Why is alcohol prohibited in Bihar

India: 32.5 million people long anti-alcohol chain

In the state of Bihar there has been a strict alcohol ban since April 2016. The "longest human chain in the world" was directed against the consumption of alcohol.

The Indian state of Bihar has around 100 million inhabitants. A third of them are said to have formed a chain hand in hand on Saturday. The Prime Minister called for the action - to support a controversial decision.

When the first people grabbed hands in Patna, India, on Saturday, they should only be the prelude to what is probably the longest human chain in the world to date. Around 32.5 million people formed a roughly 3,316-kilometer-long human chain by the afternoon - at least that's what the government in Bihar state, which organized the campaign against alcohol consumption, announced.

"People - including farmers, workers, women and children - held each other's hand for 45 minutes to show their support for the government's prohibition policy," said the organizing team in Patna, the capital of the state in eastern India. However, employees from Guinness World Records were not present - there will be no official superlative recorded in the Book of Records.

Alcohol as a popular campaign topic in India

Nitish Kumar, the Prime Minister of Bihar, called for the "longest human chain in the world". The aim of the campaign was to support one of his most controversial political decisions: Since April 2016, the approximately 100 million inhabitants of Bihar have been banned from producing, selling or consuming alcohol.

The state and its prime minister are following a trend in India: the ban on alcohol - known as prohibition - has become a popular campaign topic in recent years in the states that are responsible for dealing with alcohol.

Bihar is the largest state so far that has decided to do so. In their campaign, proponents argued that this was the only way to save the families of drinking men from ruin. Domestic violence, crime, accidents and illnesses should also be contained in this way.

Alcohol bans encourage smuggling

Critics counter that the proponents are only interested in the voices of those they allegedly want to help, not real social reforms. "A total ban doesn't fit into a liberal democracy," said Denzil Fernandes, head of the Indian Social Institute. "Higher taxes and more regulated sales would be the better solution."

In addition, previous experience with the measure has been mixed. Alcohol bans also exist in the states of Gujarat, Manipur, and Nagaland. In all three states, rampant smuggling ensures that almost anyone can buy alcohol under the hand who wants it - and can afford it. Poor people run the risk of poisoning themselves with illegally adulterated alcohol. Hundreds of people have already died, according to various reports.

Bihar wants to prevent such a development with draconian fines: Anyone who circumvents the alcohol ban faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to one million rupees (around 13,800 euros). Almost 32,000 people have already been arrested and more than half a million liters of alcohol have been confiscated.

"No half things"

Johnson Edyaranmula of the addiction counseling Alcohol and Drug Information Center criticizes the government's radical approach. "Indian drinking habits are problematic, with a third of drinkers falling into the risky category," he said. "But it takes a well-considered, at least ten-year campaign involving local communities to solve this problem."

Prime Minister Kumar, meanwhile, seems determined to continue on the path of absolute bans. In a guest post for the media company NDTV he recently wrote: "In Bihar we don't do things by halves".

(APA / dpa)