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Op-Ed

Prohibition has institutionlized wrongful conduct in our society

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By EMN Updated: Aug 14, 2014 10:28 pm
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Joel Nillo Kath

THE Mutaween or Saudi moral police is tasked with enforcing Sharia law in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and force closures of shops/stores during prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, banning Valentine’s Day gifts, seize banned consumer products and gag media regarded as anti-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film which has material contrary to Sharia law or Islam itself). In the airports, they are empowered to seize foreign magazines, printed materials and CDs/DVDs considered unislamic (source: Wikipedia).
The Mutaween is a very efficient moral policing force. They regularly use flogging to punish violators, and nothing escapes their wrath. They are highly religiously motivated and indoctrinated individuals who will stop at nothing to realize their stated objective. Needless to say, they cannot be bought. To many, the role of Mutaween may be archaic and ironically, even immoral, but there is no denying the fact that they are deadly effective.
Contrast this with our conviction. The entire chain of command right from the top to the personnel who actually implement prohibition law are lock, stock and barrel declared, avid drinkers. As Khekiye K. Sema has already pointed out, no State function is complete without IMFL or imported whisky flowing like a river. What he has not mentioned is the role of the State Chaplain in this drama! On the issue of drinking, most of our law enforcers (as most Nagas) have no moral ambiguity; they don’t see anything wrong with it; they love their pegs and this is partly cultural. Thus, the very act of arresting bootleggers, impounding or seizing illicit alcohol, or raiding booze joints as per Prohibition Act 1989, is contrary to their attitude or counter-attitunal. This is the root of the problem. When one is ordered to act contrary to one’s attitude, that person is under a moral dilemma and guilt. In short, any regular cop or Excise official is forced to be a hypocrite day in day out. A pot is not supposed to call the kettle black. No person can sustain this kind of moral ambiguity unless he is psychotic. The end result is either he gives up or gives in. Since there is no question of police and Excise personnel giving up their jobs (jobs are hard to come by) because of guilt unless he/she is a staunch moralist, the only option is to take the easy way out justifying that prohibition is wrong; that a person has the right to make moral choices. Such a stand conforms with his view on drinking and lessens his guilt about his role as an enforcer. Thus he gives in. Either he neglects his duty or joins the corruption bandwagon, which is, allowing bootleggers or powerful booze syndicates to thrive in lieu of money. To put it in religious context, unlike the Mutaween, the very moral conviction necessary to tackle prohibition is absent here and this is something which the church has not understood. In return, prohibition has only brought about acceptance and legitimization of wrongful conduct in our society.
There is too much moral, religious and philosophical ambivalence amongst us despite the seemingly literate population. The stand of the church on prohibition is a classic representation of our inability to dissect the whole picture analytically on wide ranging issues. On a whole we’re whimsical. Only a Naga is both a liberal and a conservative. For instance, that conservative mass of congregation applauding the pastor breathing fire and brimstone against the evils of alcohol would have no issue- pastor included- with declared homosexuals leading the praise and worship team in their church. We are neither Leftist nor Rightist or conveniently both: a Congressman can shift his allegiance to BJP faster than he can say Narendra Modi and vice-versa. We can be pro-life as well as death penalty adherents at the same time. For example, like any other church, NBCC would feel that abortion is a sin. However, its support for death penalty (as per newspaper reports) is at cross purpose with its Christian pro-life approach. Most Nagas believe that truth is Absolute- it is what it is or any stand contrary to it is not- but we interpret truth relatively depending on which side the butter is smeared. Another weird aspect of our behavior is on Naga nationalism. Most of us are sworn nationalist; yet all of us eagerly participate in so-called Indian constitutional elections as fish takes to water where votes cast are always above 90%! What is left unsaid is why anyone in Delhi should care to solve the Indo-Naga political problem after such thumping endorsement of the Indian constitution in every election! In Kashmir where the independence fervour is so strong, voter turnouts in elections have always been low, around 20- 30% since 1989 except for 2014 which hovered around 43%, thanks to high percentage turnout in Hindu-dominated Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh. Our society is yet to evolve cast iron stand on any issues based on any meaningful principle, belief, religious or philosophical treatise. Ours is a Galho-culture where the church is as much confused as the politician, bureaucrat or layman on almost every issue ranging from our identity and corruption to prohibition. It is under such shallowness that prohibition was promulgated with missionary zeal. Is it therefore any wonder that prohibition is a flop?
Unless the church raises a community of fundamentalist like the Mutaween to enforce its prohibition agenda backed by a theocratic, absolute monarchic state, prohibition is a lost cause. Non- prohibitionist should not make the mistake of citing lost revenue as argument for lifting prohibition. It will only push the church to take a dogged moralist stand and make any meaningful debate impossible. The fact is that because of prohibition, law enforcement agencies, politicians, judges, bootleggers, booze syndicates and policy makers are all linked vertically and horizontally, thus creating a vast criminal enterprise. In effect, whole society has been corrupted with illicit alcohol money and a very efficient criminal network is already in place. Since a criminal enterprise is already operating smoothly, it’s only a matter of time before international prostitution rings and trans-national human trafficking takes effect in our state. Already gun running and extortion racket is serious business. Most importantly, such a criminal network will be an important recruiting ground for school and college drop-outs, the unemployed and criminal minds. It’s only a step away before criminalization of Naga politics takes a stranglehold. The dark side of John F. Kennedy’s tenure as President is that he will always be accused of tainting his legacy because of his links with mafias. Prohibition is not a simple issue of rural lives being destroyed if lifted as our Church associations and learned pastors would like to portray in the media. The argument of the church that increase in manpower and better enforcement will lead to decrease in the flow of liquor into the state is fallacious. There is no empirical evidence to support this viewpoint (Related case in point being the Naga struggle). The only certainty with this view is the probability of corruption or illicit liquor money affecting wider circle of society at exponential speed due to greater number of contact points as a result of increase in the number of law enforcement personnel which again will lead to deeper institutionalization of criminal conduct in our society. The question is: Is the church ready to bear this responsibility?

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By EMN Updated: Aug 14, 2014 10:28:35 pm