Tawfeeq Irshad Mir
Right now this question is stirring my consciousness as I lay on my bed, my thoughts superimposing me in diversity. I’m not the solitary person in Kashmir who is made to think while an attempt is embarked to the Genesis of liquor shops at sporadic places in Kashmir. So think, how for its safe and does it really serve any purpose. Every single act projects a history behind and likewise the wine vending and Kashmir too has a little bit of history. Let’s dive into the history a bit: A woman named Marion Doughty who visited Kashmir in 1900. In her book ‘Afoot through the Kashmir valleys’ (1901) she wrote, “The Kashmir wines, too, are no longer to be despised, and their Medoc and Barsac are both strengthening and pleasant to the taste.” She was well versed with Sir Walter Roper Lawrence’s masterly book ‘The valley of Kashmir’ (1895) writes: In olden times Kashmir had been famous for its grapes, but through laziness, or the exorbitant exactions of officials, they had fallen out of cultivation, and only the wild plant was seen clambering over fences or throwing graceful arms round the tall populars. Another author Englishman Godfrey Thomas Vigne, who visited Kashmir in around 1835, writes that higher officials in govt used to consume distilled wine which was extracted from crushed grapes after fermentation. Both the writers describe road impediments as a big blockade to wine business in kashmir. Both these authors pitch for the guess based on their observation that Kashmir has been the cultivator and furnisher of wine and people used to consume wine on large scale until muslim invasion. Also until 1947 under the realms of dogra regime, wine was being deciphered to every nook and corner. Only the majority Muslims refrained from consuming wine. Several attempts were made to neo vascularise the wine channels in Kashmir since 1947,but all of the infiltration bids to commercialise and metastasize the liquor were excised and cauterised by the efforts propelled by the people of Kashmir. Since 1991, militant groups have declared a ban on liquor in Kashmir, while J&K is officially not a ‘dry region’. Liquor vends were closed in Kashmir after the Allah Tigers, a militant outfit, issued a blanket ban on its sale and consumption soon after the eruption of militancy in the valley. This business was dissipated by the militants in 1990 as part of their puritanical campaign. Prior to that a larger battle was fought in Islamabad against the wine and Shabir Shah owes his prominence to that battle. Although some quantum of wine was delivered illegally with meager percentage of people consuming. Militants shot dead the owner of liquor shop in Srinagar, the region’s summer capital, in 2004. Otherwise, attacks on liquor shops have been rare since the peace process began. In 2012 attacks were launched at wine shops in Srinagar and Jammu. In Srinagar, one person succumbed to bullet injuries. The opening of wine shops and later closing them out of threat has been a continuous cycle in Kashmir. As of now, there are 28 whole sale vendors, 27 in Kashmir and one in Jammu. To the utmost surprise, the license holder in Kashmir is a woman. All the fourteen wholesale traders who have licenses for manufacturing liquor outside the state are from Jammu. Of the 163 retail vendors in the state having licenses for IMFl sale to the public, there are only five in Kashmir. In fact there are only two Muslims having retail license across Jammu and Kashmir. Besides there are only two bars in Srinagar besides three clubs where wine is available (figures put out by excise department J&K). According to excise officials, the consumption of alcohol is increasing day by day. Now there is an order issued from the office of Excise commissioner Jammu and Kashmir submitted to the Financial Commissioner, Finance department, Civil Secretariat. The order reads: “It is submitted that this office has divided the J&K UT area into 27. As per the survey conducted and in exercise of the powers under rule 28 of J&K Liquor and License rules, 1984 and section 4 (B) of the excise Act, a total list of 183 locations including 116 in Jammu and 67 in the zones of Kashmir is enclosed.”Order further reads that it is request that the necessary approval may kindly be granted enabling to proceed further strictly under the rules by way of any transparent method, either e-auctioning zone wise or location wise as the government deems fit as a matter of policy. The order is duly signed by Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Excise commissioner. As the news broke out, the citizens of the Vale flooded the social media with giga bytes of data, lavishing govt incessantly over this. Various sects of people could be seen opposing the move. The UT administration has put out the designated spots also. People from every nook and corner are seen criticising the govt vehemently. A day after historical amendment to article 370 on 5th August, Subhash Arora wrote a blog “Scrapping of Article 370 in Kashmir bodes well for wine industry”, where Subhash Arora pitched that Kashmir could be favourable place for wine production owing to its magnificent climate. He further hinted that Kashmir used to be favourable destination for hop cultivation which could eventually furnish beer of high quality. He also smelled the only threat to business, Kashmir’s close proximity to Pakistan. Kashmir is an absolute muslim majority and it’s totally nuanced policy to open such more wine vends in kashmir,without the consent of the people and cornering all the available stakeholders. Earlier we had only few high risk and vulnerable shops at high security grids. They suffered attacks at the hands of rebels. Also the local people who were running such vends had to give up life and even some were brutally injured. So the idea of opening up more vends is likely to aggravate the situation. At a time when govt should build the trust of people, it’s further alienating the people. So as a policy, it’s serves futile result.
