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by Robert Eric Colvard

An Abstract

Of a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in History in the Graduate College of The University of Iowa

May 2013

Thesis Supervisors: Professor Paul Greenough Professor Jeffrey Cox


ABSTRACT The histories of nationalism and temperance in India were closely intertwined

from their very inceptions. While the former is the topic of frequent study, the latter has

rarely been examined—in fact, Indian temperance is often taken as an axiom. My

dissertation argues that the Indian temperance movement, like the nation, was a timely


It explains the specific history of why and how temperance activism came to

be an important facet of the struggle for Indian independence. It will also show how this

close relationship played out globally, when Indians exported nationalist sentiments

abroad and when the cause of Indian self-rule became an unavoidable question in

temperance journals and at temperance meetings in Britain and the United States.

Both scholarly and popular works of history assume that alcoholic beverages

were introduced into India by the British. I demonstrate that some Indians consumed

alcoholic beverages on a large scale well before high colonialism, but that British rulers

made drinking an issue for the first time when, in the 19 th century, they introduced a new

tax policy favoring the use of European-style liquors over those that had traditionally

been produced in India. This resulted in a large protest movement in which thousands of

drinking Indians refused to purchase Indian-made alcoholic beverages until the taxes on

them were reduced.

Early nationalists acknowledged that many Indians were drinkers and blamed

their turn from milder to stronger forms of liquor on colonial administrators who

determined alcohol policy. Yet within 50 years, assumptions had changed radically.

Where Indian nationalists and temperance activists, often the very same people, had once

championed access to less-costly alcohol for the drinking classes, they now argued that


Indians had always been an abstemious “race” and fought for the total prohibition of all

alcohol sales, making temperance compulsory for all Indians.

This dissertation will provide a new and important frame for analysis of the

Indian nationalist movement. By focusing on a single, yet important, strand within the

larger nationalist movement, this dissertation reveals conflicts among nationalists and

among those associated with the colonial state.

Finally, this dissertation moves temperance from a mere footnote to its proper

place as one of the key mass movements of the period, a discourse that influenced both

Indian nationalism and the rhetorical content of global temperance activism. My work is

predicated on the assumption that ideas and movements move across cultural and national

boundaries. Thus while India remains the focus, this dissertation demonstrates that

domestic political issues occur in, and are significantly influenced by, a global context.

Abstract Approved: _________________________________________________ Thesis Supervisor

_________________________________________________ Title and Department



_________________________________________________ Thesis Supervisor

_________________________________________________ Title and Department




by Robert Eric Colvard

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in History in the Graduate College of The University of Iowa

May 2013

Thesis Supervisors: Professor Paul Greenough Professor Jeffrey Cox

Copyright by



All Rights Reserved

Graduate College The University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa

CERTIFICATE OF APPROVAL ______________________



This is to certify that the Ph.D. thesis of

Robert Eric Colvard

has been approved by the Examining Committee for the thesis requirement for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in History at the May 2013 graduation.

Thesis Committee: ____________________________________________________ Paul Greenough, Thesis Supervisor

_____________________________________________________ Jeffrey Cox, Thesis Supervisor

_____________________________________________________ Meena Khandelwal

_____________________________________________________ James Giblin

_____________________________________________________ Jennifer Sessions

To Kelli, Kaitlyn and Connor



During my time at the University of Iowa I have benefited from the guidance and

support of many. I would like to thank Paul Greenough and Philip Lutgendorf for

nurturing my interest in India and helping to open doors that made this dissertation

possible. Jeffrey Cox and Paul Greenough helped me navigate this project from its

inception and their guidance has been indispensable.

I want to thank James Giblin, whose encouragement counsel and support

regarding the course project that would, in time, evolve to form this dissertation. Thanks

to Stephen Vlastos, Meena Khandelwal and Jennifer Sessions for sharing their insights

and pointing me in the direction of sources. I also want to thank my Fulbright advisor in

Delhi, Tanika Sarkar for her guidance during the research phase of my project. Thanks to

the archivists at the National Archives and Nehru Library in Delhi, the Delhi branch of

the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Maharashtra State Archives in Bombay,

the British Library, and the staff at the University of Lancaster’s library for their help.

I have benefited from the friendship and guidance of my colleagues in the

department of history. Thank you Brian Donovan, Renee Goethe, Matt Reardon, and

others for the conversations and debates that informed this work.

Last but not least, I want to thank my family. My partner, Kelli Colvard,

encouraged me through the writing process and was an invaluable sounding-board and

editor. I wrote this dissertation with the sounds of my children, Kaitlyn and Connor,

playing in the background. It is hard to imagine this dissertation, or me, for that matter,

without them. Thanks to my mother, Jerilyn Colvard, father, Robert W. Colvard, and

sister, Kelly Colvard-Walter for their unwavering support.



LIST OF TABLES……………………………………………………….…….…….vi

LIST OF FIGURES……………………………………………





Introduction…… ………………………………………… 1


Theorizing Indian Temperance………… ……………………7 ..

Temperance and Gender……… ……………………………22 ..

Chapter Overview…… …………………………………….27 ...







Introduction………………………………………………… 31 ..

Sources and Methodology……………………………………36

Drinking in Western India………………………………… 41 ....

The 1878 Abkari Act…………………………………………50

Responses to the Act…………………………………………52

The Bhandari strike of Western India, 1885-1886…………...61

Abkari Police…………………………………………………69

The Drink Strike…………………………………………… 78 ...



IN INDIAN TEMPERANCE, 1890-1919…………….…...…90

Introduction………………………………………………… 90 ...

Early Stirrings of Indian Temperance……………………… 93 ...

AITA Activism in Britain…………………………………….94

Other British Temperance Organizations in India……………98

Colonial Government Response to Temperance

Activism in Britain………………………………………… 102 ..

Activism in India by the AITA and Others………………….110

Temperance Halls and the WCTU………………………… 124 ..

International Temperance……………………………………133

The INC and the Politics of Purity in Poona………………...134




OF TEMPERANCE IN THE 1920’S…………………….154


Chapter Overview……………………………………… 155 ...

Changing of the Guard in Indian Temperance……………156

The AITA Wager on Dyarchy………………….… …….165 ...

Non-Cooperation and the Khilifat Movement……………169

Non-Cooperation and Anti-Liquor Violence…………… 172 ..

“English-Minded” and “Vernacular-Minded


Battle for “Pussyfoot”…………………………………….188

W.E. “Pussyfoot” Johnson in India………………………198

Indian Nationalism on the Global Temperance Stage……212

Conclusion……………………………………………… 217 ..






Chapter Overview…………………………………… …220 ..

The Drinking Classes………………………….…………221

Civil Disobedience and Drink………………….……… 223 ...

Drinkers’ Agency…………………………………….… 228 ..

Liquor Men………………………………………… …230 .....

Controlling Picketers………………………………….….235

Other Methods: Pickets, Plays, and Pressure Tactics…....236

Bureaucratization of Nationalist Volunteerism………..…247

Nationalism, Temperance, and the PLI…………….….…251

Temperance Alliances Old and New……………….….…254

The Gandhi-Irwin Pact………………………………...…261

Congress-Led Prohibition, 1938-1939…………….…… 264 ..

Conclusion………………………………………….… 279 .....





Table 1.


Sifts in Coalitions Concerned with the Drink Trade 16



Figure 1

Mowhra Still


Figure 2

The Bioscope in Temperance Work, Amritsar


Figure 3

Yashwant Javagi Debir


Figure 4

Feeding the poor in the Compound

of Teynampet Temperance Hall, Madras,

24 th January 1903


Figure 5

Untitled Lantern Slide


Figure 6

Untitled Lantern Slide


Figure 7

Untitled Lantern Slide


Figure 8

Untitled Lantern Slide


Figure 9

Untitled Lantern Slide


Figure 10

Untitled Lantern Slide


Figure 11

Untitled Lantern Slide


Figure 12

India Beware


Figure 13

Arrival at Bankipore


Figure 14

Toddy Palms







The place of alcohol and drinkers in Indian society is a highly contentious issue.

