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Mizoram churches pray to keep dry law in place

Aizawl, March 9: The Mizoram government’s decision to lift a 17-year-old prohibition has run into opposition from an influential section of Christians in the state.

Churches affiliated to the Presbyterian Church, the largest denomination in the Christian-dominated state, held mass prayers tonight to build opinion against the move to ease the ban on alcohol consumption.

The Lal Thanhawla-led Congress government is proposing to replace a law that imposed total prohibition in 1997 with one that seeks to permit alcohol consumption under a stringent monitoring and punitive system.

The instructions to hold the prayers have been issued by the synod executive committee of the Church to maintain status quo on the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act.

“We have learnt that the government is planning to lift prohibition. All the churches must pray for the continuation of the prohibition,” the committee said in a statement read out in all the churches during the Sunday morning service.

The statement said the church believed that Mizoram had been peaceful and people had been living “pure” lives because of the imposition of the law since February 20, 1997.

It was the Presbyterian Church, whose 6 lakh members account for more than 50 per cent of the state’s population, that had pressured the Congress government in 1997 to impose the prohibition.

In the Northeast, Nagaland and Manipur are also dry states.

Leaders of the Church had met all the legislators, including chief minister Lal Thanhawla last week, urging them to continue with the dry law.

“Since the implementation of total prohibition, our public areas have become safer and more peaceful, there have been fewer road mishaps caused by drink driving and alcohol-related violence has dropped visibly,” the church had said in a statement to the legislators. “Given that alcohol harms health, disturbs social relations and even spiritual well-being, we believe allowing alcohol to be more accessible is not likely to benefit us.”

The Presbyterian Church believes that “crimes such as murder, rape and accidents are mostly committed under the influence of alcohol”.

According to the Church’s assessment in 1994, 65 per cent of women lost their husbands to alcohol abuse.

Lalzirliana, who holds the excise and narcotics portfolio, has said a new law to replace the act would be tabled in the next Assembly session in June.

“The Mizoram Liquor Prohibition Control Bill, 2014, which is better than the existing one, will strictly deal with drunkards and people creating trouble under the influence of alcohol,” he said.

Under the law, the excise police will be given more powers. The police will be equipped with breathalysers. NGOs, to be called “groups of society”, will also be empowered to arrest drunks, the minister said.

Lalzirliana said the minimum punishment for drunks and troublemakers would be two months’ imprisonment while the maximum is two years. Emphasising that the new liquor law is crucial, Lalzirliana said it would safeguard Mizoram’s interests and appealed to all the churches to pray for the success of the law.

The opportunity to earn revenue — alcohol is a time-tested taxable source — is seen as the primary reason behind the government initiative. Suggestions that the total prohibition is a failure — Mizoram has been described by the governor as the “wettest dry state” — have also prompted the government to justify its decision.

A study group formed by the previous Congress government had concluded that total prohibition was a “total” failure. The group had tasked the psychology department of Mizoram University to assess the consequences of prohibition.

The research team found that mostly elders, women and church leaders wanted the prohibition to continue while the majority was of the opinion that the dry law was a failure. Those opposed to the dry law point out that it has pushed up the consumption of spurious liquor. Illicit liquor was responsible for 90 deaths in the past 17 years, according to state excise and narcotics department records.