by Priya Shah
I am about to embark on a journey to India… the place of my ancestors. I am of Indian descent but was born in Canada so I’ve always felt a bit removed from my culture. Doing research and trip-planning has led to some interesting discoveries. I am beginning my trip in Gujarat, suitably because it is where my grandparents are from. But it is also… a dry state! Because I’ll be spending 1-2 months there it’s important for me to get an idea of the current state of affairs; the laws, politics etc. So I’ve been reading up on what a ‘dry’ state means for Gujarat right now, and this is what I’ve learned:
Basically, prohibition in Gujarat has been in effect since 1960 when the state was formed (more than a decade after Independence) and it has created an illicit liquor trade; an industry that generates revenue and employment for thousands of people. The law was mainly put in place as a tribute to Mahatma Ghandi, who hails from Gujarat.
The high demand fuels the smuggling and production. The police and other officials are involved in the trade, which generates the most money around elections because the politicians turn to bootleggers* and form power alliances when they need money to boost their campaigns. This highlights perfectly the degree of corruption among police and government officials in Gujarat. The party members and the electorate drink alcohol discretely, just the same as the majority of working and lower class people, but the outcome of drinking illicit liquor is more fatal for them. This is because the former have access to IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) which is popular and more attainable among the middle and upper class, and the latter are familiar with cheaper types of liquor – responsible for the majority of deaths.
There are a few exceptions to alcohol prohibition in Gujarat, which include:
- personnel of the armed forces are permitted to buy alcohol
- retired personnel are allowed to buy a specific quota per month:
- “anyone over 40 in Gujarat can apply for a liquor permit on “health grounds”, securing a monthly ration of one bottle of hard liquor or 10 bottles of beer” (Basant Rawat, The Telegraph)
- liquor can be purchased for medical reasons, if prescribed by a doctor
- foreigners are allowed to acquire a permit and drink liquor
- “to encourage corporate houses to hold business conferences in Gujarat instead of going over to nearby Mount Abu (Rajasthan) or Diu, the government allowed group permits so that delegates could drink liquor at hotels” (Rawat)
However, liquor permits in Gujarat are expensive, and whether the officials like it or not, people prefer to buy from bootleggers! For example, a bottle of whisky costs Rs 1,000 in permit shops, which are located in select hotels. But a bootlegger sells the same brand for Rs 750 (Rawat). This leads to events such as the hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in July 2009 where over 109 people died. Vinay Dholakia, director of the award-winning Parzania (2005) is making a film that addresses the issue of prohibition in Gujarat. The film covers all related issues from revenues to religion, the politics of prohibition to communalism and the mafia involved. (http://box4.chakpak.com:9080/articles/?p=16470)
In any case, I’ve still got lots to learn and discover by seeing first-hand how people are suffering and dealing with alcohol prohibition in Gujarat. I’ll keep you posted!
*It is believed that the biggest gangsters in Gujarat started their careers as bootleggers, as opposed to gangsters in Mumbai who started with kidnapping and theft.
Here’s more information if you’re interested: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2003-09-23/ahmedabad/27215207_1_new-tourism-policy-foreign-tourists-tcgl