In July of 2012 an article appeared in the widely read Hindu newspaper discussing the

sudden enforcement of long-ignored alcohol laws, vestiges of prohibition laws enacted in

the days of a newly-minted Independent India. Spurred by the resolute Commissioner of

Police, khaki-clad police worked to change Bombay from a bastion of relative social

permissiveness to one where the “traditional values” of India were upheld. Mumbaikar

tipplers, long accustomed to drinking in air-conditioned bars, found themselves under

arrest for lacking a drinker’s permit, a requirement unenforced since prohibition ended in

  • 1973. If Bombay’s bars were suddenly a risky endeavor, its police ensured that drinkers

could not find sanctuary in their own homes. Citizens holding parties with liquor in their

homes “are shocked that the State’s remit runs to entering people’s homes and private

spaces and booking them for offences.” 1

According to the editorialist, many in Bombay had expressed outrage at this

newfound zeal for the enforcement of long-forgotten law, but were met with considerable

resistance. Most of the online responses posted to the editorial argued against the

author’s claim that the alcohol crackdown represented the effort to “impose a moral

code” on Indian citizens. 2 One interlocutor responded,

  • 1 Sidharth Bhatia, "Maximum City's Morality Play," The Hindu, 7th July 2012, 276.

  • 2 Ibid.


One needs to understand that we live in a conservative society and culture and so are the

laws and law enforcement of the country reflects the majority of society. One needs to

respect the culture of people and their moral standards if one wants to live with them.

Everyone is free to exercise their freedom of enjoyment (under law) but not on the

expense of others misery. Don't agree? You are free to move to another country. 3

At the core of this contemporary debate is an assumption of the irreconcilability

of drinking and Indian nationality. The editor insisted that young Indians are angry with

what they see as the imposition of “conservative” values while his respondent makes

some bold assertions about the abstemious nature of Indian national character. For the

latter, India is fundamentally a “conservative society” with laws reflective of that national

character. Drinkers should thus “respect the culture of people and their moral standards.”

Implicit in this statement is the assumption that Indian culture and moral standards of

Indians do not favor alcohol use.

Bombay’s young tipplers are not alone in challenging the national “traditions”

regarding alcohol use. Whether endorsed or proscribed, the use of alcohol is an

important marker of caste identity. Members of high-status castes faced social sanction

for drinking alcohol, a behavior associated with lower castes. 4 Kerala’s low-caste

theyyam dancers challenge Brahmanical conceptions of alcohol through their

performances. In the performance, the dancer is possessed with the spirit of Shiva

teaches an imperious Brahman a lesson about the dignity of all people. “Lord Shiva

made himself smell of meat and drink, and swayed around” as though drunk with “a great

pitcher of toddy under his arm and in his right…a half coconut shell which he used to

3 Anonymous to Maximum City's Morality Play, 15th July, 2012, Response to editorial.

4 Although it is generally the case that upper castes frown on the use of alcohol by their fellows, there are numerous exceptions. For instance, Kshatriyas in military service were expected to drink despite their high status due to the association between alcohol and martial prowess. Bhandaris, on the other hand, were a low-status caste associated with the production of liquor were actually prohibited to drink the liquor they produced. See chapter two.


drink the spirit.” 5 The performance deploys the image of the drunken divinity to make a

claim for the humanity of drinking populations. These contemporary debates about the

place of alcohol in Indian society reveal the continued resistance of drinking Indians to

the narrative of abstention from alcohol as a fundamental national trait.

The prominence of the “liquor question” in Indian public discourse has a long

been closely related to the nationalist movement. Even before the advent of the

nationalist movement, British and American temperance organizations sponsored

temperance lecturers, tasked with the mission to introduce the Western conception of

temperance to the subcontinent and to found new temperance organizations with Indian

leadership and membership. 6 Yet, ideas regarding temperance did not cease to evolve in

India. Indian temperance workers translated Western conceptions of temperance for the

Indian context, one of resistance to imperial rule. Protesting liquor sales was a

particularly effective critique of colonial rule because it was culturally-translatable,

fitting within British understandings of justifiable resistance as “rightful dissent” and

with the Indian idiom of “Dharmic protest.” 7 The moral rectitude of the campaign

against alcohol resonated with many Britons and Indians within both Western and Indian


This dissertation argues that the temperance movement in India helped create and

sustain the rhetorical space within which Indian nationalism grew and flourished. Indian

temperance was a colonial product, one developed through the efforts of Western

  • 5 William Dalrymple, Nine lives : in search of the sacred in modern India, 1st U.S. ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf). 39.

  • 6 See chapter two.

  • 7 Ranajit Guha, "Colonialism in South Asia," in Dominance without Hegemony: history and power in Colonial India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 55.


missionaries, Indian nationalists, and temperance activists. It reveals the emergence of

the “abstemious Indian” as an invented tradition constitutive of Indian national identity.

It demonstrates how the bodies of Indian drinkers, not just women, became symbols of

the Indian nation. Finally, it shows how elites used coercion to enforce this invented

tradition among Indian drinkers.

Nationalist leaders hailed the work of volunteers picketing liquor shops across

India as an expression of unity and Indian-ness. However, the targets of these pickets

were not British administrators but other Indians, liquor traders whose livelihood

depended on drinkers.

Far from being an example of unity and homogeneity, the anti-

liquor campaign actually reveals the highly-contested nature Indian identity and its

relationship to drinking. Because of this, it is unsurprising that nationalists themselves

downplayed this suppression of a national “fragment.” 8 Although temperance was a

powerful rhetorical tool for nationalists, it required nationalists to invent an abstemious

past to ensure a sober and independent future. Drinking Indians had to be shown the

error of their ways.

This suppression began well before independence. In 1939, Indian National

Congress-led provincial governments of India began pilot programs enacting the

prohibition of alcohol. C. Rajagopalachari, or “Rajaji,” a key nationalist leader and

advocate of prohibition, boasted of his cause that “all shades of public opinion in India

(except those actually interested in drink) are agreed to the desirability of Prohibition at

8 Partha Chatterjee, The nation and its fragments : colonial and postcolonial histories, Princeton studies in culture/power/history (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993).


the earliest possible date.” 9 Rajaji’s assessment of the near unanimity of opinion in favor

of prohibition echoed the sentiments of Christian temperance advocates in the 1880’s

who saw Indians as “natural abstainers” due to their “caste, customs, and religious

precepts.” 10

This assumption of unified opinion on the subject of alcohol, despite the

undeniable evidence to the contrary, has persisted. Looking back on the 1920’s and

1930’s, one Congress official on the Prohibition Committee Board recalled that “the mass

movement of nonviolent non-cooperation, spearheaded by the picketing of liquor shops,

was eminently successful and had a spontaneous response from the entire country.” 11

But this assessment begs the question: If “the entire country” viewed the

picketing positively, then why would it be needed at all? Looking back on the pre-

colonial period from 1955, the Government of India’s Prohibition Enquiry Committee

still asserted that “the masses [had] generally remained free from the evil of drink and

drugs;” 12 It was the British who had supposedly introduced alcohol to an historically

9 C. Rajagopalachari, "Dr. Ambedkar and Drink Evil," in C. Rajagopalachari (Delhi: Nehru Memorial Library, 1931).

  • 10 J. Gelson Rev. Gregson, "Drinking Habits among the Natives of India," in British and Colonial Temperance Congress, ed. Frederick Temple (London: National Temperance Publication Depot, 1886).

  • 11 Tek Chand, The Liquor Menace in India (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1972). 15.

  • 12 Government of India, Report of the Prohibition Enquiry Committee 1954-55 (Delhi: Government of India Press, 1955). 4.


abstemious population. 13 Yet the use of numerous types of indigenous alcohol of varying

strengths in the pre-colonial period is well-documented. 14

The curious implication that an anti-liquor campaign was both needed and all but

universally supported persists today. Bipan Chandra notes that the success of the anti-

liquor campaign “was obviously connected with the popular tradition of regarding

abstinence as a virtue and as a symbol of respectability.” 15 The esteem placed on

abstinence was a recent tradition, but not one shared evenly across the population. If

some groups moved away from alcohol in the phenomenon Srinivas described as

“Sanskritization,” other groups proved more resistant. As I will demonstrate below,

many Indians did not conform to this hegemonic notion of abstention from alcohol and

continued drinking despite significant pressure to stop.

This dissertation argues that the notion of alcohol use as fundamentally anathema

to Indian national identity has a specific historical provenance that, far from a timeless

truth, emerged only in the early 20 th century as an “invented tradition.” 16 Abstinence

from alcohol as a supposedly universal value for Indians was born in the crucible of

Indian nationalism and of worldwide activism on the part of progressives who

campaigned globally against the drink “menace.”

  • 13 Abstention from “sensuality,” whether in the form of sex or in drinking alcohol imparts strength and discipline to the individual. This power, associated with Shakti, is then employed in the service of the nation. See Joseph Alter, “"Somatic nationalism: Indian wrestling and militant Hinduism." Modern Asian Studies 28, no. 3 (1994): 557-88.

  • 14 Prasun Chatterjee, "The Lives of Alcohol in Pre-colonial India," The Medieval Journal 8, no. 1 (2005).

