Should public drinking be outlawed?

Is public consumption of alcohol a fashion or an unacceptable menace? Should we outlaw it? What do you think?

The Singapore Sling
For more than 40 years, there had been no incident of mass violence in Singapore.

That changed on 8 December 2013.

The event unfolded in the congested district of ‘Little India’. It has a large field at the heart of it. In the evenings, as the heat cools and the light fades, foreign workers gather there.

Over time, they began bringing intoxicants.

As they did not disturb anyone, for a time they were left to their own devices.

On 8 December 2013, a bus hit a 33-year-old Indian worker. He died.  About 400 workers witnessed the scene.

A sudden and violent riot exploded.

The workers burned the bus. They attacked all and sundry.

The injured included 10 policemen, four civil defence staff, the bus driver and conductor. Twenty-five East Asian workers were arrested on charges of rioting.

Rioting in Singapore is an offence.  It is punishable by seven years imprisonment, plus whipping.

Fifty-seven foreign workers were deported.  They were forever banned from ever setting foot in Singapore.

This all started, it is said, from not outlawing public drinking.

Which brings us to our question
Have no doubt that drinking in public is illegal – not only here, but in countries where drinking is a social norm.

In most of the United States, in Europe, and in the Commonwealth there are specific laws that forbid drinking in public places, e.g. streets and parks.

Youth below 18 are not allowed to drink.

Influx of foreign workers, their slavers, and their habits…
For more than a decade we have had an influx of a large number of foreign workers. They are too poor to drink in pubs. So they drink what they can, where they can.

Right under the nose of regulatory authorities, foreign peddlers hawk hooch and moonshine. They live off the workers.

These hovels have mushroomed in every nook and cranny of the city.

The men sell their wares openly, and without fear.

Their one target is the foreign workman who has but a few coins to spare.

These workers consume their rotgut and, on their off days, lurch about the streets.

For now, they do not attack the locals.

They use all the streets as their toilet.

The ‘Singapore Little India story’ will one day bite us.

We know, but we turn away from unwholesome stories. 

Do intoxicants discriminate between the poor and the rich?

What do you think?

These foreign workmen are not the only culprits.

The locals fare no better, be they rich or poor.

We have all heard reports of the misbehaviour of the offspring of the rich and famous.

We are, as a race, champions at evading social responsibilities, unless we are the direct ‘victims’ of it – in which event we bitch about it.

The local experience
The starting point in Malaysia is on a higher scale.

A majority of the population is Muslim, a religion which forbids drinking.

So alcohol is banned in Kelantan and Terengganu.

You might think therefore that the citizens would not dare drink in public, openly.

Is it okay to party at someone else’s neighbourhood – so long as it is not yours?

Our own citizens think it is quite all right to turn up in an area miles away from their own homes.

They park their cars indiscriminately; party all night, play very loud music, and dance into the small hours of the morning.

If a resident calls a policeman, the drinkers threaten the resident.

If a policeman arrives, the partying stops.  As soon as the lawman’s back is turned, the partying resumes.

Any remonstrance with the drinkers is met with – as expected – an exchange of harsh words and an invitation to mortal combat.

Women fear to pass and re-pass the streets.

There are many examples of unfortunate consequences that arise from public drinking sprees.

Sundaram’s New Year
Take the case of Sundaram.

On 31 December 2010, some men were seen drinking in public. This was at Taman Medan.

Mohammed Anis was the owner of a lorry. He was on his way home with his colleague, Rajkumar.

Anis had observed the drinkers as he brought the lorry up close to Rajkumar’s home. Raj lived at the Desa Mentari Flats, in Petaling Jaya.

Anis parked the lorry.  He was chatting with Raj when something drew his attention to the drinkers. 

They were pummelling a man with a helmet.

The victim collapsed and lay writhing on the ground.  His name was Sundaram.

The men continued to kick Sundaram’s face and body.

Concerned, Anis alighted rushed over, rebuked the assailants, and asked them to stop.

His one thought was to protect Sundaram.

They turned to attack him.

His colleague, Rajkumar, tried to help but failed.

Eventually, when passers-by arrived at the scene, the assailants fled.

Sundaram lay in a pool of blood.

He had massive injuries to his face, head, and body.

The facial injuries were so bad that Raj, who in fact knew him, could not identify Sundaram at first.

The next day Sundram succumbed to his injuries.

When the three men were charged, they said that they were under the influence of alcohol.

Because of the drinks they had consumed – they said – they were ‘incapable’ of forming any intent to murder Sundaram.

The High Court judge convicted the men with culpable homicide.

They appealed. When they reviewed the evidence all over again, they thought the evidence pointed unerringly in one direction. The assailants had been drunk, yes, but they did intend to kill Sundaram.

So the Court of Appeal did something unusual: it convicted all three for murder – and sentenced them to death.

As two of the convicts were below the age of 18, the judges could not pass the death sentence upon them. The judges, therefore, committed the convicts to prison to await the pleasure of the Ruler of the State.1Sec 97(1) & (2) Child Act 2001

The observation of the trial judge is telling:

“Studying the overall scenario, I conclude that the victim’s cause of death was as a result of being assaulted by the three accused. The three had consumed alcoholic beverages while celebrating the New Year’.