While I’m writing this, I know there would be thousands of people from Kashmir right now knocking the doors of excise department to check whether they could get the license for the same. Some would be pinching the higher bids to get the same. So it’s not always that an enemy would be outsider, sometimes an insider does the major damage. The Jammu & Kashmir Government also didn’t withdraw it’s decision. The way forward would be “if there is no consumer, there is no sale and hence no saler”.
Opening up more vends at tehsil level means, the enemy is already in your community now. In my early school years, as I used to travel with my father, as I passed or traveled through the road, at intermittent places some things used to catch my mind, at every spot where Indian army camps were destined, I used to wonder. Dad, “what are these empty bottles clinging to the concertina wires”, surrounding the camps of Indian army, here in kashmir. I wondered looking at these bottles, because I couldn’t see them anywhere else in my surroundings. Always my father replied with the same answer “army gets milk in these bottles”. This answer never satisfied me. Unknown to this, I truly enjoyed the sight of these bottles, they looked beautiful to me, hardly knowing that these bottles host the poison in diluted form. As I grew older, with my more inquisitive nature, I unraveled the mystery behind these bottles. The majority of people in Kashmir will oppose this menace from tooth and nail. Even, BJP has been opposing liquor sale in Jammu. In 2018, BJP leader and present president of the party Ravinder Raina had demanded that Jammu and Kashmir be declared a dry state, and alcohol and bars be banned immediately. It poses threat to physical health. In Article 21 of the Indian constitution, right to health is guaranteed. Article 47 of the Constitution of India is dealing with the issue relating to imposing prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs. The said Article reads thus:- Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health, The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.*Hence opening up wine shops at different spots in Kashmir is against the basics of Indian constitution especially when no consent is procured from people around the spots. Now if the shops are opened, it will erode the basic ethos of Valley. Considering a person who is locked inside home from 10 months, is out of job, is in bit chaos pertaining to prevailing circumstances in Kashmir. With all these risk factors, if wine is made accessible to him/her within reachable place, he/she may succumb to its usage. With each passing day valley may slip to scorching heights in consumption of alcohol owing to its community presence again serving distasteful results. According to different statistics, in Kashmir the figures regarding drunken drive, domestic violence and rape incidents is quite low. Now if wine is made available, it may dilute the culture and eventually trap the Vale in these criminal and civil offences. With due time, the people may get addicted and go bankrupt. Now excise department may argue that their revenue suffers due to ban at sale and prohibition of consumption. This is totally underrated argument, due to alcohol consumption, there is more rise of health problems, the people can’t go to work, the people become less efficient, moreover the crime index goes up. The little money that goes to govt. through this is eventually utilised in dealing with management of health problems arising out of it and controlling the crimes. Moreover the productivity at work goes way down due to consumption. Also if looked minutely, it seems, it does inflate the economy a bit but in retrospection in deflates the other sectors like education, health, social morality and ethics. Again not that a useful policy. Opening up liquor vends may aggravate the situation in already conflicting Vale. People are conceptually linking the attempt at opening more liquid shops at different locations some deep saga of conspiracies fetched at new Delhi to weaken the bonds of freedom struggle and to divert the minds of youth towards this exciting fugue. There are also suspicions that it’s an attempt to necrotise the religious ethos of Jammu and Kashmir. As Kashmir is a Muslim majority and consuming any drug solid or liquid which intoxicates the mind is strictly prohibited in Islam. This will further complicate the matters in Kashmir; likewise, rebels will stop such establishments to hold the ground. This has cost some lives in the previous times, and this may continue in future if such developments are fostered. Again it will only lead to anguish in people and hence serve no purpose. At a time when the lethal pathogen has turned the whole world into a garrison and people are made to stay home in order to protect themselves from contracting and transferring the disease. The opening of such shops May provoke agitations at a large scale in the valley. People in valley as during previous times have resisted such attempts through congregations, protests. People can also assemble to resist this and may cause rifle and ultimately the build over control at disease in the valley may come to an end. In order to prevent such casualty, again it will serve no purpose to govt. Like you can’t slaughter cow in a Hindu dominated area, Now after the govt Of India passed resolution banning the sale and slaughter of cow owing to religious sacredness of Hindus related to cow. Likewise you can’t open a liquor shop and allow it’s free run especially in a Muslim dominant area, because it undermines the religious sacredness of Islam. If it’s an attack on religion, people are bound to act. Actions will amount to reaction. Again it will serve no purpose to open liquor shops in Kashmir. While I’m writing this, I know there would be thousands of people from Kashmir right now knocking the doors of excise department to check whether they could get the license for the same. Some would be pinching the higher bids to get the same. So it’s not always that an enemy would be outsider, sometimes an insider does the major damage. The Jammu & Kashmir Government also didn’t withdraw it’s decision. The way forward would be “if there is no consumer, there is no sale and hence no saler”. This is just a low level prevention strategy when the bottle is already at your doorstep. Whether such vends will be opened or not, whether people will succumb to its usage or not, whether people will react or not remains to be seen.
(The author is pursuing B.Sc Hons at GMC Srinagar.Views are his own) [email protected]