  • 15 Bipan Chandra, India's struggle for independence, 1857-1947 ([New Delhi, India]: Viking, 1988). 276.

  • 16 Eric Hobsbawm, "Introduction: Inventing Tradition," in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawn & Terrence Ranger (London: Cambridge, 1983).


Theorizing Indian Temperance

Historians are champions of the particular and are understandably hesitant to the

make generalizations of groups. But any history extending past the biographical depends

on these very generalizations for analysis. Colonialism, and other forms of exploitation

do not introduce dominance and subordination within and among groups as much as they

radically reconfigure it. As Ranajit Guha wrote in Colonialism in South Asia, domination

and subordination are constant social phenomena but the manifestation of this structural

relationship varies dramatically. 17 To begin mapping out patterns of domination and

subordination, some level of essentialization of the groups involved in these patters

becomes necessary.

Categories of people—colonizer and colonized, men and women, Indians and

Britons—are useful analytical devices but their use threatens objective fact with

teleological necessities; colonial institutions and Indian nationalism must be unmasked

while the resistance of subject populations must be found and celebrated. In colonial

history, the use of identity categories is inescapable but it comes at a high cost.

The first histories of colonial India written during British rule tended to place all

peoples into a single continuum of progress with one end marked by stagnation and

decline in and the other marked by the epitome of liberal civil society, Great Britain.

This view of India’s history, championed by such luminaries as James Mill justified

colonial rule, even if criticizing its precise form, as a means to reverse the “decline” of


India. 18 The dichotomous category of colonizer and colonized was fundamental to this

line of analysis.

Nationalist scholars of the mid-20 th century largely adopted this dichotomy of

colonizer and the colonized from their predecessors. 19 These nationalists told the history

of modern India through the lens of Marxism; India could move towards the “universal”

ideal only after shedding the yoke of colonialism and, ironically, emulating the West.

Despite its oversimplification of categories, Nationalist histories were an important

corrective to the previous historiographical errors. Gone was the narrative of Britons on

a civilizing mission to improve the world. 20 This was replaced by one in which elite

nationalists threw off the shackles of colonial oppression through all but universal

collective action on the part of Indians, led by elites. 21 The handful of Indians that did

not fit well within that narrative—princely states, or drink-sellers, for instance—were

written off as reactionary elements and tools of British oppression. 22 However,

explanations for other deviations from the narrative were far more difficult to explain—

  • 18 James Mill, The history of British India, 3 vols. (London,: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1817).

  • 19 Although nationalist historians complicated the picture of colonialism, the political exigencies of nationalism had their influence. As Gyan Prakash writes, nationalist historians like H. C. Raychaudhuri, K. P. Jayaswal, Beni Prasad, R. C. Majumdar, and R. K. Mookerjee traced the origin of the nation-state to ancient India and that “everything good in India…had completely indigenous origins.” See Gyan Prakash, "Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Perspectives from Indian Historiography " Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, no. 2 (1990): 388-89.

  • 20 Although the civilizing mission was largely discredited, Marxist historians of the 1960’s measured the results of colonialism against the ideal of Western political economy. This resulted in the balance-sheet histories of the Cambridge school. See Howard Spodek, "Pluralist Politics in British India: The Cambridge Cluster of Historians of Modern India," American Historical Review 84, no. 3 (1979).

  • 21 See Rajeev Bhargava, "History, Nation and Community: Reflections on Nationalist Historiography of India and Pakistan," Economic and Political Weekly 35, no. 4 (2000).

  • 22 David Hardiman demonstrated the deficiencies of this approach. See David Hardiman, "Baroda: The Structure of a 'Progressive' State," in People, Princes, and Paramount Power: Society and Politics in the Indian Princely States, ed. Robin Jeffrey (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978).


ongoing communal violence, violence against women, and the excesses of modern

nation-state helmed by luminaries of the nationalist movement and their heirs. 23

Marxist historians began telling India’s history through the lens of class, leading

to a much more nuanced view of Indian society before and after independence. Colonial

networks of complicity and resistance cut across the simple category of the colonized but

the category of colonizer remained under-differentiated. 24

Indian historians of the

1960’s made pointed criticisms of colonial rule but these criticisms were couched in

Eurocentric theoretical frameworks, like Marxism itself. Finding the universalizing

claims of Marxism irreconcilable with its European provenance, the subaltern school of

the late 1970’s emerged among leftist historians like Sumit Sarkar and Ranajit Guha.

The subaltern school moved away from Marxist preoccupation with capital, or

colonialism, its “highest stage,” in competition with the working classes.

This move

represented a reconfiguration of both the type, and scale of work that historians could

perform. Looking at different patterns of dominance and subordination often resulted in

looking at smaller patterns of dominance and subordination. Class-based, Eurocentric

divisions were inadequate to explain colonial history. Gender, caste, religion, and social

status had to be seen as equally important categories of analysis, giving birth to subaltern


Since the late 1970’s, but more prominently in the late 1980’s, subaltern studies

emerged to question the assumptions of nationalist and Marxist histories. The

subalternists correctly noted that dichotomous categories of colonizer and colonized did

23 See Ashis Nandy, "Culture, State and the Rediscovery of Indian Politics," Economic and Polical Weekly 19, no. 49 (1984).

24 R. Palme Dutt, India to-day (London,: V. Gollancz, ltd., 1940).


not adequately reflect the much more complicated historical past, and that other

categories such as class, gender, and caste did not lose their salience during, or after,

British rule. Colonialism, for all its countless ill effects, did not introduce domination

and subordination to the subcontinent; it did, however, dramatically reconfigure social

conflict among Indians. Nationalists, thus, did not represent a complete break with

colonial domination. Ironically, their very success in winning independence was based

on a mimetic response to empire, resulting in a violent, modern Indian state doomed to

repeat its sins as a “derivative” of colonialism. 25

Subaltern studies has also moved towards a more philosophical than source-

driven approach to colonialism. 26 Late subaltern studies has been largely preoccupied

with unmasking the Indian state and much of Indian political thought to reveal their

provenance in the “West.” Partha Chatterjee, for instance, notes that nationalism was

“entirely a product of the political history of Europe;” yet what could be more derivative

of nationalism than assigning nationality to an idea? 27 Chatterjee goes on to state that

although the “East” has “succumbed” to the economics and state-supremacy of the

“West,” the internal, spiritual life of “the East” continues to bear the “essential marks of

cultural identity.” 28 With “The East” as a bastion of “internal life” and spirituality,

25 Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (Tokyo: United Nations University, 1986). See also Nandy, "Culture, State and the Rediscovery of Indian Politics."

  • 26 Sumit Sarkar distinguishes between early and late subaltern studies. “The early essays of Ranajit Guha in Subaltern Studies” endeavored to “’rectify the elite bias,’ often accompanied by economistic assumptions common to…conventional-Marxist readings of modern Indian history.” He contrasts this with late subaltern studies, marked by, “the counterposing of reified notions of ‘community’ or ‘fragment,’ alternatively or sometimes in unison, against [the] generalized category of ‘modern’ nation-state as the embodiment of Western cultural domination.” See Sumit Sarkar, Writing social history (Delhi ; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 85, 93.

  • 27 Chatterjee, The nation and its fragments : colonial and postcolonial histories: 4.

  • 28 Ibid., 6.


Chatterjee’s line of analysis essentializing the West and East shares much with the

orientalist scholarship the Edward Said so famously critiqued. 29

This dissertation is inspired by the work of subaltern studies, particularly in the

oeuvre of the 1980’s, when the subaltern school set about deconstructing the

hagiographical excesses of nationalist historians. The meanings associated with the use

of alcohol in the nationalist period, particularly by low-status Indians, cannot be

explained through Western frameworks alone. These meanings should not be reduced to

the logic of economics nor to presentist notions that drunkenness itself is undesirable.

That is to say, this dissertation takes drinking, or abstaining, as fact and avoids making

implied judgments that echo the value that elite Europeans and Indians place on sobriety.

Early subalternists of the 1980’s noted that patterns of domination and

subordination had long been aspects of the nationalist movement. Ironically, it was in

this observation that the subalternists echoed a key element of the Cambridge school’s

take on Indian historiography, that nationalist leaders were, themselves, elites whose self-

interest contributed to the form and rhetorical content of nationalist resistance to colonial

rule. 30 The strength of the early subaltern school was its recognition that the category of

“the colonized” elides equally important relations of domination and subordination based

on gender, caste-affiliation, class, and religion within that category.

29 For Said, a key aspect of orientalism, the construction of the East in the Western mind, was the notion that the East was its “primitivity” and “spirituality.” Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). 150.

