When America went Dry

Oh, yes, yes. Let us ban it.

Let us drain our kegs empty. Let the employees of Beverages Corporation find something else for a job. Let us pitch the last bottle of rum to the Arabian Sea and declare our land dry and truly His own.

But wait. Statistics from history somehow predict a grim future. Banning the hot liquid is not easy as one might imagine.

King Barebista of Trace tried it in 50 BC . Six years later some drunkard lifted the ban by driving a knife through the royal abdomen. Another Chinese ruler banned it later; his son being more patient waited until his father died to lift the ban.

In India, Gujarat banned the production and sales of alcohol. It is banned in most of the north-eastern states. You need permit to drink in Maharashtra (Kerala also tried it for a while). Have those states become God’s own countries? No. What happened after the prohibition? Illicit trade flourished; even top cops joined the lucrative trade of bootlegging; even politicians began to run  shaappus as side business. In some Middle Eastern countries where there is a total ban on alcohol the liquid flows stealthily and silently like underground rivers.

First things first. What drives a country so mad to impose a ban on alcohol business?

You point at any country where prohibition has been imposed I will show you its immediate history drowned in alcohol. A lot of drinking, binging, throwing up on streets, driving along the streets madly in chariots and bullets all lead countries in different times to impose prohibition (Kerala is now ripe again for the picking).

But nowhere do people suddenly feel awkward and return home quietly to the sober world and apologize to their wives for making all those mess once prohibition is imposed. They look out for newer ways, mostly dangerous ones, to stay drunk.

Take America.

Though temperance movements were strong even in the 19th century they lacked that bite until a woman named Carrie Nation decided to drop into a hardware store. Briefly married to an alcoholic, she was already a victim.

Now as she was browsing in the store she chanced upon a hatchet. Hatchet. Carrie. Hatchet. Carrie. Immediately she got a call from the almighty. Carrie turned to a holy warrior after the fashion of John of Arc with a divine mission – destroy the liquor trade in America. She lifted the hatchet and emerged out of the hardware store with a halo behind her head.

With 6 feet height and a corpulent body Carrie was already imposing. Now with a hatchet in her hand she became terror in human shape. “Smash, ladies smash,” her charismatic war cry boosted the sagging energy of the women’s movements against alcohol.

Until Carrie, women who sat in front of salons in satyagraha or prayer were used to be ridiculed by the drunkards who frequented their temples. Often on their way back they emptied buckets of beer on their heads. Poor women, their protests were meek. But now all that changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty was born. In the shape of Carrie Nation.  America now witnessed roving bands of women all over the country with hatchets tearing down salons and chopping down apple trees which supplied cider.

John Sulliven, the then heavyweight boxing champion of the world had a nightmare of a day when he saw Carrie Nation with her hatchet storming into the salon he was in. He leapt out through the backdoor and ran away with his life. Boxing is another game!

All these protests on and off the streets put the politicians of America into serious thinking mode. A new legislation was soon made; it sailed through the Congress without much opposition. So on Jan 16, 1920 America went dry.

The production and sales of alcohol was banned in the country. Salons were sealed. Shocked drunkards were carted home. Wine producers were stunned out of business.

The law abiding citizens who imbibed alcohol in America had only two options – either go sober or be criminals before law. They chose the latter. In no time there was a reversal of roles in the society – the cops became the villains, and bad guys and bootleggers who brought in the illegal stuff by hook or crook became messiahs.

The fight against the law needed not just brains but a lot of muscle as well. For the first time in America, organized crime known as mafia sprang into life. Deadly characters like Al Capone began to rake in millions of dollars quenching the thirst of Americans. The poorly guarded US-Canada border helped them a lot.

So were the jury. Out of the 1422 cases that were brought to trial only 18 were convicted.

Doctors were allowed to keep a quota of alcohol for medicinal purposes. They got patients, they got rich. Churches were allowed to keep wine for ecclesiastic purposes. America became ardently religious in little time.

The wine producers were allowed to produce grape juice instead of wine. Look close. In the labels you would find the statutory notice: “Warning: will ferment and turn into wine”. The label would then go on into a detailed instruction telling the user what he should not do in order to prevent from turning into wine. What an idea sirji!!!

All the salons where alcohol was once sold were closed. New joints, named ‘speakeasy’(thus named because you should not speak about their existence in public) mushroomed in every parts of the country. For the camouflage, men took women with them to the joints. Alcohol became democratic.

Once women tasted the funny drops, their inhibition shed, hemlines rose, and legs began to shake. It was the birth of Jazz age.

What were the kinds of drinks that poured in from across the border like?

Taste: yucky.

Many drinks were crudely mixed in bathtubs(and were called bathtub liquor). Yak Yak Bourbon, Soda Pop Moon, Squirrel whiskey were some of its names. Squirrel whiskey was so named because one sip would make you dash towards a tree, dig your nails into its bark and climb up to the top (Malayalees are familiar with such distilled stuff like Manavatti and Yesu Kristhu. One sip of Manavatti will make you shy and bashful like a new bride. As for Yesu Kristhu, you won’t resurrect from your drunken stupor until the third day. What an imagination, baby!)

