Kerala, often dubbed as 'God's own country,' is one of India's most developed states. But it has also become the country's booziest, witnessing an increase in violence and crimes related to alcohol consumption.
Every morning, people start queuing up in front of a government-run liquor store at the famous beach of Kovalam, located just 15 kilometers away from Thiruvanthapuram, the capital of India’s southern state of Kerala, a place famous for its palm trees and beautiful beaches.
Kerala is one of India's most progressive states in terms of social welfare and quality of life. The state government boasts of having the highest literacy and life expectancy rates as well as lowest child mortality figures in all of India.
But of late, Kerala has also earned the tag of India's "booziest state," with the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country. People in the state consume an average eight quarts (two pints) of pure alcohol annually, say government officials. While it may be less than the US' 10 quarts and Russia's 17, it's nearly twice India's average national alcohol intake, according to the World Health Organization.
The state government, which holds a monopoly on the alcohol business, is believed to get more than 40 percent of its annual revenue from the sale of liquor.
Rise in crimes
Experts say that factors such as unemployment and social alienation are pushing more and more people towards drinking. "In the big cities, the alcohol problem is getting worse," Johnson Edayaranmula, director of the Alcohol and Drug Information Center, told DW. "Also the people in Kerala get exposed to alcohol at a very young age. The liquor is easily available and it is normal to drink at social and even religious functions."
The state government claims that alcoholism is linked to over 44 percent of road accidents and nearly 80 percent of divorces. "The other traditionally 'hard-drinking states' like Haryana and Delhi now stand far behind Kerala in terms of alcohol consumption," Prathap Menon, a sociology lecturer in Kochi, told DW. "The rise in alcoholism is also correlated to an increase in suicides, murders and domestic violence in the state," he added.
'People find a way'
Suman Billa, Kerala's tourism secretary, says it is a paradox that Kerala is doing well economically while at the same time witnessing an increase in alcohol-related problems. "In terms of economic progress, our state is doing great. But we still have a problem with alcoholism, which I think is cultural," Billa told DW.
According to the Kerala Brewers Association, each state-owned liquor shop caters to around 60,000 customers annually. Private bars have a much higher number.
"Efforts to squeeze the opening and closing times of the liquor stores, restrict sales to adolescents, and impose higher excise duties on booze have succeeded in changing people’s drinking habits. They always find a way," says Edayaranmula.