30 Both the Subaltern and Cambridge schools critique the motives of nationalists, but the latter’s Marxist framework still looks to Eurocentric models to evaluate aspects of colonialism as good or bad. It was precisely so that Indian history could be judged within Indian frames that the Subaltern School was formed.


One objection to positioning my dissertation as belonging within the subaltern

school is that the latter is anti-national in methodology; for many subalternists, good

history is typified by an attempt to lift the veil of nation obscuring the truth of the local. 31

That is to say, just examining the category of nation leads to the omission of

microhistories of countless “fragments” that more accurately represent the historical past.

This dissertation is a history of the nation, but one that recognizes its unevenness and the

forms of coercion fundamental to its construction. The nation itself may be an

abstraction, but one that has a significant impact on culture and meaning.

Microhistories ease the epistemological anxieties of researchers through sleight of

hand. Indeed, they avoid the pitfall of generalizing events in a given locality to a larger

region. Yet the only way microhistories hold relevance in academia is due to their

applicability—stated or implied—to larger, more diverse populations. That is to say, the

authors of microhistories leave it to the individual reader to generalize their conclusions.

Indeed, the only way microhistories can hold more than antiquarian interest is if their

conclusions are more widely applicable. In this sense, leaving it to the reader to

generalize findings does more to hide epistemological problems than it does to solve

them. This dissertation examines the broad theme of alcohol in during the very period

when the Indian nation was defined. As such, it intentionally moves away from the

specific to the general, echoing the very historical process it seeks to examine.

31 See Chatterjee, The nation and its fragments : colonial and postcolonial histories.


A second problem with the more recent work of the subaltern school lies in its

quest to locate examples of resistance among subordinated groups. 32 Ranajit Guha’s

“Chandra’s Death” is among the most blatant of these examples in which the main

subject of the piece, a low-caste woman, is given the choice to either abort her child or

kill herself. Chandra chooses the second of the two options provided by the cruel, high-

caste biological father of the child. Guha describes Chandra’s suicide as an “act of

resistance against patriarchal authority.” 33 Yet how can Chandra’s suicide be considered

resistance if it was one of the two options given by her oppressor? Lionizing resistance

among subordinated groups in some ways represents another form of epistemological

violence. It implies that resistance is heroic and obedience mundane. Yet obedience to

oppressors can be heroic in its own right. The hard-scrabble struggle to survive and, in

many cases, maintain families, while operating within grossly unjust economic and social

systems is no small achievement. This dissertation endeavors to neither lionize resistance

nor praise passivity but to explain how the act of drinking alcohol fit within larger

dynamics of dominance and subordination.

This dissertation stakes out a middle ground between large-scale analyses of the

Cambridge School and the micro-histories of the Subaltern School. Both approaches are

theoretically robust and academically useful; however, any attempt to delineate a

movement as complex and heterogenous as Temperance must necessarily draw on both

approaches (and many others) to have any chance of success. It is crucial to let the

32 For examples of this, see Ashis Nandy, The romance of the state and the fate of dissent in the tropics (New Delhi ; Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). See also Chatterjee, The nation and its fragments : colonial and postcolonial histories.

33 Ranajit Guha, "Chandra's Death," in Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society, ed. Ranajit Guha (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), 162.


conflicts we study determine the scope of our analytic categories. Since the conflict

regarding alcohol existed on a national scale, an examination of temperance in India must

approximate that scale

The chapters that follow include several examples of resistance by the drinking

classes to temperance and nationalist workers. However, I want to avoid the implied

assumption that resistance is any more important to understanding the past than is

compliance. To argue otherwise is to negate the efforts of low-status peoples who

engaged in the struggle to survive amid grinding poverty and social injustice. Although

people of all classes drank alcohol, it was the poor who were singled out for intervention,

first through moral suasion and later through direct coercion. Drinkers occasionally

engaged in open resistance against those seeking to alter their drinking habits, most

notably in response to the 1878 Abkari Act. 34 Doubtless, there were myriad acts of

resistance against temperance reformers and nationalists that are not recorded in the

archive since the safest way to continue drinking was surreptitiously. Nevertheless, I

take it as a given that both resistance and acquiescence are fundamental to the subaltern

experience and that the former is not necessarily more noble than the latter.

I also want to avoid the pitfalls of the Cambridge school, the most important of

which is the implication that Indian nationalism was defined by elites with motives little

better than those of the colonizers themselves. This conclusion, one shared by both the

Cambridge school and the Subaltern school, goes some way to explaining the vitriol of

the latter’s attack on the former. Yet it also does a disservice to nationalists themselves,

34 See chapter two.


who managed the impressive feat of wresting the “jewel of the crown” from Britain. The

Indian nationalist movement should not and cannot be reduced to a legacy of failure with

regard to the elimination of internal social hierarchies. That is to say, independence did

not mean social revolution—it rarely does.

Although this dissertation depends on rough categorization for analysis, it also

recognizes that the constituency of categories of people and the meanings ascribed to

them is in constant flux. Social conflict leads to numerous cleavages within a given

population which themselves are hierarchal and change over time. 35 The nation is an

imagined community, “constructed around…emotionally charged norms and

values…that serve as boundary markers [for] the collectivity.” 36 Issues related to

morality tend to be particularly polarizing. 37 Controversy regarding alcohol was both a

moral and political problem, creating cross-cutting allegiances that changed significantly

over the 60 year period this dissertation examines. The chart below reveals some of these


  • 35 Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, "Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments," in Oxford readings in politics and government, ed. Peter Mair (Oxford England ; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 92-93.

  • 36 Jose & Matthias vom Hau Itzigsohn, "Unfinished Imagined Communities: States, Social Movements, and Nationalism in Latin America," Theory and Society 35, no. 2 (2006): 196. See also Benedict Anderson, Imagined communities : reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (London: Verso,


  • 37 Rokkan, "Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments."


Table 1: Sifts in Coalitions Concerned with the Drink Trade



Groups and Organizations in Favor of

Groups and Organizations in Favor of

increased access to alcohol:

Increased Access to Alcohol:

Elite Indian Nationalists, e.g. D.E. Waccha

Low-caste drinkers

Drink sellers, toddy-tree owners, drinkers,



British Government of India 38

Some castes, e.g. Bhandaris, Kolis, Kunbis,


The Anglo-Indian Temperance Association

Groups and Organizations in Favor of reduced

Groups and Organizations in Favor of

access to alcohol:

Decreased Access to Alcohol:

British Government of India 39

Indian-controlled elements of the

British Parliament

Government of India

Some missionaries

Indian Nationalists of all stripes

British and American temperance workers

Indian women

abroad and living in India

Indian Temperance Organizations

High-caste Hindu organizations such as the

International Temperance

Indian National Social Conference


Some missionaries

Caste organizations

Hindu/Muslim Social Orgs

Indian National Congress

Social Service Organizations

38 In 1937, the Indian National Congress decided to contest local and provincial elections, resulting in an influx of nationalist Indians to government posts. However, most key elements of government remained under the control of British administrators and their allies. See chapter four for more information.

39 As I explain in chapter two, the Government of India expressed its desire to raise the maximum revenue possible from drink sales while minimizing illicit alcohol production. In the 1890’s, even those administrators who favored temperance more broadly accepted the inevitability of alcohol use in India and thus endorsed access to alcohol.


As the table above shows, a broad coalition of Indians and Britons in the late 19 th century

believed that increased access to alcohol, particularly for the poor, was ideal. Some early

nationalists even criticized the Government of India for curtailing access to drink for the

poor. 40 But by the 1930’s the only people who publically favored the sale of alcohol

were drinkers, drink-sellers, and the British Government of India. Indian nationalism

created a cleavage in opinion regarding drink, one that forced a bipolarity on the

question, echoing that of independence itself.

Conflict largely determines the relevance of identity markers for the individual

and the group. This dynamism results in slippery terminology. Many non-Indian

temperance activists working in India could be justifiably placed in the simple category

of “colonizer.” Many of them benefited in some way from colonial rule, even as the

vocally criticized it. Yet this criticism placed them in close alliance with Indian

nationalists. In this case, the conflict between temperance workers and colonial

administrators renders the dichotomy of colonizer/colonized inadequate. 41 Similarly,

there were numerous Indians working for the colonial state who expressed anxiety about

moves towards independence and anti-alcohol agitation in general. In these cases, neither

the category of colonizer nor colonized seems to fit neatly.

This dissertation assumes the existence of categories such as those above but

insists on their fluidity and heterogeneity. For instance, the social meaning category of

“drink sellers” in the 1890’s (chapter two) bears little resemblance to that same category

  • 40 See chapter two.

