In the wee hours of July 24, daredevil accomplices of a bootlegger scaled the walls of a police station in Gandhinagar and drove away with a van carrying 204 bottles of liquor. The vehicle, abandoned by the driver on being challenged by a police patrol on the national highway, had been seized hours earlier. A month earlier, in Botad on June 24, a liquor-laden SUV turned around and rammed a police jeep that was giving chase. Two policemen were killed, many injured. And in another instance of bootlegger menace, on June 12, Amit Chanderpal, 27, was beaten to death for objecting to the sale of liquor near his house, not far from Sabarmati Ashram. His anguished neighbours went on a retaliatory rampage and set the bootleggers’ vehicles on fire.
In honour of the Mahatma, Gujarat has been a dry state since its creation. But to this day, liquor of all kinds, from hooch to the best foreign labels, is available, like it always has been. Bootlegging is worth Rs 30,000 crore annually, by conservative estimates. There are huge payoffs to police and politicians. Haftas are at well-defined rates; it’s even decided how much liquor bootleggers will turn in so that police can keep up a pretence of activity by showing seizures in the record books.
Proof, if any was required, came from chief minister Anandiben Patel, who also holds the home portfolio. In a written reply to the state assembly, she said 42,000 bottles of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) were seized in Ahmedabad between June 2012 and May 2013. But from June 2013 to May 2014, the figure shot up nearly three times to 1.14 lakh bottles. Possible reason? It was election season, bringing both increased supply for vote-buying and increased vigilance by the Election Commission. And these were figures for Ahmedabad alone.
Much liquor is brought in by truck, though SUVs, cars and even motorcycles are often used. The smaller vehicles are usually fitted with hidden tanks or cavities. Sixteen-wheeled trailers ferrying shipping containers are the choice for large-scale smuggling. Mainly arriving from northern states like Haryana, these behemoths often take the circuitous route into Gujarat via Maharashtra. This is to avoid the vigilance at Gujarat’s borders with Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Since there is always heavy traffic from Maharashtra to Gujarat, there’s greater likelihood of sneaking in undetected.
There’s a fair amount of brewing of country liquor and distilling of hooch too, but this is largely a small-scale business in the cities and the villages. The industrial labourer is the chief consumer of this brew in the cities; in the villages it is the farmhand. Sometimes, getting the chemistry wrong results in liquor tragedies—drinkers blinded or killed by methyl alcohol in the brew. Aware of the risks, some bootleggers take extreme care. This correspondent, during a posting in Saurashtra in the mid-1980s, was witness to such quality consciousness. A bootlegger in Vanthali, a town in Junagadh district, kept captive dogs as tasters. Each batch of moonshine from the still was released for sale only after one of the dogs had drunk a bowlful and survived for more than 24 hours.
As recently as in 2009, a liquor tragedy was witnessed in Ahmedabad. Over a hundred people died. Only a few days before that, then chief minister Narendra Modi had boasted in the state assembly that his regime had made liquor tragedies a thing of the past. Modi, as a business-friendly chief minister, had been inclined to gradually lifting prohibition in the state. But the tragedy forced him to backtrack on any steps to relax prohibition, initially by licensing more hotels to stock and sell liquor. In fact, Modi turned the clock back. He had prohibition laws amended so that peddlers of hooch could even be punished with death. But Modi did not seem to have any qualms about a minister in his cabinet marked with a series of prohibition law violations. The minister later became an MP.
But for all the easy availability of booze in the state, the average Gujarati —like all the Commissions of Enquiry set up to review the Prohibition Act—strongly favours retaining prohibition in the state. Of course, everyone—the policeman, the politician, the drinker, and even the common man—are happy with this arrangement.
By R.K. Misra in Ahmedabad
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Govt loses legitimate taxes and spends hundreds of crores on enforcement of prohibition. From times immemorial some people have always been drinking and there should be no moral stigma to drinking. Statistics say that average liqour consumption is high in STates like Kerala, Andhra and Tamil Nadu but low in smaller ones like Daman-Diu, Andaman-Nicobar, even though more people consume in the latter. So, in the former, less people consume huge quantities, harming themselves and families and in the latter, more people consume smaller quantities. The solution is to educate people to consume moderately, for pleasure and possibly, health-benefits.
Objective >> The solution is to educate people to consume moderately, for pleasure and possibly, health-benefits.
Given that a huge segment of Indians are teetotallers, why should government play the role of marketing liquor even if it is in moderation?
Do we expect government to also educate us to - Eat in moderation, wake up early in morning, do physical exercise, read newspapers and keep updated on general news, save for future, have sex regularly with our partners? What is all this?
Let us understand that government is not a agency to decide every personal activity of humanity.
The role of government w.r.to liquor should be - Avoid alcohol abuse in public domain, crush all crime due to alcohol in public domain (Sexual assault and road accidents), prohibit underage drinking and ensure that those who buy booze buy out of their own hard earned money.
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