The role of Alcohol and the Impacts of Modernization on Ladakh

Of the two districts of Ladakh Leh is more Buddhist and Kargil is more Muslim. A huge reason for why Islam began to spread in Ladakh without incredible dispute was because of the inter-community marriages between muslims and the royal families of Ladakh. The peace between Buddhists and Muslims in Ladakh lasted for a while and was admired, for fighting seemed inevitable between the intermingling of faiths within Ladakh. One difference between Muslims and Buddhists is that Buddhists in the area of Ladakh have traditionally drank Chang (a type of alcoholic beverage like beer), while “Young Muslim children learned to wrinkle their nose at even a whiff of alcoholic breath”. (Aggarwal, 82)

In this paper I would like to focus on the role chang had in the cultures of Ladakh. In Ladakh it is hard to tell whether drinking chang is a traditional communal practice of a people, or an act of substance abuse. Traditionally, drinking chang was done in large groups and happily. chang was shared with great generosity at gatherings. In short, once farming was no longer the only way of making money in the villages anymore, the private profit that could be gained from selling chang began to override the urge of the people to drink communally. The privatization of drinking led to abuse. Therefore it is not that the presence of alcohol in a community innately leads to substance abuse, but that there are other factors present in a community that drives the community to treat alcohol abusively. “The LBA used a critical discourse against chang to argue that it was drinking that kept the farmers steeped in indolence and ignorance, hindering the modernization and development of Ladakh”. (Aggarwal, 80) I argue that the presence of alcohol in a community can enhance abusive activity but to blame chang for ignorance sounds like an excuse. Alcohol did result in abuse and illness but what is the source problem? is it really alcohol? Or is it the effects of modernization, leaving small village communities in an “inbetween” area both without their old way of life and without affordable and accessible education. This is not to say that alcoholism and drug addiction is not a major problem I just argue it is a problem that is also a reaction to a bigger problem (modernization and poverty.) Instead of implementing affordable schools, the LBA initiated anti alcohol campaigns.

When modernization began, the powers at be didn’t even consider the voice of the people when elder farmers stated how drinking, emphasizes tradition and is essential to Ladakhi identity. Instead they pointed at alcohol as the innate, first and primary problem.

Rum was considered the alcoholic drink that was for the rich, and chang was considered the “tasteless” drink of the poor. Given how negatively top officials speak about alcohol in Ladakh, it is ironic that,“In Leh, however, rum was freely served at elite weddings and there were bars where it was consumed by top officials of the very same committees who considered locally produced chang deleterious and tasteless” (Aggarwal, 81) These officials blames alcohol for the problems the villagers faced, but then went off and drank, themselves. To add to the irony “Hotels and travel agencies promising exotic and authentic experiences of Ladakh often listed chang on their cultural menus”. (Aggarwal, 81) Promoting the very beverage that the “state” says is causing all the chaos.

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1 Response to The role of Alcohol and the Impacts of Modernization on Ladakh

  1. jmarlor says:

    Im especially interested in your commentary on the LBA’s stance on the role of chang in Ladakh. I find that when looking on a community where substance abuse occurs (so.. most all communities!) too often the observers will find a way to blame community members for substance abuse, or will use substance abuse as a way to effectively alienate that community from ones own. I mean to say that, it is curious that the LBA will blame chang for the slow modernization of the Ladakh area, but in reality they allowing the role that colonization and other outside forces had on hindering modernization.

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