  • 41 Historians examining the work of missionaries in India have done much to show the inadequacy of simple, dichotomous categories. See Brian Stanley, The Bible and the flag : Protestant missions and British imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1990)., A. N. Porter, Religion versus empire? : British Protestant missionaries and overseas expansion, 1700-1914 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). and Jeffrey Cox, Imperial fault lines : Christianity and colonial power in India, 1818-1940 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002).


in the 1920’s and 1930’s by which time nationalism had inscribed a very different

meaning on the occupation. These changes in the meaning and constituencies of

categories are fundamental to analysis of drink in the period between 1880 and 1940.

That sixty years began with an India that many could scarcely imagine under its own flag

and ended with a sophisticated and massively supported nationalist movement on the

cusp of independence; it is unsurprising that analytical categories used in history changed

during that time.

Conflict itself is what gives both internal identity markers and external analytical

categorization its relevance. As a result, a term like “colonial administrators” should not

necessarily be presumed to exclude Indians. Some Indian colonial administrators, like

Manekshah Taleyarkhan, very much supported liquor sales while some British colonial

administrators seemed to favor policies endorsed by temperance activists. 42 Similarly,

although low-status caste-groups were more likely to drink, many of them also formed

temperance and abstention societies of their own. There is always an exception to the

rule, but analysis requires some degree of categorization, and categorization itself

sacrifices some measure of truth on the altar of understanding.

Another issue, closely related to that of categorization, relates to the choice of

alcohol, the discourse surrounding it as an historical subject. In other words, why study

alcohol but not other intoxicating drugs? The use of drugs like charas (cannabis) and

afeem (opium) was widespread, legal, and taxed by the colonial government.


most of the temperance organizations operating in India crusaded against the use of these

and other substances, including ether. But unlike other intoxicating substances, alcohol

remained the top priority of temperance activists. The official journals and magazines of

42 See chapter five.


temperance organizations may have mentioned other intoxicating substances but they

were suffused with articles arguing for the prevention of alcohol use.

Alcohol had other properties making it unique among the intoxicating substances

in use in India that drew the attention of temperance reformers and nationalists. The

scale of alcohol production was unmatched by that of other intoxicating substances.

Also, as I will demonstrate in chapter two, alcohol itself became all but synonymous with

British national character in colonial India. As one Indian critic noted, “water is about

the last thing the average Britisher thinks of for a beverage. Ale and beer and stout are

the A B C of his alphabet of bibacity.” 43 Gandhi agreed, stating that “European nations

have a weakness for intoxicating drinks” but among them the British had a particularly

“tremendous” problem. 44

Secondly, as I will argue in chapter two, British administrators dramatically

reconfigured the drink-scape of India, increasing the potency of liquor in India and

contributing to growing association between alcohol use and British rule. Although

alcohol use had long been used by numerous communities in the Early Modern India, the

drinking habits of Indians changed under British rule. British policies favored some

types of alcohol over others and some “types” of drinkers over others. Tax policy

favored the consumption of foreign liquor and Indian-made foreign liquor over more

traditional Indian alcoholic beverages like toddy, mowhra, and arrack or “country

  • 43 B.M. Malabari, "On British Drinking Customs," Abkari: The Quarterly Organ of the Anglo-Indian Temperance Association I, no. 26 (1896).

  • 44 Frederick Grubb, "M.K. Gandhi on Indian Temperance," Abkari: The Quarterly Organ of the Anglo- Indian Temperance Association I, no. 108 (1917).


liquor.” 45 As a result, poor populations habituated to the use of alcohol were encouraged

by tax policy to drink foreign liquors containing much higher alcohol concentration than

traditional Indian drinks. Liquor became stronger by volume and sellers adopted the

aesthetic look of European liquor for their bottles and labels. Just as Indian nationalism

began to emerge, drinking became increasingly associated with British rule and British

culture. The form of alcohol had changed in a way that mirrored European styles and the

taxes placed upon its use and sale provided large revenues to the colonial state. Colonial

rule dramatically changed India’s drink-scape, leading to a growing association between

alcohol use and British rule.

The profligate drinking habits of Europeans cemented this association between

alcohol and foreign-ness. Although low-status populations drank publically, high-status

Indians drank liquor in private. British colonial officials were another matter altogether.

While Britons in India shied away from other intoxicating substances, the public

consumption of alcohol remained fundamental to Anglo-Indian life. The drinking

proclivities of high-status British officials shocked their Indian subordinates.

Low status

Europeans did little to improve the reputation of whites with regard to drinking. Fischer-

Tine has shown that arrests for European drunkards were far out of proportion to their

share of the population and that “many Indians were disgusted by the sight of drunken

and riotous Europeans.” 46

45 Foreign liquor referred to types of alcohol with European provenance like brandy and whiskey. “Indian made foreign liquor” referred to any European style alcohol made in India. See chapter two for a more detailed discussion of alcohol varieties.

46 Harald Fischer-Tine, Low and Licentious Europeans: Race, Class and 'White Subalternity' in Colonial India, ed. Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Peter Cain, Mark Harrison and Michael Worboys, New Perspectives in South Asian History (New Delhi: Black Swan, 2010). 154.


British people of all stripes living in India were closely associated with the use of

alcohol in a variety of social settings, many of which did not have clear correlations with

Indian drinking customs. Moreover, Indian drinking habits did appear to be moving

closer to the style of Europeans, drinking the same kinds of beverages. In Europe and the

United States temperance organizations fought against many types of intoxicating

substances but alcohol received the most attention. When those organizations branched

out to India, the prominence given alcohol in their crusade remained unchanged.


temperance organizations affiliated with their European and American counterparts

inherited this preoccupation with alcohol over other addictive substances. Moreover, the

close association between the British, their rule, and the use of alcohol in India made it

particularly germane to the nationalist movement.

Anti-alcohol agitation was a key aspect of each of the three great social

movements of India’s freedom struggle—the Swadeshi movement, Non-cooperation, and

Civil Disobedience. Yet despite the extremely close relationship between Indian

nationalism and anti-alcohol agitation, they were not entirely congruent. That is to say,

temperance agitation and nationalism were not the same movement even if they shared

large numbers of volunteers, methods for agitation, and complaints against the colonial


Maintaining a distinction between the two movements was as important for some

activists as blurring the lines between the two was for others. During the Indian freedom

struggle, anti-alcohol activism was a liminal rhetorical space, allowing for the expression

of Western moral progressivism in the idiom of Indian anti-colonial politics and vice

versa. For some operating within this space, the distinction did not exist, for others, that


distinction meant everything.

Furthermore, temperance reform provided a small degree

of security for increasingly radical nationalists who found allies among the European and

American moralists who might otherwise have had much less in common with Indian


Temperance and Gender

My original conception of this project included a significant focus on the

involvement of Indian women with regard to the liquor question. I suspected that I might

find a great deal of precedent for Larsson’s treatment of the contemporary women-led

movement against alcohol in Andhra Pradesh. 47 Low caste women led this successful

movement beginning in 1992, culminating with the total prohibition of potable alcohol in

the state. I expected to find more data regarding the participation of Indian women in

temperance struggles but found little. The surviving documentation of temperance

organizations and the nationalist organizations share in common the suppression of

women’s voices. Expanding my source base to discover more detail regarding the nature

of participation in temperance activities of the early 20 th century by Indian women,

particularly non-elites, is a key goal I hope to accomplish when I am able to return to


It is clear from archival evidence that women participated in nationalist politics,

particularly liquor picketing from the 1920’s through 1930’s with uneven and intermittent

approval from male nationalist leaders. The chapters below will demonstrate that the

temperance movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s was a fundamentally nationalist

47 Marie-Louise Larsson, 'When Women Unite!': The Making of the Anti-Liquor Movement in Andhra Pradesh, India (Stockholm: Stockholm Universitet, 2006).


endeavor. As Larsson writes, the nationalist context of the Indian temperance movement

diverted criticism, “from the Hindu male to the Western colonizer, providing a space for

women in the nationalist struggle.” 48 This new public platform for female activism came

at a cost.

The gravitas of Indian nationalism in the early 20 th century meant that temperance

rhetoric was preoccupied with the question of Indian independence. Nationalism

informed the rhetoric and cross-cutting allegiances of the temperance movement. Indian

women, as “representatives of the domestic sphere” could fight colonialism publically on

its behalf, but this endorsement resulted in the subsumption of temperance within

nationalism. 49

This is very different from contemporary Indian temperance activism

which grew out of a cooperative effort between educated feminists and peasant women. 50

One result of this association between temperance and nationalism is that highly

gendered motivations for female temperance activism in the early 20 th century are

obscured by overarching questions of national sovereignty.

