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Prohibition: India's and America's shared lessons in fight against alcohol

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As in India, the original motive for banning the sale of alcohol in the United States was humanitarian. Evangelical Christians, and a growing number of female activists like the hatchet-carrying Carrie Nation, worried – quite rightly, it turns out – that many families were being driven into poverty as working-class men spent their weekly paychecks at the pub and left their families to starve. Ban alcohol, the Prohibitionists argued, and you eliminate most of America’s social scourges.

But when Prohibition ruled the land, from 1920 to 1933, it didn’t stop people from drinking. It stopped them from drinking in public. Criminal syndicates smuggled alcohol into the country and sold it in speak-easy pubs, often under the winking eye of corrupt authorities. Those who lived away from cities, especially those who had access to grain, sugar, water, and a few copper kettles, simply made their own. American folk musicians wrote countless songs to deride Prohibition, but it was probably the realization of lost tax revenues that eventually caused the US Congress to repeal prohibition in 1933.

Even in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation carved out of India at the time of Independence from Britain in 1947, British-era rules allowing for the state control of alcohol sales have simply pushed many Pakistanis to purchase alcohol through private channels. In the capital city of Islamabad, for instance, all one needs to do to get a beer is to go to a Chinese restaurant and ask for “cold tea.” A teapot filled with beer will be brought to one’s table, along with a glass.

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