Kathmandu:

During the last 100 years there has been no power on earth as mighty as the US. During the Second World War it vanquished Germany and put an end to the ambitions of Japan. More recently, it destroyed Saddam’s thought of dominating the Middle East.

And yet, as powerful as the US may be, it has failed in winning the war against victim-less crimes: drinking, gambling, ingesting drugs and prostitution. Not that it has not tried. Its resources have proved inadequate, its efforts futile.

America enforced prohibition in the 1920’s. The policy did not prevent the consumption of alcohol, but it did spawn a range of illegal activities, for the purposes of manufacturing,

distributing and selling illicit liquor. Prohibition ended the control of businessmen over the liquor trade. It was taken over by the criminal underworld who welcomed the opportunity provided by the US government.

Similarly gambling in the US was illegal in the early years of the last century. The policy did not stop people from betting with the Mafia syndicates. The State of Nevada, realised the folly of such a policy and permitted legal gambling in 1931. Las Vegas, the world’s gambling capital, was born in the middle of the Mojave dessert. Today it is the Mecca for the world’s biggest gamblers. It is the fastest growing city in the world and has been for the longest number of years.

While the rest of the world, Nepal included, starves of tourists, Las Vegas hotels, with over 1,30,000 rooms, consistently boast of occupancies in excess of 90 percent. The residents of Nevada have no state income tax, no shortage of jobs and enjoy a standard of living which is the envy of the well-off in the rest of the US. Today a visitor to Las Vegas finds the best entertainment, the biggest and most spectacular shows, cheap accommodation and food. It attracts the largest conventions and gets 37 million tourists every year — a larger number than most countries. Nepal would be happy to receive, in a year, the number of visitors which Las Vegas gets over a weekend.

Many other countries have followed the example of US, stopped preaching morality, and legalised gambling. Australia, Malaysia, Macau, Russia, most of Europe and Africa permit gaming as does Nepal.

India hypocritically does not allow gaming, even though every major street houses bookies and billions of dollars were bet on the World Cup. Nepal would gain by abolishing licensing requirements and legitimising all gaming. India’s loss will be Nepal’s gain as tourists flood Nepal. Would there be any harm if the airport in Kathmandu has slot machines? These are a major attraction at the airport in Las Vegas.

While America now follows a sensible policy by legitimising drinking and gambling, it still pursues an insane war against drugs. This is a war which all the US presidents have lost and

continue to loose. The end product of war on drugs is that America has by far the highest number of its people — nearly 700 per 1,00,000 population — in jail. This is even higher than Russia and China. Europe with liberal drug-use laws has less than 150 people per 100,000 population behind bars.

Governments around the world have failed to stamp out prostitution. Some like Australia, Nevada in the US and a few countries in Europe have legalised it. Others, India and Nepal included, follow an ostrich like policy of keeping it illegal, knowing that it will never be stopped.

It is time to recognise the futility of using the police against such victim-less crimes. We will not give up our freedom to live our life as we deem fit when the only harm we might cause is to ourselves or our families. Victim-less crimes are not real crimes but could perhaps be regarded as sinful. Sins are between Man and God. Government does not have any role to play.

(The writer can be contacted at: everest@mos.com.np)