Although evidence regarding the participation of low-status women in

contemporary temperance movements is well-documented, little evidence survives

documenting their activities during nationalist period. A handful of works exist on elite

female nationalists, often the close relations of nationalist leaders. The problem,

however, is that the biographies of elite women shed little light on how large masses of

women of intermediate and lower social status related to nationalism and how that

  • 48 Ibid., 37.

  • 49 Ibid., 39.

  • 50 Ibid.


relationship was mediated by patriarchy and resistance. 51 Large numbers of women from

the peasantry and the working class, including prostitutes…took part in the various

[nationalist] struggles directly.” 52 Male nationalists, however, did not envision an

independent India that revolutionized extant gender dynamics. That is to say, the

independent India they fought for was one that would be administered by men for the

good of Indian women. As a result, records kept by nationalists of their efforts during the

freedom movement elide gendered differences precisely because Indian males placed

themselves as representatives for Indian women. The goals of female Indian temperance

activists in the nationalist period were not the same as those of male Indian temperance

activists, but the nature of these differences is difficult to discern due to the patriarchal

bias of the archives themselves.

This dissertation recognizes “the subjectivity of women and their ability to create

alternative spaces and modes of expressions that have been ignored or misrepresented. 53

Indian women participated in anti-alcohol agitation associated with the nationalist

movement both as symbols and as actors. Protesting alcohol fit well with the national

ideal for women as defenders of the home, untainted by the “profane activities of the

material world.” 54

Alcohol, by the 1910’s was increasingly linked with British rule. 55

  • 51 Radha Kumar, The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women's Rights and Feminism in India, 1800-1990 (Delhi: Kali for Women, 1993). 1.

  • 52 Leela Kasturi and Vina Mazumdar, Women and Indian nationalism (Vikas Publishing House, 1994). 2.

  • 53 Barbara Ramusack, "From Symbol to Diversity: The Historical Literature on Women in India," South Asia Research 10, no. 2 (1990): 151-52.

  • 54 Partha Chatterjee, "Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India," American Ethnologist 16, no. 4 (1989): 624.

  • 55 See chapter three.


Unlike other “profane activities” associated with the bazaar, alcohol could enter the

home. It represented malevolent force from outside the home or, bahir, that Indian

women wished to remove from the homes like the “dirt” of outside contaminants. 56

Yet the patriarchal bias of the archives yields little evidence for how, precisely,

women precipitated and participated in the struggle against alcohol. Archival evidence

refracts history itself, bending narratives of the past to conform to normative patterns of

domination and subordination typifying its original context. Archives reflect the “needs

and desires of its creators.” 57

Colonial administrators, elite Indian nationalists, and

conservative social reform organizations were not known for their progressive ideas

regarding the role women in the public sphere. As a result, archival evidence from the

colonial government, nationalist groups, and temperance organizations provides few hints

regarding the precise role that Indian women played in the temperance movement.

In contrast, British and American women involved with the Indian temperance

movement are very well-documented. Western women found in colonial India a place

where they could participate in this competition, acting in ways that might have been

“above their sex” in their home countries. 58

British and American activists “spoke for”

  • 56 For Chakrabarty, the bazaar is a metaphor for the outside, or bahir more generally. Alcohol applies here as a product of the bazaar as much as the “feces” and “prostitution” that Chakrabarty associates with it. See Dipesh Chakrabarty, "Of Garbage, Modernity and the Citizen's Gaze," Economic and Political Weekly 27, no. 10/11 (1992): 543.

  • 57 Joan M. and Terry Cook Schwartz, "Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory," Archival Science 2(2002): 2.

  • 58 Aelfrida Tillyard, Agnes E. Slack: Two Hundred Thousand Miles Travel for Temperance in Four Continents (Cambridge, England: W. Heffer & Sons Ltd, 1926), Biography. 95.


Indian women, viewing this role as a “logical ‘white woman’s burden.’” 59 Middle class

American and British women found in “concern for the colonized” a natural expansion of

social reform movements already in place at home, of which, temperance was among the

most popular. 60

By virtue of India’s colonial context British and American female temperance

activists could, and did, act as vocal leaders. Anxious approval on the part of Indian

nationalists and colonial administrators of western women working for the moral uplift of

Indians created a public space for white women in India that did not exist on the same

scale for Indian women. A fundamental aspect of colonialism in India was the

competition between Indian men and British men to justify their power—or aspirations

toward it—on the basis of their ability to “protect” Indian women. 61 White women could

participate in that competition while Indian women, as subjects in need of “protection,”

could not.

  • 59 Antoinette M. Burton, Burdens of history : British feminists, Indian women, and imperial culture, 1865-

    • 1915 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1994). 211.

      • 60 Kumari Jayawardena, The white woman's other burden : Western women and South Asia during British colonial rule (New York: Routledge, 1995). 66.

      • 61 Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial masculinity : the 'manly Englishman' and the 'effeminate Bengali' in the late nineteenth century (Manchester: Manchester University Press; Distributed exclusively in the USA and Canada by St. Martin's Press, 1995). 159, 43.


Chapter Overview

The second chapter corrects the notion that Indians have always abstained from

the use of alcoholic beverages. I focus on public responses to the Bombay Presidency’s

controversial 1878 Abkari Act, which dramatically reconfigured extant laws regulating

the production and sale of alcohol. So contentious was this act that it provoked two

large-scale movements. The first of these was a labor strike in which an entire caste that

was organized around the production of toddy, an alcoholic beverage produced from

palm juice, refused to carry on its hereditary trade unless taxes were reduced to restore

their occupation to profitability. The second was a large scale drink strike from 1886-

1890 in which entire villages and castes long associated with the use of alcohol

collectively refused to purchase drink until such time that it was made more affordable

and accessible. This period, which corresponds to the earliest stages of politically

organized nationalism, is marked by the relative silence of Indian nationalists on the

subject of alcohol. This chapter ultimately suggests that the Indian nation, one

constituted of both elites and the subaltern drinking populations, had not yet come into

being. Sources for this chapter include vernacular newspapers, private government

correspondence, petitions, and government reports collected from the Maharashtra State

Archive, the British Library’s Oriental Office, and India’s National Archives.

The third chapter examines the personal relationships between British temperance

activists and early Nationalists from the 1890’s through 1920, a period that saw the

formation of hundreds of temperance organizations across India. Temperance

organizations founded by crusaders such as W.S. Caine and Thomas Evans of the Anglo-

Indian Temperance Association (AITA) would, by the 1920’s, become hotbeds of


nationalist agitation. The moral imperative espoused by these groups to halt drinking in

India became indistinguishable from the political imperative to separate India from

Britain. This chapter argues that the diffuse network of AITA-affiliated temperance

organizations provided widespread and fairly comprehensive institutional support for the

burgeoning nationalist movement, arguably more so than did the nascent Indian National

Congress. Primary sources for this chapter are drawn from correspondence among

British and Indian temperance activists along with government reports and sources

published by both Indian and British temperance organizations found at the British

Library, Delhi’s National Archives, the Maharashtra State Archives in Mumbai and the

Livesay Collection at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), Preston, UK.

Chapter four addresses a shift in the leadership of Indian temperance activism

from British reformers to Indian nationalists. The Indian public’s association of British

rule and drunkenness was so marked by the 1920’s that British temperance activists, no

matter how well-intended, could no longer take the lead in criticizing Government of

India alcohol policies. British, and increasingly American, temperance activists found

their own movement dwarfed within the larger nationalist movement being led by

Indians. From the 1920’s temperance activism was predicated on the assumption that the

colonial Government of India would not, or possibly could not, fight drunkenness. With

the advent of the non-cooperation movement, nationalists focused on winning the support

of Indians of all classes rather than relying constitutional reform by recalcitrant colonial

administrators. Britain, they reasoned, was itself too poisoned with drink to practice

moral governance in India. Sources for this chapter are drawn from government


correspondence, the records and publications of temperance organizations, press reports

and private papers found at collections in New Delhi, London, and at UCLAN.

Chapter five addresses two key historical moments in the history of Indian

temperance agitation—the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930-1931 and the brief

period of responsible Congress Governments of 1938-39. The INC developed a

comprehensive plan to drive drinking Indians (primarily the poor) into the fold of the

broader nationalist movement. To that end, moral suasion, surveillance, and

(unofficially) outright harassment of drinkers and drink sellers were key aspects of Civil

Disobedience. Congress leaders increasingly viewed drinkers as standing outside the

nationalist movement. The only way to unite the Indian nation in the fight for freedom

was to eliminate the pollution of drink from the body politic. The 1930’s witnessed a

shift in tactics from one of suasion to one of fighting criminality, with some unfortunate

consequences for drinkers. Sources for this section are drawn from Delhi’s National

Archives, a private temperance archive held by the Delhi branch of the Women’s

Christian Temperance Union, London’s Wellcome Library and private papers held by the

Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Library in Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh State Archive in


In the concluding chapter I will explore the implications of the above chapters,

suggesting that the putative immorality of the colonial state was the central issue

throughout the nationalist movement; having cast colonial rule as a source of moral

pollution, Indian nationalists positioned independence as a point of departure rather than

an end itself. The end of the freedom movement was to ensure the moral purity of a

“race,” now typified by its temperance.

