate and discuss. Be it Parliament or the government or the judiciary, the focus should be on welfare and empowerment of people rather than curbing their constitutional rights.
Times of India, June 5, 2017

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