Republic Day 2023: Why India Observes Dry Day?
Image Credit: Alcohol bottles, Unsplash

As India gears up to celebrate 74th Republic Day, it also calls for marking it as a dry day. In simple connotation, a dry day means the prohibition of alcohol sales. Apart from Republic Day, in India, a few days are earmarked for the alcohol trade ban in a year. While there is a growing movement of social sober across the globe, does banning boozy drinks on a few days help? But why are they called so, and what was the ideology behind it? If you have pondered such questions, here are some insights to consider.  

What is a Dry Day?

Dry days are days when the government forbids the sale of alcohol in stores, bars, clubs, and other establishments to herald an event or special day of significance or hold elections. Alcohol sales are prohibited on these days. 

Who started Dry Day in India?

The tradition of Dry Day is supposed to have begun on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary. It was done to honour and draw awareness to Gandhi's stance on alcohol. The Mahatma had regularly expressed his objection to the sale of alcoholic beverages and illegal narcotics. The legendary leader disapproved of alcoholism.

In one of the issues of famous Young India, The Father of The Nation penned, "The drink and the drug evil is in many respects infinitely worse than the evil caused by malaria and the like; for, whilst the latter only injure the body, the former saps both body and soul."

India's Dry days on different occasions

On several state-specific holidays, the sale of alcohol is prohibited. The majority of Indian states mark these days as significant national holidays, public holidays or events, including Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 and Republic Days on January 26 and Independence Day on August 15, respectively. In India, dry days are often observed during election times. There are also a few festivals on which liquor sale is banned. 

Alcohol shop closed board, Image Source: Freepik

Dry Day is not exclusive to India

Dry days are not a phenomenon exclusive to India. In countries that formerly tried to enact absolute prohibition but were unable to, dry days are a strategy to restrict the sale of alcohol. The Code of Hammurabi, written in the second century BC, shows the earliest indications of placing such limitations on global commerce in alcohol. Beer was prohibited from being sold for money under this regulation but could be exchanged for barley. Prohibition gained momentum in the Nordic nations and North America thanks to the support of pietistic Protestants who considered alcohol as a moral danger. Health concerns bolstered the moral case.

An unopened vodka bottle, Image Source: Unsplash

India taking the lead in Dry Day practice & World No Alcohol Day

There are more of these days in India compared to other countries. A conviction to the prohibition under the guiding principles of state policy is one of the key justifications. Gandhi was a fervent supporter of the complete alcohol ban. Prohibition thus became part of the Indian National Congress' mission, gaining its place through the Constitution among the directive principles (Article 36 to Article 51).

Article 47 of the Indian Constitution reads: "The state shall regard the increasing the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people as among its primary duties. The state shall strive to bring about prohibition of the use except for medicinal usages of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health."

The symbolic campaign for prohibition has been so fierce on October 2 that it is much beyond than merely a dry day in India. The fact that India suggested a World No Alcohol Day at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in 2008 may surprise many. The Indian representatives suggested to observe no alcohol day on October 2nd, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, who was the leader of the Indian Temperance Movement. 11 Southeast Asian nations agreed to endorse the suggestion. The World Health Organization (WHO) resolution to lessen alcohol-related harm was ratified by 193 members on the same day as the proposal. Following this, October 2nd is designated as World No Alcohol Day.

How dry are the Dry Days?

The consumption of alcoholic beverages by Indian predates British colonisation. Taxes and other restrictive laws have repeatedly been employed to stifle it. However, WHO reports that the market for alcoholic drinks is expanding the fastest in India. To avoid complications with public health and safety brought on by drinking, the union and state governments severely regulate alcoholic beverages. Dry days are merely one of many strategies for reducing consumption. But what remains unanswered is:  'how dry are these dry days'? The consumption of boozy beverages on these days often goes uninterrupted, and perhaps it can be a yardstick to determine whether it accomplishes the desired task.