Kashmir’s Liquor Narrative
Reformed and humanistic political culture can only take us all from the stinky and suffocating quagmire
Liquor production, its trade and consumption is registering a steeply upward trend in Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim dominated region of India. The government has set itself on a path of creating a “new economic and cultural ecosystem” for Kashmir. It is also encouraging opening up of new distilleries, breweries and liquor vends in the area.
It was exactly five weeks ago when Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha headed administration approved a proposal to authorize departmental stores to sell beer and other ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages in the former state. Our regional political parties National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party and others did issue statements against the latest liquor initiative of the administration. However, when these parties ruled the region, they eschewed the ban on liquor saying choices could not be imposed on “free societies”.
Earlier in February this year the Union Territory administration with a view to “boost tourism” announced opening up of 51 new wine shops in the region. By March Jammu and Kashmir had had 224 liquor retail outlets, six distilleries, three breweries and ten bottling plants.
Indian wine industry is also trying to capitalize on the “new economic ecosystem” created in Kashmir. Subhash Arora president of the Indian Wine Academy in his blog in his blog in 2019 wrote that with the possibility of buying the real state in Jammu and Kashmir will make wine producers to look at the prospects of owning land and make wine in the region in the near future. Arora referring to scrapping of the permanent resident rights of the people of Kashmir in 2019 claimed “Kashmiri’s are expected to accept the new dispensation, and that the production of better quality of wine in the cooler climate of Kashmir will be a realistic possibility”.
Jammu and Kashmir has been one of the ten poorest states of India and as per the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation it had a Net State Domestic Product capita of Indian Rs 58888 in 2018-19.
Caught in the middle of an unending conflict, its economy has been unable to register any real growth. It is persistently a revenue starved region dependent on flow of funds from New Delhi to meet its budgetary expenses. Its own tax proceeds during 2021-22 were only Rs 15, 480 and 11.47 percent of this revenue was mobilized through excise on the trade of the Indian Made Foreign Liquor, JK Desi Whisky and Beer.
Official statistics further read that 101194.52 lakh bottles of different varieties of liquor were sold in J&K during the fiscal 2021-22. Apparently it is the desperation of the administrators which prevents them from declaring Jammu and Kashmir dry and prohibit purchase and consumption of liquor.
A ban on liquor already exists in some Indian states like Gujarat, Bihar and a few of its directly administered territories.
Having been caught in a visibly eternal conflict, a large number of people in Kashmir have been found to be suffering different kinds of psychosomatic disorders. Feeling that their aspirations and hierarchy of psychological needs were being throttled in a “foggy” socio, politico and economic situation they in order to calm their nerves resort to substance abuse including alcoholic beverages.
A recent survey by Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience Kashmir found that 25% of youth have been drawn to drug consumption and unemployment according to the survey, was one of the reasons that threw them in to this dark world.
Different actors in the Kashmir conflict have been playing the games of narratives to dominate each other over the past few decades. In the beginning of the Pakistan supported militancy in 1990’s, the militant outfits challenged the writ of the State by enforcing the closure of bars, wine shops and pubs in Kashmir.
It is this narrative and writ which the State has been trying to reclaim over the past few years. Allowing the opening up of new liquor shops and sale of beer and other ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages in the departmental stores of Kashmir is an extension of this narrative which is being rendered as a “peace indicator”.
But peace seems a farfetched dream for an average Kashmiri. Fourth generation of its people continues to be suffering due to the acerbic politics of “religious and nationalistic” identity played by the protagonists in the fourth decade of the 20th century subcontinent. Reformed and humanistic political culture can only take us all from the stinky and suffocating quagmire it is in for the past seven and a half decades.