I don’t drink because it’s my choice – isn’t that liberation?

By: Armin S.

I don’t drink. I didn’t drink initially because I was never really exposed to alcohol in my household. Alcohol bottles and parties serving alcoholic beverages were not the norm. In fact, most family get-togethers consisted of religious prayers and hymns. My father does not drink, nor does my mother. As I grew older, and saw many people around me drinking, I thought about how widespread alcohol consumption was. But I still did not feel like drinking. My older sister did not drink either. Somewhere, somehow, it became a personal choice which I’m aware must have been impacted by my social settings as a child.

But that hasn’t stopped people from asking: “Why don’t you drink? Is it a personal choice? What led you not to drink?” These are the seemingly harmless questions. I’ve been called a prude for not drinking. I’ve also been asked in my pre-lawyer days when I was a law student, “what do you do for fun?” when this man found out I didn’t drink. That question really bothered me – I read, play sports, write, dance…I do a lot of things “for fun”.

Another thing that bothers me is when I see women’s liberation posters and memes with women characters in sarees, with a cigarette in one hand, and a beer in the other, talking about choices. And hear me out, I’m all for choices. So, if it’s about choice, why is not drinking not considered the choice of a liberated woman as well? Why does a liberated women’s poster these days necessitate some sort of intake of substance? Does it represent the fact that she is free to do what was considered taboo? Okay, I see that – but if a woman does not drink, does that make her less liberated?

There is a book out there by Holly Whitaker called “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol”. The synopsis of the book states: “As a society, we are obsessed with health and wellness, yet we uphold alcohol as some kind of magic elixir…” While the book focuses on a path to sobriety that is more woman-friendly, it was the synopsis that caught my attention as it highlights what I’ve said above: “…[n]o one ever questions alcohol’s ubiquity – in fact, the only thing ever questioned is why someone doesn’t drink. It is a qualifier for belonging and if you don’t imbibe, you are considered an anomaly.”

And that I am – in certain circles. Interestingly, two of my closest circles of friends involve non-drinkers or restricted drinkers. I don’t think restricted drinkers is a term that has necessarily been coined before to be searched up on Google so I’ll tell you my definition of restricted drinkers. Restricted drinkers are those who either drink rarely when on vacation or a special occasion, and drink a small amount – i.e. they are never at the level of what someone would consider “drunk”. It’s not by choice – I did not actively seek these women out. Some of us have been friends for more than half my life, and I guess company influences company.

But in many other social circles of work, networking, other friends and family, I AM the anomaly. And I’m sick of people asking me why I don’t drink alcohol – which is literally the title of an article written by Matt Mills at the University of Winchester: “Why I’m sick of people asking me why I don’t drink alcohol.” The subtitle is funny, and apt: “That’s right ladies and gentlemen: I am, in fact, a student that doesn’t drink. Pretty weird, huh?”

Written in November 2016, Matt Mills talks about explaining a day-to-day choice that to other people seems extraordinary. And he very clearly points out my dilemma with the question, why don’t you drink. Here’s his take: “And this question endlessly annoys me – not only because it’s something I hear night in, night out – but because the people that ask seem to assume that I need to explain myself to them. I wouldn’t go up to someone holding a Guinness at the bar and ask “Why are you drinking alcohol tonight?””

He also says something that is interesting – that people seem to expect some horrible, dramatic back story that led to his decision of not drinking. He doesn’t have a dramatic backstory. Nor do I necessarily. I have a backstory, one that is deeply personal, but not anything extremely dramatic – depending how you tell the story of course.

I often wonder why that is another reason why people don’t stop drinking alcohol. Because of the social consequences…and hey, maybe that’s what I’ll delve into next. In the meantime, next time someone chooses not to drink, just let them be. They didn’t ask you why you chose to drink. Everyone can be liberated in their own ways.




Armin Sethi strives to bring voices forward and engages in critical thinking as she navigates different means of telling stories – be it in the courtroom as a Crown Prosecutor, while interviewing celebrities as a journalist for Bollywood Film Fame Canada (@bollywoodfilmfamecanada), or as a writer/producer for Fly Away Films Inc. (@flyawayfilmsinc).

A drunk middle-aged female at a Punjabi wedding reception – still a shocking image?

By: Armin S.

