Alcohol in Gujarat: Has Prohibition Gone On Too Long ?

As soon as the word Prohibition is uttered, the first word that comes to mind is Gujarat. The prohibtion on sale of alcohol or alcoholic products in Gujarat is the reason why.

Ever since I was a child I found it funny that my parents would always lament about not getting alcohol in Gujarat. Whenever we went for family vacations to Navsari (mom’s ancestral home) or our farm in Anklaach, off Valsad, or even to Udvada the Vatican of us Parsis, alcohol or rather the lack of it was the topic of discussion. It didnt help matters that we Parsis are known for enjoying the “spirits” and a Parsi “peg” will give any patiala peg a run for its money.

The TOI brings up the issue of Prohibition and an underlying need for a debate in this article.

When as a child I enquired as to why the sale of alcohol was banned in Gujarat, I was told that it was because it was the state of Mahatma Gandhi. The G word was the solution to all the ills of society it seemed at that time. In later years I did realize that the Mahatma was not to be blamed for this entirely.

Gandhiji advocated prohibition as a public policy first time in a long missive to viceroy before setting out on the Dandi march on March 12, 1930. His idea was that this would deny the government a huge revenue. Thus, Gandhiji mainly saw prohibition as a weapon to fight the British rule. There was no mention of wrecked lives, ruined homes, etc. He did not then raise social or moral issues .[link]

60 years later, Prohibition is in reality a failure. One can sit at the Globe Hotel in Udvada and get all kinds of beer and whisky without a hassle and with only a slight premium. At our farm in Anklaach, it is not uncommon for villagers to brew their own “mahuro”….a country liquor made from distilling certain flowers.

The last time I was in Ahmedabad was during a ZONASA Convention in 1996. Our hosts, the students at CEPT gave us easy pointers to where we could get our “khumba” as Old Monk Rum is referred to.

So then how is the prohibition actually working? Isn’t not allowing the official sale of liquor, actually forcing people into illegal trade and consumption? And who really benifits from this illegal trade ?

Allegations are flying freely that prohibition has spawned corruption in the police force. The initial fault, however, lay largely with the political leadership. Prohibition is essentially a social legislation and police comes in as a backup. Instead, men in uniform are the only one left holding it. Some in the force make the most of minding what is nobody’s baby..[link]

How farcial the situation is, can be seen as one drives from Udvada to Devka. Devka is in Daman, a Union Territory abutting Udvada. An official hoarding announces “Welcome to Daman, Union Territory” (or something similar). And within 50 meters of that hoarding on the Daman side are liquour shacks. And there are dozens as one drives into Devka. These shacks are no more than sheets of tin metal with a roof and plastic chairs and tables. The shacks contain cold storage for beer and other soft drinks to be accompanied with alcohol. And people drive in just to drink and drive back.

Daman has a glorious history that spans millennia. It saw empires and invaders come and go, leaving little marks on its otherwise vibrant culture, art and tradition. It is, however, not the rich cultural heritage that attracts tourists to the Union Territory. The main attraction of this place with 10 distilleries remains liquor [link]

It would be really interesting to see if Narendra Modi has the political courage to re-evaluate prohibition as a concept and move ahead on this issue.

In a way, prohibition is only illustrative of what Gujarat has come against as times change and the booming business in the state goes global. It is a defining moment and the task to examine the issue of prohibition should go to a proper commission of inquiry to be helped in its work with studies by experts in all that it involves. Not just how traditions and values dear to Gujarat would be sacrificed if a few people get to drink as they like.

With the current political scenario, it seems highly doubtful.

6 Comments

  1. kusublakki July 30, 2009

    If the reason was that it is a Gandhian state and hence alcohol use has been prohibited, then you might want to tell them that Gandhiji himself drank alcohol and did a lot of things that he regretted later and gave up. The point being, he had the freedom to do whatever he pleased, and he made the right choices! If he can do it, so can the rest of the residents of Gujarat.

    And I have heard of many people driving to the state border to get drunk and drive back. So as you pointed it out, the prohibition isn’t working, nor is it necessary.

    Good post!

  2. Calamur July 30, 2009

    yes it has. alcohol in Gujarat is home delivery, at a premium . everyone is paid off to keep the bootlegging going. which is one of the reasons why u still have prohibition there. to remove it means lot of the system will lose its free income 🙁

  3. Vishal July 31, 2009

    Prohibition feeds corruption and mafia. In US, for instance, the rise and fall of mafia is directly correlated with, and caused by, the prohibition era. [“Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” IS true in this case.]

    By the way, that “Gandhiji himself drank alcohol” comment by kusublakki is a huge oversimplification and misleading. And I completely disagree with “if he can do it, so can the rest of Gujarat” logic. No offense to his greatness, but he did many things that we can’t and SHOULDN’T do (the oath of celibacy, his half-nakedness, to name a few). Blind obeisance is irrational and dangerous.

  4. PREM from lovely gujarat February 11, 2011

    Well, if Prohibition of Alcohol’s main stream is Gandhiji then I must say that he has not only given freedom to Gujarat but INDIA and if Gujarat has to follow this prohibition then it should be with whole INDIA.
    WHY GUJARATIS ARE ONLY SUFFERING FOR FREEDOM ON ALCOHOL?

    WAKE UP GUJARAT… IF IT IS FOR US THEN IT SHOULD BE WITH WHOLE INDIA…

    We (gujaratis) love and admire GANDHIJI so as for all Indians too…

    NO PARTIALLITY…

    ONLY 1 MOTTO…

    “agar hum nahin toh tum bhi nahin”
    “ya toh pura desh par ban lagao ya toh pure desh se ban hatao”

    Well, Gujarat GDP’s facts are already praised by entire world and many big companies, big tycoons, powerful persons are associated with GUJARAT and the disgraceful thing is that, there is no liquor in GUJARAT. Shame on.

    And however thinks that “liquor will spoil GUJARAT’s culture then here is the statement that,
    “Liquor doesn’t spoil people, its people’s disgusting minds spoils themselves.” GUJARATIS are very wise to take good decisions. They will not make themselves pissed off with liquor. They can wisely have ALCOHOL in their lives with healthy, wealthy and happy remain forever.

    REMOVE PROHIBITION ON ALCOHOL in GUJARAT…

    JAAGO GUJARAT JAAGO
    AAB TOH AWAAZ UTHAO…

  5. Simplelogics March 28, 2012

    stop alchol then stop gutka/cigaratee/gambling stop tobaco products stop chilm stop hukka bars stop illicit actvities
    stop pollution from itax to kalupar from all vehicles
     it is funny u r allowed small kids to drive vehicles/bikes/mopeds for school what should be banned is not
     the govt should atleat liberate itself from these obstacles and even while prohibition does exist can we relax by saying majority wants it now days
    the court also has given relaxation to gay marraiges which were a taboo once upon a time
    are we lying to our selve by dressing being a dry state lets face the fact n bevome truly democratic by allowing to excercise the freedom to people who want to buy let them buy
     n
    who are really assured of there controls they wont budge even if it is offered free

     its not challenge to who are not being given the freedom to exercise but challenge to people who fear might loose there control over there senses

  6. niaz August 14, 2012

    this is not the freedom that gandhi gifted to the nation or the state. this is unacceptable in a democratic country where people have the freedom to choose. the right step would be to educate the people and let them choose. cut the demand not the supply.

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