by Damayanti Datta
And the adult world is on the warpath: Alcohol products are not to be sold to minors, held the Himachal Pradesh High Court on June 13. In April, a study presented at the World Congress of Cardiology in Dubai revealed that alcohol consumption was three times higher among Indian youngsters watching movies where protagonists drank freely. On cue came a directive from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC),that movies needed to display a statutory warning scroll against drinking and smoking during every scene that showed it. On June 17, however, Leela Samson, chairperson of CBFC, announced that a warning should be displayed at the beginning and after the intermission of the movie.
"The greater problem these days is not alcoholism but problem drinking, which affects 20 per cent of users and makes them aggressive," says psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty of Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. That's exactly why students of iit-Delhi hit the headlines in 2011. They were expelled from the IIT-Kanpur fest for disorderly behaviour due to excessive drinking. There has been a legitimisation of alcohol at the dinner table, explains Shetty: "Young people see their dads offering drinks to guests, moms drinking at kitty parties. Children as young as 12 or 13 have Bacardi Breezers at stay-over nights." The latest World Health Organisation Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health shows that India is facing an alcoholic tide, pushed up by the sliding age of drinking. From 28 in the 1980s, it has come down to age 15 now. In some metro pockets, it's believed to have come down to 13.
- Coming out of the woodwork are Happy Hour Kids in metros. With cafes and fast-food restaurants serving beer, pubs and bars slating early evenings as cheaper Happy Hour, alcohol is within easy reach, after school or before tuition.
- A disturbing nationwide problem visible now is the marked increase in alcohol consumption among girls and young women.
- Most schools are reluctant to admit it, but classroom drinking is in. This June, three schoolgirls were suspended from KB Patel Gujarati Vidhyalaya in Indore for swigging vodka on the sly from water bottles in class. They were caught after one girl vomited in class.
- College students in Lucknow sneak off for a nip or two of "angrezi sharab" with fried paneer in the air-conditioned cool of model shops, or government-consecrated watering holes dotted along the highways. Drinking starts at noon till late at night, with daily brawls, and even murders.
- Drunken driving has become a menace off the dark lanes of Prenderghast Road in Secunderabad, with students and techies binging out on cheap alcohol at the 'car-o-bars'. As the police barely monitor these areas, they have a couple of quick drinks in their cars before stepping in to shake a leg during the weekends.
- Live cricket on giant screen at pubs and bars, with kebabs, cocktails, beer, tattoos, face painting and team merchandise has spawned yet another new drinking ritual in metros. The 2011 Assocham survey showed even teenagers double their alcohol intake during cricket matches.
- Creative ways of sneaking in alcohol are already trendy among the youth. There's also the hookah lounge in metros. The flavoured hookah often has alcohol as base, especially vodka or wine.
"Drinking is not going to come down that way," says Sukesh Shetty, secretary of ahar, the umbrella body of over 7,500 bars, restaurants and permit rooms in Mumbai. Actor Mouli Ganguly, 27, feels such rules lend themselves to misuse: "People rebel. It will just drive the demand for covert drinking".
A disturbing trend is early drinking among girls and young women. "There has been a marked increase in alcohol consumption among them," says Dr Achal Bhagat, senior consultant of psychiatry at the Apollo Indraprastha Hospital in Delhi. Most are strongly influenced by males in the family, she says. "It's one of the outcomes of being encouraged to do the things that boys do," says Samita Sen, director of the School of Women's Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. "Girls like to make a statement, just like boys."