While attending a social event during the Clinton Fellowship’s orientation in New Delhi, someone with a concerned expression on their face turned to me and said, “You know Gujarat is a dry state, right?” A local brewery in my hometown in Alaska has a motto: “Fairbanks, where the people are unusual and the beer is unusually good.” Clearly, this was going to be a different setting than what I was accustomed to in a town where locals frequented a pub on my college campus.
It seems almost taboo to write about the topic of prohibition in a blogging atmosphere where we are first viewed by the professional positions we carry in the Fellowship. Undeniably, however, prohibition has created its own culture in Gujarat, one I was not expecting as I boarded my flight here just a few weeks ago. I should mention that this is not the first time I have been in an area where alcohol is strictly prohibited. It is not uncommon to find dry villages in rural Alaska as well, where you will step off of a small plane, and the village elders will poke around through your bags in search of the illegal liquid. However, this is the first time I have lived in a dry state in a country where alcohol is very much available, and has affected such a mass number of people.
The statewide ban first occurred in 1949 as a special acknowledgement of Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthplace is in Gujarat and philosophy was very much opposed to consumption of alcohol (Patel, The Politics of Alcoholism in India). I expected to find this philosophy vibrant in Ahmedabad, and didn’t even wish to bring the topic up in conversation. However, during Navratri, a nine day celebration with traditional Guajarati garba dances lasting late into the evening, it was unavoidable to say the least. While one local from Ahmedabad told me she felt that women could ride a two-wheeler at two in the morning without any worry because of prohibition, another told me that consumption increases even more during Navratri. This is the reason police inspection is even heavier at train and bus stations during this holiday. Walking through Ahmedabad in the evenings, one will notice a major street food scene. While eating chaat, an Indian type of snack, a 14-year-old approached me and asked if I was a foreigner and if I had a permit to purchase alcohol. I laughed and asked him why he was so curious. He told me it was because his favorite vodka was Smirnoff and he was looking for ways to obtain it. I have even been told by an exchange student living here in Ahmedabad that social drinking has actually increased since his arrival into Ahmedabad.
Who is to say whether or not this “ban” on alcohol is affective? What does affective even mean in these numerous cases? While quotas are of liquor can be purchased by permit holders, both foreign and even locals, at legal shops underneath major hotels in Ahmedabad, there have been instances of mass death. In one instance 132 people were killed in just a few days due to “hooch” in the city of Baroda (Karri, Gujarat’s Lethal Ban on Alcohol). Whether or not the ban has met its intentions, this is the current reality of prohibition in Gujarat, a reality I did not expect to see.
Sriram, Karri. “Gujarat’s lethal ban on alcohol Prohibition in the Indian state is a hangover from Gandhi’s time. The death toll from illicit drink shows it has no place today.” Guardian 19/08/2009. n. pag. Print. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/19/gujarat-alcohol-ban-gandhi-deaths>.
Patel , Vikram. “The politics of alcoholism in India.” BMJ. (1988): 1. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.bmj.com/content/316/7141/1394.2.full>.