Nationalists were obliged to a higher moral


authority, one that necessarily discounted the right of individuals (particularly the poor)

to make their own choices. The only task remaining for nationalists on the cusp of

freedom was to make real the largely invented Abstemious Indian.






Temperance movements across the globe have waned from the early 19 th century

from the United States to Japan. In some countries like the United States and Norway,

the anti-alcohol agitation that successfully witnessed the prohibition of alcohol (albeit for

a short time) has seen temperance rhetoric all but vanish from the public consciousness.

Yet in India this is not the case. Access to alcohol has remained controversial. Each

gender, class, and locality is a site of an active, turbulent discussion of who, if anyone,

should be allowed to drink and under what conditions.

When the subject of alcohol is taken up in national histories of India, there is a

tendency to acknowledge its centrality in the context of the freedom struggle. Among

these, India’s Struggle for Independence, 1857-1947, is among the most popular in

India. 62 With over a million copies sold since its initial publication in 1999, the authors

suggest a natural confluence of ideology and political activism in the case of nationalism

and temperance agitation. Bipan Chandra and his co-authors merely continue a trend in

the historiography of colonial India that assumes Indian nationalism was the natural

ideological home for temperance agitation. The historical peculiarities leading to this

wedding of the nationalist and temperance movements go largely unexamined.

This dissertation argues that identifying the target audience for late 19 th century

anti-alcohol agitation is a necessary precondition for understanding the intentions and

62 Chandra, India's struggle for independence, 1857-1947.


ramifications of the temperance movement. That is to say, who was drinking in India

from the late 19 th century through independence and why was it important? These

questions are more difficult to answer than one might suspect.

The assumption posited

by activists, that Indians historically eschewed drink, depended as much on defining

Indians as much as it did on defining alcohol habits.

Indian, European and American temperance activists all agreed that the

subcontinent had a historically abstemious population. They correctly noted that the use

of alcohol by Brahmins was frowned upon in the Sastras 63 and even more strictly

forbidden in the Quran. 64 As will become abundantly clear in subsequent chapters,

temperance advocates as diverse as American evangelical missionaries and Arya

Samajists found in these religious proscriptions a powerful rhetorical tool that established

prohibition as a return to an imagined period of temperance and moral rectitude rather

than a radical departure.

While these religious appeals by heartfelt temperance advocates contain an

element of scriptural truth, they are far from a comprehensive estimation of alcohol use in

India more generally. However noble their efforts may have been, temperance advocates

were far from accurate in their assumption that the habits of a given community are

  • 63 The Rg Veda (Rg VII 86.6) distinguishes the use of alcohol from that of soma, an intoxicant that may have been hallucinogenic. Although Brahmans could use soma, alcohol was forbidden. These proscriptions applied only to Brahmans. There was some debate with regard to whether these proscriptions applied to Brahman women in the Vedic Era (Manu XI 95). One exception to preoccupation with Brahman drinking habits alone is a mention of Kingly alcohol use (Manu VII 47-52). See Kane, P.V., History of the Dharmasasthra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law). Government Oriental Series. 1974, Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 792-799.

  • 64 The Quran’s proscriptions against alcohol use are more universal. Alcohol is referred to as an abomination and the work of Satan (2:219, 5:90). Alcohol is placed in the same category as the use of idols. In the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, a minority of Muslims, particularly millworkers and other laborers, drank despite this universal proscription. But since this proscription was universal, alcohol use by Muslims was less common than for non-Brahman Hindus.


determined by the proscriptions of religious texts. Although some important Hindu texts

forbid alcohol use, their meaning for the faithful varied according to social status, gender,

and region. 65

Hinduism, like all religions, is a living tradition that evolves in dialogue

with its historical context. Orthodoxy continually negotiates with the forces of change

which can just as easily be conservative in nature as they are radical. All this is to say

that the emphasis often placed upon the Vedas as the authoritative text in terms of its

injunctions against alcohol use must be kept in perspective.

Most avowed temperance and prohibition activists were either members of, or

significantly influenced by the work of Christian missionaries and the indigenous

reformist responses to them. Similarly, orientalist researchers like Max Mueller and

others found in India analogues to the Christian Bible- the Vedas and the Quran. The

work of these orientalists led to western conceptions of Indian religions overdetermined

by religious texts. The great significance assigned to Indian religious scriptures

reverberated in Western temperance activism, a discourse firmly embedded in the

feminist progressivism of the 19 th century. 66 But the living traditions of the vast majority

of India’s population cannot be derived exclusively from a reading of key religious texts,

regardless of their scriptural importance. Until the late 19 th century, temperance or

abstention from alcohol was never a primary concern, even for the vast majority of

65 O'Hanlon, R., Caste, conflict, and ideology : Mahatma Jotirao Phule and low caste protest in nineteenth- century western India. 1985, Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York: Cambridge University Press. xiii, 326 p.

66 Three great causes of feminists from the early 19 th century to the mid-20 th century were the abolition of slavery, suffrage and temperance. Christine Stansell, The feminist promise : 1792 to the present, 1st ed. (New York: Modern Library). Ian R. Tyrrell, Woman's world/Woman's empire : the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in international perspective, 1800-1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Caronina Press, 1991). And Mariana Valverde, ""Racial Poison": Drink, Male Vice, and Degeneration in First Wave Feminism," in Women's Suffrage in the British Empire, ed. Ian Christopher Fletcher, Laura E. Nym Mayhall & Philippa Levine (New York: Routledge, 2000).


Indians practicing that “old time religion.” 67 Furthermore, Brahmins long viewed

injunctions in the Vedas against the use of alcohol as applying solely to their caste and

not others. The other varnas were not held to the same standard of ‘purity’ that the

Brahmans (publicly) imposed upon themselves. Abstention from alcohol for Brahmins

was more preserve than proscription--evidence of purity and high social status.

The fact that abstention from alcohol was a defining characteristic of the twice-

born castes made communal drink habits important social markers. The noted

anthropologist, Srinivas, observed abstention from alcohol as one of the key shifts among

non-Brahmin castes, identifying their move towards the standards of purity associated

with higher social groups as sanskritization. 68 Interestingly, upward communal mobility

associated with sanskritization does not feature prominently in late 19 th century Western

India. 69 As I will show below, those communities that proscribed drink were far more

  • 67 Lutgendorf describes the practice of Hinduism from the late 19 th century as “old time religion.” He writes,, “It was a necessarily vague label, as it had to be applied to vast numbers of people whose beliefs and practices displayed great variation; what was important about it was that it excluded others.” See Lutgendorf, Philip. The Life of a Text: Performing the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, 363.

  • 68 Srinivas argued that castes of the sudra varna and tribal groups preceded claims to higher positions in caste hierarchy by changes in social behavior. These changes most typically included an emulation of some public behavior of the local dominant caste—often Brahmans but not always so. The most visible of these changes included moves towards vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol. Although Srinivas cited examples of sankritization dating back to the 12 th century, his work focused on contemporary groups in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He suggests that sanskritization was not new but that it had accelerated since the colonial era. See: Srinivas, Mysore Narasimhachar. Caste in Modern India, and Other Essays. Bombay, New York,: Asia Pub. House, 1962; Srinivas, M. N. The Oxford India Srinivas. New Delhi ; New York:

Oxford University Press, 2009.M. N. Srinivas, The Oxford India Srinivas (New Delhi ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

  • 69 This had changed so much that by 1931 C. Rajagopalachria would write that, “In India the vegetarian and the man who does not drink intoxicating liquor are automatically high caste.” While this sentiment was rather hyperbolic (even today, caste is a key status marker), it demonstrates that abstinence had a social currency associated with high status. See Rajagopalachari, C. "Those Pictures." In C. Rajagopalachari, 3. Delhi: Nehru Memorial Library, 1931.


interested in preserving their historical access to alcohol than in attempts to improve the

social status of their jati. 70

Hinduism in its modern form dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. In

response to vociferous criticism from evangelical missionaries, Hindu reformist

organizations like Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj began to spring up. While there were

differences among them, the tendency of these organizations was to include people under

the umbrella of “Hinduism” who might not have been considered as such before the 19 th

century. Reformers also attempted to change Hinduism as they expanded its purview.

