Why isn’t liquor banned in the Indian Army when it is not good for health?

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Sometimes we might have this question, but let’s see what is the real reason behind this.

There are many theories regarding why there is a culture of boozing in the Indian Army. The most popular one is that it is a legacy of the British who introduced this vice as a means to ‘control’ the Indian soldiers and to motivate them to fight for the crown in the great wars especially in far off lands from Africa to the thickest jungles of Burma.

Gifting Rum

This theory is obviously Bull Shit. As the British Indian Army comprised of diverse regiments most of whose histories predate the arrival of the British and such culture existed in many such outfits much before the British ‘formalised’ the system of ‘rum issue’. In fact, if anything they can be credited with establishing a formal system of ‘disciplined’ drinking wherein only a controlled quantity (usually 1 to 2 pegs), would be issued strictly under the watchful eyes of an officer who made sure no one was consuming excess of what is ‘authorised’ and the same would be recorded in a ‘rum issue register’, a system which continues to this day in the Indian Army!

So, why exactly is this done?? The answer lies in the fact that soldiers too need relaxation/ entertainment in their lives, don’t they? But the dictates of military discipline require that this too is ‘controlled’ so as not to create any untoward incident. And surely no one wants a drunk soldier handling a weapon with live ammunition!

So, Here’s how it’s done:—

Liquor (usually Rum) is issued on specified days (2 to 3 days in a week) to jawans.

A ‘Rum issue Register’ is maintained which has a list of ‘drinkers and ‘non-drinkers’ pasted on the front page.

Strict limits are laid down (usually not more than one to two pegs/ one beer per individual).

Liquor is issued in a central place under the supervision of an officer or a JCO.

The officer/ JCO (usually the duty officer of the day), ensures that liquor is issued only to those individuals who are on the ‘drinkers’ list and not are NOT planned for any military duty like sentry duty/ driving.

Jawans receive a meagre amount (I think it is Rs 60 nowadays) per month as ‘rum allowance’ to pay for this liquor.

Although limits are not laid down for officers and JCOs, who have their own Officers/ JCOs Mess which has a bar, but even their consumption is kept under check by the commanding officer, who usually checks the registers maintained for this purpose once in a while.

Nobody is allowed to get drunk. In fact, ‘intoxication’ is a serious offence under the Army Act punishable with imprisonment and even Court Martial in extreme cases.

It is prohibited to consume alcohol from any other source and any violation is dealt with strictly and swiftly.

Any individual developing an addiction to alcohol is medically downgraded and provided treatment and if that fails, he is medically boarded out/ invalidated out of the Army.

Absolutely NO alcohol is served in operational areas like on LOC in Kashmir, and other border areas or other active areas. Anybody violating this rule is usually Court Martialled.

Contrary to popular belief, absolutely NOBODY is forced to drink in the Army!
However, There are some occasions on which it is customary to share a drink like during regimental celebrations. But the limits are strictly enforced.

There is also a tradition to welcome an officer or JCO to their respective mess by offering a drink during the ‘dining in’. However, if someone is a teetotaller, he is offered a soft drink/ juice.

There is also a tradition of dipping the ranks of an officer or JCO when he/she is promoted to the next rank (known as pipping). The officer or JCO is then expected to finish that one glass of liquor. But even in this case it can be a glass of coca cola, in case the officer/JCO is a non-drinker.

Old Monks

All officers, JCOs and jawans are authorised to buy some bottles of subsidised liquor from the Unit CSD canteen (popularly known as ‘quota’) ONLY while proceeding on leave (other than those living with their families where they are posted). So while serving in unit, the above mentioned procedure of liquor consumption is strictly implemented.

So, contrary to popular belief, There is, in fact NO tradition of excessive drinking in Indian Army. The drinking is strictly controlled and adequate safeguards exercised to maintain the discipline as well as health of all individuals.

(PS: There are always aberrations that will inevitably be there in such a huge organisation and these are dealt with accordingly but by NO means such exceptions are common or tolerated.)

This answer is written by Jay Maan on Quora.

Another writer, Akash Bhat feels that there are broadly three reasons for liquor consumption in the forces :

– Survival
– Force of habit
– Tradition

Of course, it’s more than understandable if one leads to the other but , every case of liquor consumption can be summed up in here.

Tradition:

Upholding traditions has always been an integral part of the armed forces and it ranges from the uniforms, to the regimental songs etc. One such tradition is how they welcome the newly commissioned officer.

Indian army at high altitude

I remember being told about one such tradition where in a YO in 3 JAKLI has to consume 3 glasses (large ones) of rum, vodka and every spirit available. No points for guessing that they used to pass out for days on end after this but, it still remains a tradition.

Force of Habit:

Given the social setup of the armed forces since their inception , having a drink with fellow officers and seniors is a day to day activity. This in turn leads to formation of a habit (mostly) irrespective of the nature of posting one is in.

I remember having read an answer by Col.Nehru on quora citing the age long tradition of the Sikh units to drink until midnight and then have dinner which leads to unfit soldiers and officers.

Now, I don’t know if I’m the only one seeing this but , this is more than enough to cause a habit to embed itself.

Survival:

Now I think enough been said already about how it is important for our soldiers to survive in harsh climate and I don’t see the point of repeating it other than agree to it completely.

It’s a tough job and it takes a mental , physical and emotional toll on a person. If alcohol helps them manage it better than before then I’m all for it.

But, I’d like to point it out that there are countless servicemen who do not drink while going through the same toil and turmoils of the military life .

It’s an individual’s decision but, as far as army goes I don’t see the point of banning alcohol although some prudent regulations would be much appreciated.

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