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 (momâ€™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 â€œspiritsâ€ and a Parsi â€œpegâ€ 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 â€œmahuroâ€â€¦.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 â€œkhumbaâ€ as Old Monk Rum is referred to.
So then how is the prohibition actually working? Isnâ€™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 â€œWelcome to Daman, Union Territoryâ€ (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.