A few days ago someone in Facebook posted a pic, a collage of a few young women smoking. A few young Indian women smoking, either in Bangalore or in Kerala. From the photos it is clear that these women work in IT parks and/or BPOS. Two or three days ago someone else posted a photo of 4 girls, all below the age of 23 from the looks of it, sitting on the floor eating lunch and posing with a few bottles of alcohol either in their hands, next to their plates and in one case, swigging from one. Both these photos met with plenty of comments and discussions just below them. Comments on the first one were like “this cannot be in Kerala”, “don’t they have any shame?”, “don’t these girls have a father or brother to beat the shit outta them and make them learn to behave?”, “I should go and beat them up” and the classic “they are prostitutes”! Similar comments littered the photo of the girls with bottles of alcohol.
The comments were mostly made by guys, some of the same guys smoke or drink and probably invest their time in a whole lot of other activities. The overall consensus in Kerala, and for most of India for that matter, is that a woman who smokes or drinks is bad and she is bad news for any family. Indian girls/women do not drink or smoke! But in 2009, a study conducted showed that India has more than 2 crore (that’s 20 million) women who smoke (and admitted to it, who knows how many more who do it in secret) – that’s rougly 4% of the female population in India . Smoking rate among girls are more in Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Mumbai followed by Kolkata, Assam, Kanpur & Punjab.
Alcohol consumption among women in India is much lower when you compare it with men. In 2000 a study stated that less than 5% of Indian women consume alcohol. The advance of the BPO culture, multi-national companies and globalization has seen an increase in the case of women who atleast socially drink. Even while the government continues to ban alcohol ads on television to stem the tide of drinking, advertisers have just subverted the ban with surrogate ads. Drinking is part of the Indian culture in atleast the metros & cities. Many business contracts and deals are finalized in the spirited atmosphere of restaurants and hotels. Office parties will usually have a selection of the finest rum, brandy, whiskey, vodka and beer ofcourse. And it’s getting more common for women to drink at these functions.
Now, in Kerala, I’m sure that there are women who drink in the comfort of their own homes or homes of their relatives/friends. They might drink at a nice bar or hotel. But the opportunities & places for them to drink are few. I have seen very few ladies in the bars that I go to. For every 10 women I have seen, 8 are there to just accompany their spouse and are with family and they themselves drink only soft drinks. Out of the remaining 2, 1 will be a foreigner. These are just my observations! In 2002 when I joined a company in Calicut and living in that city, I came to know that some of the richer ladies had their own parties, in the comfort of their home, and were known for their love of drinks. 3 ladies, in their late 30s and early 40s, who were in the management of the company that I worked for used to enjoy their brandies and gins. Women social drinking in Kerala, a state known for the men folk’s excessive drinking, is not something new.
Unfortunately the women working in Call centers & IT companies are targeted as immoral, having lost their culture, promiscuous and prone to smoking & drinking. Having worked in the BPO/IT industry in Kerala for 8 years, I’m trying hard in vain to think of more than 2 women I know & have worked with in Kerala who drank and I’m drawing a blank as to women who smoke. What about metro women? Well I do not know that many but the lady friends of mine who work in BPOs in cities like Bangalore or Bombay – I’d laugh at their innocent approach to drinking! More than one of these ladies have spoke to me, in almost conspiratorial manner, that they “drank some beer at a friend’s place!!” “Oooh how many I’d ask?” “3 of us shared a bottle (650ml)” was the reply, followed by my laughter. They thought that was great? Ooh such blasphemous sin ladies!! Big deal!
What are my personal views? I smoked a bit fro?m the ages of 18-22, mainly because a lot of my friends and most of my cousins smoked. Peer pressure, whatever, I was an idiot! I can’t stand smoking and I won’t stand next to a person who is smoking a cigarette. And that smell is vomit inducing! The habit is disgusting no matter who does it – man, woman, boy, girl, fetus or animal! It’s an obscene habit unlike drinking in moderation. I don’t think women in Kerala should drink because of one reason only – it’s not safe in a society that will look down upon on you and brand you and call you the vilest names just because you drink. I find it a shame that you have to hide it but as long as you do it in moderation & keep yourself safe, there’s no harm in it right? Just be careful.