Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Saleem Khursheed Khokhar’s suggestion that perhaps alcohol should be sold as openly as soft drinks is perhaps one of the more creative ideas to have emerged from the hallowed halls of the Sindh Assembly in recent days.
“Either you ban alcohol,” Khokhar started off, at which Sindh Excise and Taxation Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla almost burst into giggles. “Or it should be made as easily available as Coca Cola and 7-Up is.”
“Why don’t you start at home first?” Chawla retorted, implying that Khokhar either has a lucrative licence to sell liquor or was consuming it by the bucket load. “I will resign if it’s proven that I have a wine shop,” Khokhar told reporters later. His point was that this assumption that only minorities consume alcohol serves to widen the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, and it should just be available to everyone.
Chawla wasn’t the only man laughing in the assembly on Wednesday. PPP MPA Jam Tamachi Unar termed the minister’s claim that drugs had been eradicated in Kashmore as the “year’s biggest joke”. A discussion on alcohol woke up the house from its usual stupor. Some of the questions were a touch too naive, like MPA Humera Alwani who asked the minister to elaborate on the ‘health hazards of alcohol’. Another wanted to know if the ID cards of young people trying to buy alcohol were checked, which Chawla reassured happens.
Despite the furore that emerges when there’s any news of issuing liquor licences, it turns out that it’s rather pricey to get a liquor licence. In fact, it costs a whopping Rs5 million and another Rs350,000 to renew it. For history buffs – in the days of yore, fees for retail licences ranged from Rs500 to Rs700, according to the Imperial Gazetteer of India 1908.
Khokhar, who often rambles on in the assembly, actually had a point that the subject of alcohol almost always ends up being about religion. There were lots of sanctimonious questions in the assembly, and the irked Speaker Nisar Khuhro disallowed a question on why Muslims were employed at wine shops, while another MPA asked if the Hindu faith allows alcohol. Perhaps they should just check the ID cards of those queuing up at liquor stores over the weekend to see how many Muslims- “who must be saved from this”- are actually buying up Murree Brewery’s finest.
Since Prohibition, there has been far too much discussion and finger pointing on who drinks or not. Even the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – whose government instituted it – quite famously quipped that he drank alcohol, not the blood of the people. While Khokhar’s comment in this paper today is tomorrow’s pakora wrapping, perhaps it is time for some serious introspection on whether the ban on selling and consuming alcohol actually makes any sense.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.