The Anonymous Alien
I have a housekeeper. After she had been working for me a month or two, she arrived one day with a bruise on her face. I asked her about it, and after much prodding, she confessed that when her husband got drunk, which was often, he sometimes hit her.
Not surprisingly, it turned out her husband’s parents both drank a lot as well. In fact, according to my housekeeper, they drank every night. When drunk, they are verbally abusive to her and her kids, and sometime physically abusive, as well.
In Mumbai, I had a driver who spent his time hanging out with friends at night, instead of with his kids. What did his friends do? They drank. A lot. Many of them beat up their wives and kids when drunk.My housekeeper in Mumbai was married to a man who drank constantly, and beat her whenever he was drunk. Same with my housekeeper in Delhi.
A sample size of 4 or 5 people does not tell a complete or accurate story, so I am reluctant to draw broad conclusions about alcohol abuse in India from the above anecdotes. I can tell you that when I relay the above information to friends and contacts, I get an “isn’t that obvious” kind of response. They feel that alcoholism is ubiquitous in lower socioeconomic groups.
My gut is it’s ubiquitous in all groups. And there is some hard data to support this belief. In India, it’s been estimated that 90,000 people die in alcohol-related car deaths each year. That means there are a lot of drunk people in India. And fortunately, to India’s credit, there is a fairly serious effort to crack-down on this: I frequently see road-blocks, where cops are stopping cars and checking drivers for drunkenness. That’s all good.
But stopping alcohol-related car accidents is a small part of fixing the drinking problem in India. If some 90,000 people die in alcohol-related car accidents each year, I can only imagine how many millions of wives and kids in India are beaten or verbally abused by drunk men each night. Likewise, I can only guess at how many mothers are abusing their kids due to drunkenness each day.
And make no mistake; the damage to these spouses and children is catastrophic. Kids that grow up with a drunk parent have dramatically increased rates of depression, suicide and of course, alcoholism. Those that were abused by an alcoholic parent have dramatically increased rates of abusing their own kids relative to children who grow up in non-alcoholic families.
Unfortunately, there are no police officers protecting these kids; “road-blocks” unfortunately don’t penetrate the doors of an alcoholic’s home. And, truth be told; for a mother wanting to protect her kids on her own from a violent and drunk husband, there is virtually no place for her to turn for help. Even for an alcoholic, there are few places to go to start the long road to recovery.
What’s the key to turning this dreadful situation around? First, education. Businesses, educational institutions and the India government need to step up and start educating people about alcoholism — what it does to families, how to get treatment, etc. Second, churches, hospitals, charities and the India government need to start offering shelters to battered women and kids and treatment to alcoholics.
Until then, here are a few quick points that can start the educational process:
- Alcoholism is an illness, and it will not just go away. Unless the alcoholic wants to get better, and seeks treatment himself, there is no hope
- Tell-tale signs that you are living with an alcoholic: Someone who drinks alone frequently, drinks more than 2-3 drinks per night, has their personality change when they drink (turns violent, abusive, angry), and/ or gets angry when there is no alcohol in the house
- You cannot shield yourself or your kids from the devastating impact of an alcoholic. Either the alcoholic gets treatment, or you have to get yourself and your kids away
- The best known organisation for treating alcoholism is Alcoholics Anonymous. There are branches in most major cities. Google ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ and the name of your city and you’ll find one.
Finally, the best hope for India is to stop the whispering about alcoholism and start yelling about it. Let’s strip the stigma away from having an alcoholic in the family and instead announce it to the world and protect our children. No more, “Shhhh. Daddy’s drunk again.” Instead, let’s yell to the world: “MY DADDY’S DRUNK AND WE NEED HELP!”
A foreigner’s observations on living,working, surviving and thriving in India.