Getting Drunk in a Dry State

Sep 08 2013, 17:05 IST
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SummaryThe church looks the other way as a fledgling wine industry finds tipplers and profits in Mizoram

bottles and cans of Indian Made Foreign Liquor, beer and imported alcohol, and 20,295.52 litres of country liquor were seized by the state's excise and narcotics department, with 1,175 cases registered under the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition act of 1995. Hospitals in the state are flooded with liver patients addicted to spurious alcohol.

Forbidden alcohol might be, unavailable it is not. Last month, Mizoram governor Vakkom Purushothaman told journalists at a tea hosted at his residence that Mizoram was the wettest dry state. Rare trips to neighbouring Assam and even across the border to Myanmar are highly coveted for most, and at airports in Guwahati and Kolkata, you can hear Mizo students and travelers ask each other with a knowing smirk, Engzah nge I hawn? (How many are you taking home?)

In Rangvamual and Phunchawng, two villages near Aizawl known across the state as liquor dens, young men almost daily parked their motorcycles and cars next to thatched huts and wooden homes to drink country liquor or something costlier, creating traffic jams on a national highway running between the states lone airport and its capital city. But earlier this year, the central committee of the Young Mizo Association, which has been awarded for its work in controlling drug supply, cleaned up the area and forcefully evicted over 160 families it believed were involved in bootlegging and drug trafficking, most of them illegal migrants from Myanmar.

Ironically, it was while the state government was mulling the 1995 prohibition law that the seeds of a future indigenous liquor industry were being planted by a farmer bogged by crop failures. We had no luck with the vegetables we planted on our land or with our animals, so in 1994 I went to Champhai and got some grape seeds. In 1996, we harvested two quintals, and two years later seven quintals of the fruit. We tried selling grapes at the market in Aizawl but there wasnt much demand, so we began making wine. It became a hit, everyone started doing it, said farmer R Thanzama, now 79.

The pioneering vineyard owners village, Hnahlan, became a home-grown brewery with most of the 600-odd families planting grape seeds on their farms, and brewing their wines in Sintex barrels. In acknowledgement of the popularity, the horticulture department organised the first grape festival in 2005. It was attended by hundreds, who spent the nights at local homes or slept on the

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