I read an interested article on BBC News about three years ago. The headline of the article read as follows, “The stigma stopping Sikh women getting help with alcohol addiction.” As soon as I read the headline, I thought about the number of times I heard Punjabi males around me talk about the way a girl was drunk at a club, at a party, at a bar. How the girl was “easy”. Perhaps the girl was “difficult”. Perhaps she was “too available”. Just attaching such negative connotations to the woman who chose to have a couple of drinks in a social setting.

While the perception of Punjabi women drinking is slowly shifting, we still often see women tend to indulge drinks like wine, as opposed to the “harder” drinks their male counterparts are indulging in.  We see that while it has come to be more culturally acceptable for women to engage in social drinking, without become intoxicated, a stigma is still associated with women drinking in large quantities, or consuming the harder drinks.

I went on reading the article and thought to myself, imagine being a Punjabi woman, as described in the article, and coming out as somebody who is battling alcoholism. A woman whose drinks in quantity can outnumber those around her. A woman who drinks to the point of becoming numb. Then, I imagined the shame she would feel. The shame society would impose on her.

I think back to the wedding receptions I have been to. A Punjabi man with a glass of whiskey on his head, dancing, sometimes tripping, with a huge smile on his face. I then look at his wife’s face as she looks bored and impatient at 1 in the morning, with a sleeping toddler on her lap. Then, I think about the roles being reversed. Have they been reversed? No – at least not in front of me.

I think about the people laughing and gently teasing the intoxicated male. What would their reactions be if the wife was on the one on the dance floor, with a glass on her head? And the husband sat there, bored at 1 am, holding his snoring toddler. I doubt the female would be met with smiles and laughter.

The point of these thoughts is not to encourage intoxication to any extreme by any gender. The rolling thoughts are to encourage dialogue of why alcohol, when consumed by a Punjabi woman, is still seen as problematic. And if it is considered problematic, is the root issue not then the fact that the intake of alcohol is viewed as problematic?

If we shift the focus on just alcohol, and the recognition that alcohol has come to be consumed most times by most people as a means to have a good time, will it not help more people obtain the help they need? Male or female, Punjabis, specifically in the UK, have long been recognized as a group whose select members may be battling alcoholism. So if we remove the shame, and remove the gender, should we not be able to have a more effective fight against alcohol?

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Spurious alcohol leads to over 100 deaths and counting – in Punjab

By Armin S.

In August, we saw toxic liquor deaths in Punjab make many headlines. Among the arrests made was the arrest of Rajeev Joshi, who had supplied three drums of methanol. This methanol was used to make alcohol in parts. He is allegedly responsible, amongst a chain of others, for 111 deaths in three separate districts in Punjab.

21 arrests were made in Tarn Taran, 10 arrests were made in Amritsar, and 9 arrests were made in Batala. Since the arrest of Rajeev Joshi, other people involved in the manufacture, trade, and distribution of spurious liquor have been tracked. Given the ready availability of methanol in the market, illegal manufacturers and distributors find it easy to mix methanol to produce fake liquor. Other arrests include names such as Gobinder Singh and Balwinder Kaur, who worked in tandem with each other in Tarn Taran. Balwinder Kaur would buy the alcohol from Gobinder Singh and Mithu Singh, and then mix the alcohol with water. The alcohol was then sold amongst the people in the village.

The diluted alcohol being sold at very cheap rates has cost many lives in Punjab and in India. According to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India, around 40 percent of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol consumed in India every day is actually illegally produced. So why is this problematic?

This is not the first time such news has made headlines. In February 2019, 130 tea workers died from bootleg alcohol. Photos of tea plantation workers made the rounds on national news in India, as we saw such workers lying on a drip. And yet this continues. So break it down: methanol, if ingested can lead to significant consequences including blindness, liver damage, and death. Methanol is often used as anti-freeze – so the toxicity of the methanol
infused alcohol is stronger, but deadlier.

But the larger picture is this: the tracing of these much more affordable and deadly liquor to deaths amongst the segment of society that is in the lower socio-economic strata. It is not the rich who may consume such deadly spurious alcohol, but those already living on the margins of society. Younger folk may also be more inclined to try alcohol that is easily accessible in terms of financial feasibility.

Alcohol is often correlated with devastation in some families in the Punjabi community, who have lost family members, either emotionally, mentally, and/or physically to addiction.

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