Good Girls Do Not Drink In India?


Indira Laisram

A teenage girl walks out of a bar; she is molested and beaten up by some 20 men. Her crime: she was at a bar. A passerby records and uploads the video, the images of which are horrific. The men are having a field day pulling the girl by the hair, groping, slapping and tearing her clothes apart. You would be forgiven for thinking this is an incident in Taliban land. But this happened in the vicinity, Guwahati. With the video going viral, an otherwise lackadaisical police woke from its slumber making a few arrests. But news travels and the Australia media too reported on the shocking nature of this incident.

I have always prided myself in belonging to a region, the northeast, that is known for its high tolerance and where women are generally safe and independent. To my Australian friends, I have always painted a romantic picture of the northeast and talked about how safe the region is, contrary to popular belief. I have often talked about the 'chicken neck' that separates the region from the rest of the country and how different and exotic we are from the rest of India. But this ugly incident makes it hard for me to be candid again.

Having worked and lived in Delhi for over ten years, I can still recall that squidgy feeling as the general attitude to women was pathetic. Of course, little has changed. We know that well by now, especially in terms of how north eastern women are perceived. Suddenly Guwahati seems to have suffered a trickling down effect as we find ourselves in the midst of boors who are so excited by a girl coming out of a bar that all they do is lay their hands on her. Total savagery!

The incident also brought to memory the infamous beating up of women at a bar in the southern city of Mangalore in 2009. In both the cases, the reason for attacks was coerced by the abominable attitude towards women who drink. We have an army of invisible moral policemen who thrive on mob culture and who believe it is their birth right to protect the sanctity of womanhood.

I am appalled by some of the reactions in the teenager's case: "But the girl was drinking," or "only prostitutes visit that bar".  Is this forward thinking India? India tom toms about its super power status and that it is going to overtake China as a global economy but the mindset of Indians is caught in time warp. Becoming a super power is only an illusion because material progress has to match with mental progress! The way people react to humiliation suffered by women shows India has such deep moral crisis and then tries to pride itself by calling it a bias free, cultured country of ancient civilization. India's boom has an accompaniment, an all pervasive moral crisis. Cities or towns may get their flyovers, multiplexes, tall buildings and bars dotting the landscape but girls and women may not or never find a place to stand safe.

You will get the 'girls from good families do not drink' from 90 percent of the population if a survey was conducted. I know of friends who never sipped beer in their lives but once married love any kind of alcohol because then they have the licence to do things illicit and the angst of finding a husband is no more there. The chances of finding a groom for a girl in the highly lucrative marriage market are nil if she is known to openly drink.

In my years of stay in Delhi, I could never walk into a shop and buy booze. And I was not an alcoholic. Only men frequent these shops and if a woman is seen there she is pushed and groped because the impression is that a whore has come to buy liquor. But a woman gets groped all the time in that city, one might argue. True but ask any woman in Delhi what she felt walking into a booze shop, the answer will be 'mental rape'.

It is only in recent times that the concept of women drinking has more or less gathered acceptance because of the call centres and other multinational companies setting shop in India. With it were introduced office parties and the concept of Friday night outs. Still, it is not quite an accepted thing among families that women can drink. India's middle class pride itself in raising girls with virtues and alcohol a strict no no.

I am not condoning drinking; I am condoning the right to drink. Social drinking is acceptable and a way of life. Parents must teach children responsible drinking but in a repressed society the word drinking is enough to beat the hell out of the girl, literally.

I too grew up in a family where alcohol was never part of the family tradition. Even the men drank on the sly but with time I have had the courage to sip a beer with the male family members. It is my way of telling them that the times they are a changing and that independence of women comes from showing — what is somebody's right is equally yours too.