Sunday, 4 March 2012

Bhutan - Alcohol and Bhutanese culture

Alcohol is bad but it is alright in Bhutanese society. It is normal for Bhutanese to drink, some at a very young age. Alcohol is something which is becoming more and more a part of Bhutanese culture.

According to specialists, alcohol does act at a suppressant to negative emotions at first. It, however, changes after a while and is a leading cause of depression. Alcohol is a big problem when it comes to physical health.

The government spends over Nu. 30 million every year for referrals to treat alcohol related patients.

The effects of alcohol are felt not only by the individual but also by society.
I also paid a visit to the Traffic Division of the Royal Bhutan Police. I wanted to find out if alcohol and accidents have a relationship, if any.

The traffic police say that driving under the influence of alcohol has been one of the main causes of injury and even death to many motorists as well as pedestrians. They brand it a criminal act. They say that there is a rise in the number of driving under the influence of alcohol cases and accidents related to it.

Go to any bar in the capital. The bartender will pour you a drink as long as you have the money. There is no age bar or time, although there is notice clearly specifying the restriction.

If you are intoxicated then there is a very high chance you will hurt yourself and end up hurting other innocent people as well.

In Thimphu alone, over 20 cases were reported to the traffic police. They say many more cases go unreported.

Alcohol abuse is a leading cause of domestic violence as well. Hundreds of families throughout Bhutan are victims of domestic violence. It not only affects adults but has a more adverse impact on children.

Although most people thought there were both positive and negative aspects of alcohol some had very strong views. One person said “alcohol is really doing a lot of damage to our society. The government should really do something about it. There are more bars than people.”

Another person said that alcohol is the cause of most problems. “You do things that make a mockery of yourself and others when you drink alcohol,” he said.

One lady said: “When we old people drink alcohol we drink a little bit since it is good for health in small amounts but the youth these days don’t have any control, they are very irresponsible drinkers.”

Respect, Empower, Nurture and Educate Women or RENEW sees many cases of domestic violence every month. Most of them are because of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol and traditional games mix well in Bhutanese society. Some people say Bhutan is the only country where alcohol and sport goes together. According to Mila Tobgay, the vice-president of the Indigenous Sports Association of Bhutan, there is law or restriction saying the archers cannot drink.

“Almost everyone drinks alcohol, but you see there isn’t a rule saying that you have to drink. We don’t have a law in our country saying that you can’t drink while playing these sports but we do have a rule saying that people aren’t allowed to drink in the field of play. They, however, drink alcohol in their respective team tents. We really can’t say anything about it without the presence of a law in place.”

Alcohol abuse is a problem but it doesn’t always have a sad ending. I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting here in the capital. Some of its members have been sober for over 6 years now.

“This programme is designed for me, to protect me, to save me because I am the enemy of myself. Addiction is all in the head. At the meetings everyone faces similar problems. If there are about 20 people at the meeting everyone won’t have identical problems but at least two to three will have the same problems. We then share our problems and we learn a lot from each other about how to cope with these problems. It helps me and it does help everyone as well,” says R K Dorji, a recovering alcoholic.

Drinking alcohol is a culture- a culture deeply rooted in our tradition. According to World Health Organisation report, Bhutan has the highest per-capita alcohol consumption in South Asia. There are close to 5,500 bars and about 700 of them are in the capital alone. For a small society like Bhutan the number is quite high.

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