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Top Bollywood Actor Challenges Mumbai's New Drinking Age Law

Bollywood actor Imran Khan poses for a picture during a promotional event for his forthcoming movie 'Luck' at a radio station in Mumbai, July 20, 2009
Bollywood actor Imran Khan poses for a picture during a promotional event for his forthcoming movie 'Luck' at a radio station in Mumbai, July 20, 2009

A top Bollywood actor has launched a campaign against a new law that raises the legal drinking age from 21 to 25 in India’s western Maharashtra state. The new law has not gone down well with many youngsters in India’s financial and entertainment capital, Mumbai, the state capital of Maharashtra.

The move to bar young people below the age of 25 from buying alcohol [whiskey, vodka, etc.] is part of the Maharashtra government’s efforts to discourage what it calls “underage drinking and problem drinking.”

The legal age for buying beer and wine has been raised from 18 to 21.

The law was passed earlier this month. The measures include fines for illegal drinking and a ban on serving alcohol at public functions.

But the law has raised the ire of many young people in Mumbai, considered to be India’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Many of the country’s biggest companies, domestic and multinationals are based there. It also is home to India’s famous Hindi film industry.

A top Bollywood actor, 28-year-old Imran Khan, has announced plans to challenge the law in court. He said the ban curtails freedom of choice for an age group considered mature enough to make many other important decisions.

“If you feel the person is responsible enough to choose the government, this person is responsible enough to choose a life partner, to have children, if this person is responsible enough to join the military, to defend the country, to give their lives, how can you say this person is not responsible enough to make their own decisions?” Khan asked.

The voting age in India is 18. Girls can legally marry at 18 and boys at 21, although the law is often flouted, especially in rural areas.

Khan’s campaign is striking a chord among many young people in the city. Those under 25 say the new law is unlikely to do much to prevent them from having a drink, but only will turn something harmless into a crime.

“Honestly, I think its stupid," said one young person. "Anyway people start drinking after 18... I think it is better to legally allow it, then [otherwise] they will have to hide and drink.”

“People are very upset with this. Even I think its not fair," said another person. "Only when cops are around the law will really apply, I think it will all be under the table, it will all happen.”

It is not the first time that Maharashtra state is facing such a controversy. In 2005 it banned the city’s ritzy dance bars, where women danced to Bollywood numbers, calling them dens for prostitution and crime. The ban was overturned after it was challenged by women’s-rights activists, who said they provided clean entertainment and were an integral part of the city’s night life.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has said the law raising the drinking age is not an effort at moral policing, but at tackling a social problem, which he said “stresses the health system and destroys families.”