So in order to cut the bite of those drinks they poured into them whatever liquid they came across(including iodine and glycerine). At some point a few started to pour fruit juices. That worked. Cocktail was thus born.

After 13 years and 10 months Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the ban void by signing the necessary documents. “This would be a good time for a beer,” he said. America heaved a sigh.

By that time the national consumption of alcohol registered an increase of 11.6%.

Thanks to the prohibition.

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About Manu Remakant

Manu has written 298 stories in Rum, Road & Ravings. You can read all posts by here.

5 Responses to When America went Dry

  1. Good one sir….A good insight into the American story……a bit of new information, infact….The predicament Kerala wud be in with a ban wub b still worse….Leave alone the impracticality of the ban n the issues bound to arise as is revealed in the article.The lump sum revenue the alcohol sale brings along is not gonna make it happen any time near here in Kerala….. And with an emerging female drunkard population I dont think another Carrie Nation would be born, atleast in our state….. They wud be the first to protest 😛

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    • Let us hope Neeraja that the authorities would come with something effective instead of a total ban to curb the menace. I often wonder why the Government is not trying to boost a wine culture in our state. Wine should be heavily subsidized and marketed which I think would take away some bite off the hazards we are facing. Thank you Neeraja. Keep on writing to me.

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  2. The real reason for not enforcing prohibition is the lack of political will. Andhra, Haryana and Tamil Nadu were among the states which had prohibition in place. While most states get a tenth of their income from liquor sales, Haryana has it as high as a third.
    Andhra removed prohibition mostly to mop up the twenty odd thousand crore rupees in revenue it was losing.

    Sticking to the Gandhian ideology, the constitution in its 47th Article, recommends that the states take steps to impose prohibition. Besides the lack of revenue, the political will is also dampened by vote politics. Haryana’s prohibition was reversed due to the party’s bad show in the ensuing elections. You forget how the political class bribes the cliched ‘aam aadmi’ with bottles right before the elections. Reports on the antics of the DMK in TN are a case in point.

    If the Government is not willing to ban the sale of liquor, it should do the bare minimum to ensure that the regulations are observed. For example, in our state, the number of underage drinkers is astonishingly high. We are known to be bad drinkers. While most western countries take a drink like we have tea, most of us drink, to get drunk. It is a fact that children who start liquor experiments early are more prone to addiction. The least the government could do is to ensure the 21 year age limit(25 in Delhi. did you know). Permits would be an idea to take up.

    You speak of how prohibition would only increase the problem. From what i heard from a friend in Gujarat, the ban there is enforced pretty well. They actually go beyond the border into Rajasthan, to grab a drink. In a country where laws are more honoured in their breach, why would prohibition be any different? Murder is illegal means it does not happen ? The steps taken for prohibition, if it saves at least one family from this scourge, will be worth it.

    I know an entire village on the borders of Trivandrum, where there has been no ‘normal’ male death in over a decade. Every guy there dies of some liver related disease before the age of 60. I suspect this to be the main reason why Kerala has a sex ratio contrasting the national trend.

    There are a few districts in Maharashtra(I think there) where some women’s groups have a policy of going around and beating up liquor shop owners. The last i heard, they were pretty successful. Perhaps it is time our ladies here took the idea to heart. (I shall be talkin to Divya chechi)

    (Btw, you need to put a coma after Jan 16 in the date, i think)

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  3. Dear Beethoven it is easier said than done. You said that in Gujarat people have to cross the border to get themselves tippled. Do you believe that story, Beethoven that there is a long queue at the border for a drop of liquor? Read this : “Interestingly, Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) is freely available in Gujarat, thanks to bootleggers. According to an estimate, Gujarat is losing Rs.4,000 crore in excise duty annually because of this anti-alcohol policy and a significant part of that amount goes in the pockets of the police personnel as well as liquor manufacturing companies across India, who sneak in their spirits into Gujarat.”
    Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/gujarat-outdated-alcohol-prohibition-policy-negative-impact/1/175159.html
    And if you have local breweries working secretly, away from the eyes of the police, there is big chance that spurious liquor thus made may kill a lot of people from time to time. In fact it was after major tragedies that many states had decided to lift the ban. I’ll definitely put that coma after Jan 16, Beethoven but I want you to wake up from state of coma you are now in and accept the grim reality. Prohibition is not the end. It is not even the way.

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  4. . According to an estimate, Gujarat is losing Rs.4,000 crore in excise duty annually because of this anti-alcohol policy and a significant part of that amount goes in the pockets of the police personnel as well as liquor manufacturing companies across India, who sneak in their spirits into Gujarat.”

    <– this just substantiates what i said. Want of revenue. And lack of political will 🙂

    And i can totally understand your sustained advocacy of the topic. The Defensive Attribution hypothesis explains, how a person who's self concept is threatened by facts staring at his face, and reducing his self image, will unconsciously alter the facts so that it looks more justifiable to him. Something like choosing the facts that bend his way and ignoring the rest.
    How? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferred_justification

    I cant understand why you would put a 'coma' after Jan 16th. Is that a veiled threat?

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