And there is one word in a sentence that is a national indicia of public misbehaviour:

“ … ketiga-tiga tertuduh meminum minuman keras, sambil melepak untuk menyambut tahun baru”.2PP v Baaskaran Veerappen [2017] MLJU 478

They went there to ‘melepak’ – to ‘have a good time’.  They ended up destroying Sundaram’s life and devastating his family.

A sad ending caused by alcohol and untrammelled anger.

It seems new years bring little good to some womenfolk …

A Chinese artist’s Singapore ordeal

The eve of Chinese New Year in 2000 fell on early May.

A Singaporean, Lim Choon Beng, had been jobless.

He had been drinking with friends at a bar in Robertson Quay.

At about 3.00 a.m., a performing artist from China, happened to walk past him along Martin Road. Lim had been crossing the road.

The lady slowed down to let him pass.

He turned around and spoke to her. She ignored him and walked away, quickening her pace.

He grabbed her buttocks. She attempted to flee. He held her fast and lifted her skirt. Pushing her shoulders, he caused her to fall on a grass patch. This was near the Watermark Condominium.

He sat on her and loosened her zipper. He then dragged her across Roderick Street to a platform. He grabbed her neck with one hand and hit her head against a wall, pinning her to the ground.

Feeling dizzy, the woman begged him to let her go. He threatened to harm her if she called out for help.

He raped her there.

When he arose to put on his jeans, she attempted to flee. He yanked her hand and grasped her hard.

He was strong and aggressive.

He raped twice more.

Despite her pleading with him that she was having her period, he compelled her to perform oral sex.

This horrific episode continued for 20 minutes. Eventually, a passing taxi stopped, which compelled Lim to disengage his grip.

The victim fled, waved down a taxi and eventually reported the matter to the police.

In court, Lim pleaded guilty in court to various counts of rape.

A small matter for him – but for her, an entire life in trauma.

These are horrific examples.

But they are not isolated nor uncommon.

Others we all know

We all know of people who erect a kenduri tent that obstructs traffic. And then serve alcohol which is consumed, effectively, on the road.

This is contrary to the law, which forbids the obstruction of public roads.3sec 46(1)(a) of the Street And Drainage Act 1974

One can be arrested without a warrant, and on conviction, be fined RM500.00.

There is an exception4under subsection (4) that allows one to use public places for festivals and ceremonies – if prior permission has been obtained from local authorities.

There was a recent complaint of public drinking in Johore, particularly along Stulang Laut, Jalan Meldrum, and the Johore Baru city centre.

There are similar problems in residential estates in the Klang Valley.5]

Social Responsibility

Public behaviour is both a function of family upbringing and a willing assumption of social responsibility.

Gandhi once said that he would consider India to have become independent only if a woman could pass unmolested in the street.

He had not spoken of independence as amounting to press freedom, or free speech or free elections as his primary value.

He focused on the vulnerability of women in India, and the need to respect their honour and safety as a measure of national integrity.

Public drinking brings about other evils as bad as criminal conduct

We have all heard of groups of street drunkards assaulting passers-by, harassing women, and at least one story of gang rape.

Prayers cannot be recited in quietude.

Infants refuse to sleep.

The old and infirm are discomfited.

The dogs will not stop barking.

Schoolgoing children are unable to focus on their studies.

All in all, the neighbourhood has no peace.

Drinkers in public places leave behind remnants of food, rubbish, broken bottles, and the all-pervading aroma of post-binge urine.

The residents, passers-by, and street cleaners have to endure it for days afterward.

Public drinking is an act of gross public irresponsibility, and a complete lack of respect for other people.

Public drinking has become a nuisance in this country, particularly in the cities.

It is only a minor misdemeanour

Drunken public misbehaviour is only a minor crime. Under sec. 21 of the Minor Offences Act 1955 entitled ‘Drunkenness and disorderly behaviour in public places’,

“… any person who is found drunk and incapable of taking care of himself, or is guilty of any riotous, disorderly or indecent behaviour, … in any public road or in any public place or places of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of any court or of any public officer police station or place of worship…’

… is guilty of an offence.

The punishment is a maximum of 14 days’ imprisonment or a fine of RM 25.00 for the first offence.

Subsequent offences carry a maximum term of three months imprisonment with a fine of RM100.00.

A growing menace
Public drunkenness has become a growing menace. Perhaps tougher laws need to be enacted.

Those who drink alcohol in public, those who supply the intoxicants, and those who transport it – all of them should be made criminally liable, and their sentences bear greater severity.

So long as we treat this offence as a minor issue, public drinkers will not respect women. Neighbourhoods become unsafe, and we will find no peace.

I exclude responsible drinkers from this issue
I speak here only of a disrespectful minority. Most seasoned drinkers are the most courteous, responsible people you could ever meet.

Yet there is a handful who cast aside all social respect.

What shall we do with them?

Such disrespectful, irresponsible behaviour must be treated with great severity.

[I thank Ms. KN Geetha for her assistance, Miss. KP Kasturi and Ms. Thanessha Gunalan for bringing this subject to my attention, Mr. JP Kirat Singh for his careful editing, Mr. GS Saran and Mr. Devraj Nagarajan for their research.]

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