Alcoholism is a serious problem among Indians in Guyana and Trinidad. It is prevalent at religious events in Guyana especially as it relates to Hindus, and less so among Trinis. It was aptly captured by a letter writer in the Guyana papers a few days ago. The messenger did not associate rum drinking with Hindu religious observance. Rather, he points out a rum problem at Hindu religious functions. Hindu Guyanese leaders have opted to attack the messenger rather than address the message of alcohol abuse and violence at Hindu events? Responding that alcohol is also drunk at events of other faiths is not a solution to the problem afflicting Hindus. It is agreed that the messenger’s approach in describing the problem was not subtle. We must not look at the form; examine the substance also. His message was very strong and tone very harsh. But understandably, he wrote in anger appealing to Hindu leaders and the government to address the problem.
Why condemn him when the (illegal) sellers of alcohol should be assailed and prosecuted?
Alcohol abuse have caused compounded problems for Hindus and Indians in general. In addition to the enormous physical and emotional tolls, the problems also have led to an unfortunate stereotype that has burdened Hindus and the Indian population in general. This stereotype has perpetuated the image that Indian people are afflicted with alcohol problems or that once they have a religious function, alcohol will be served. Other groups and the public at large don’t focus on the vast number of people who don’t drink and who maintain sober and productive lives. They don’t pay attention to religious events where no alcohol was found (as per my observance albeit more Islamic and Christian than Hindu functions).
I have not done a study on levels of consumption by religion, race, age or community. So I can’t comment on alcohol use among the religious groups. What I observed in my travels around Guyana, especially during religious events, alcoholism is a serious problem as the messenger noted. Even the young are imbibing. Alcoholism affects all groups and it behooves religious leader, the government, community leaders, and respected elders (educators) to address the problem.
In my observations in travels around the country, alcoholism is a widespread problem at virtually all religious events (weddings of all denominations and post religious service of all faiths) held away from a place of worship (church, masjid, temple). Also, I found alcoholism to be more prevalent at Hindu events than those of Islamic or Christian functions. Attendees at Islamic and Christian events seemed to display greater reverence and respect for spiritual services. But overall, people don’t seem to have much regard or respect for religious events. Once held around the home or catering hall, rum was present. And once rum is present, there would be violence. And violence often resulted in a loss of life (lives). Alcohol causes people to lose their mental faculty and to engage in violence. I read of so many celebrations or religious events where people have lost their lives violently or suffered bodily harm – attackers and or victims. I have not studied why there was a need to consume alcohol during religious events. I can understand and excuse people imbibing at a wedding after the religious service. It is a joyous, celebratory occasion. But why the need to consume alcohol as though it would run out and consume alcohol into drunken stupor.
The high prevalence of alcohol use and its consequences may be attributed to a number of factors, including the influence of the European (British and Portuguese) who made large amounts of alcohol available to freed slaves and indentured laborers, as well as social factors. Efforts to prevent and treat alcohol problems may be effective if one were to explain its consequences at religious events and health clinics in addition to schools. Alcohol problems also may be prevented through policies regulating the sale and use of alcohol.
Alcohol has a severe impact on the health of consumers, their families, and communities. It leads to heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, pneumonia, dental problems, diabetes, hearing, vision problems, fetal syndrome, unintentional injuries, risky behaviors, temporary loss of senses, school dropout, depression and other mental health disorders. The government should make funding available for academics to study the problem of alcoholism and to recommend programs to address the problem. Law enforcement should also address the illegal serving (sale) of alcohol especially at weddings and crack down confiscating the moveable bars (liquor included) and arresting the owner as well as the bartender. More importantly, hosts of religious events should not encourage or entertain drinking and summon the police to enforce the law if they observe such occurrences. Instead of going after the messenger, religious leaders should address the scourge of alcoholism.
By Vishnu Bisram