These reforms included the expansion of education and, most importantly for our

purposes, the elevation of abstention from alcohol as a cardinal virtue.

Similarly, the divergences between the practice of “every day” or lived Islam and

the more scriptural tenets of religious authorities remain as pervasive today as they were

in the 19 th century. 71 Some Muslims drink, and alcohol use, in particular, varies greatly

among populations within the Muslim world. Despite rather strong textual injunctions

against drink, it is medieval Muslim chemists who are credited with developing

70 The Kayastha temperance movement, dating from 1888 across Western India and an exception to this trend, will be discussed in a subsequent chapter. Although the Kayasthas made a caste-wide attempt to proscribe alcohol with great success, the rationale for their movement was “singularly barren of ‘sanskritic’ elements or emphasis.” See Carroll, Lucy. "Origins of the Kayastha Temperance Movement." Indian Economic and Social History Review 11, no. 4 (1974): 15 447.

71 Alam, Anwar. "'Scholarly Islam' and 'Everyday Islam': Reflections on the Debate over Integration of the Muslim Minority in India and Western Europe." Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 27, no. 2 (2007): 19.


distillation practices that would later be imported into from Islamic Spain. 72 Indeed, the

very word, alcohol originates from the Arabic term, al-khul. 73

Sources and Methodology

It is the fundamental position of this chapter and of the larger dissertation that

totalizing, Said-inspired distinctions between colonizer and colonized, though of great

analytical value in many cases, are not equally suitable towards all situations, even within

the colonial context. 74 Subaltern scholars have long observed that a single category for

all colonized people belies a level of simplicity, obscuring a host of complicated, unequal

power relationships among colonized peoples. 75 It can be similarly misleading to place

all white British subjects living in India into the broad category of colonizer. 76

  • 72 Michalic, Laurence. "Alcohol and Islam: An Overview." Contemporary Drug Problems 33, no. 4 (2006): 40.

  • 73 Chatterjee, Prasun. "The Lives of Alcohol in Pre-Colonial India." The Medieval Journal 8, no. 1 (2005):


  • 74 One example of the perils of bipolar analysis can be seen in the works of Bernard Cohn and Christopher Bayly, both of whom examine the creating of imperial knowledge. Cohn assumes a neat division of actors—colonizers and the colonized. This distinction works reasonably well for analytical purposes but does not fit neatly with the underlying complexity of the interpersonal relationships between Indians and British administrators that Bayly describes. See Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and its forms of knowledge :

the British in India, Princeton studies in culture/power/history (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996). And C. A. Bayly, Empire and information : intelligence gathering and social communication in India, 1780-1870, Cambridge studies in Indian history and society ; (Cambridge, [England] ; New York:

Cambridge University Press, 1996).

  • 75 Guha, Ranajit. "On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India." In Subaltern Studies I, edited by Ranajit Guha, 1-8. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982.

  • 76 Jeffrey Cox has demonstrated that the divergent interests of British missionaries often placed them at loggerheads with colonial authorities. See Cox, Jeffrey. Imperial Fault Lines : Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818-1940. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002. Harald Fischer-Tine has looked closely at the white population of colonial India, finding that approximately half of them at any given time were decidedly lower-class or, “low and licentious.” This population represented yet another “other” with which Government struggled to contain and control. See Fischer-Tine, Harald. Low and Licentious Europeans: Race, Class and 'White Subalternity' in Colonial India. Edited by Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Peter Cain, Mark Harrison and Michael Worboys, New Perspectives in South Asian History. New Delhi: Black Swan, 2010.


Similarly, with regard to alcohol policy in the Bombay Presidency in the late 19 th

century, the opinions and motives of British and Indian bureaucrats defy neat

categorization. This is particularly problematic with regard to one of the sources

frequently used in this chapter. Administrators began Native Newspaper Reports (NNR)

in 1863 to increase awareness of the Indian public mood. NNR editors scanned

newspapers in English and in Indian languages, reporting (and translating, when

necessary) “native” criticism of government. Many of the original newspapers on which

NNR reported have vanished, leaving NNR as the sole, remaining evidence they were

ever published. More frequently than not, those who edited NNR were Indians with the

requisite language skills to find sentiments in Indian languages critical of government

policies and translate them into English. Unfortunately, little more is known regarding

the institutional machine responsible for the production of NNR. 77

Even less has been written regarding the individual Indian editors of NNR who

are virtually invisible in NNR texts at the superficial level. Here lies the most

problematic aspect of the NNRs. The personal motivations of NNR editors are all but

impossible to ascertain in light of the very little information known about them. Given

this lack of information it is, perhaps, more feasible to discuss what the NNR is not.

Firstly, it cannot by described in the dichotomous sense as a solely imperial document.

They were, after all, mostly constructed by Indians—Indians with some level of

investment in extant colonial power-structures, to be sure, but whose position as Indian

77 Despite the centrality of NNR as a source for the history of Colonial India, historians have been slow to investigate how they were compiled and how they should be interpreted. Sanjay Joshi presented a paper at the Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in 2002 entitled, “Making of Native Newspaper Reports in Colonial India.” Dr. Joshi has requested that I do not quote or cite the paper as he plans to publish an article on the matter.


colonial bureaucrats obscures their perspectives.

Indeed at the most basic level, NNR is

a colonial document, fundamentally predicated on the need to defend and extend uneven

power structures.

On the other hand, the motives and intent of Indians within the colonial

bureaucracy, the editors of NNRs, were not necessarily congruent with the aims of the

administrators ordering their production. Still, NNR were, at bottom, a technology of

control, and as such they relied upon the types of specific information that were not

particularly susceptible to distortion. British administrators relied on NNR for

information regarding public opinion. Especially in the case of abkari policy, the devil is

in the details. 78 Complaints against abkari policy as present in NNRs and surviving

petitions are uniquely specific. The location of a liquor shop, hours of operation and

state-regulated prices for alcohol leave little room for interpretation.

The frequent iteration of public complaints against abkari policy lends credibility

to NNRs of the 1880’s and 1890’s used in this chapter. Abkari policy was so

controversial that it provoked a long string of responses from numerous Bombay

Presidency newspapers. Criticism was sufficiently common that certain themes emerge

from many sources. NNRs refract the objective reality of Indian public opinion through

the lens of the handful of Indian bureaucrats responsible for editing them.

Although the

individual perspectives of editors (only three in number over the course of 20 years)

undoubtedly influenced NNR’s, their biases were fairly static. That is to say, the effect of

the lens is predictable. The tone of the translations, for instance, tends to cast as

unreasonable criticism of government. It is reasonable then to argue that the tone of the

78 Abkari refers to excise taxes applicable to the production and sale of alcohol.


translations appearing in NNR are more likely a reflection of the editor/translator’s biases

than of the original (often no longer extant) texts.

Another factor bolstering the credibility of NNR as used here stems from a

congruence between NNR content and that of unmediated texts written by critics of

government. These include Indian critics such as P.B. Dantra, D.E. Wacha, G.A.

Dorabji, P.M. Mehta, and M.J. Taleyarkhan. 79 As will become clear below, there is a

great deal of similarity in the substance of complaints, including the verbiage used to

express them, between Indian critics of abkari policy and the text of NNR. Complaints

about specific abkari policies appear to have been sufficiently widespread in Western

India that little misinterpretation, accidental or intentional, was probable.

Internal Government documents were informed by prejudices of their colonial

context, but they were also informed by facts on the ground. That is to say, colonial

forms of knowledge had to correspond to varying degrees of objective reality to have any

utility. 80 This is particularly applicable in the case of observations on drinking practices.

Without an across the board income tax, excise generally and abkari in particular

constituted a large percentage of the total revenue of the Presidencies. For example, of

the 7,56,994 rupees in total revenue in 1882 for the islands of Bombay and Kolaba,

79 These men will be introduced in greater detail as the texts they created are cited below.

80 Political scientist James Scott notes that the ability of a bureaucracy to finely tune administration is predicated upon what he calls “legibility.” This legibility functions like an abridged map, representing, not reality, but only those activities that, “interested the observer.” As taxation “interested” colonial administrators quite a bit, a higher degree of veracity than that more commonly associated with the colonial archive can reasonably be assumed. See Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State : How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, The Yale Isps Series. New Haven [Conn.] ; London: Yale University Press, 1998.


5,33,931 rupees were from abkari alone. 81 Constituting such a large majority of total

revenue, abkari was a matter of grave importance for administrators. 82

Finally, I mention here the problems inherent with using archival materials to

piece together the opinions of subaltern populations—in this case, drinkers and small-

scale liquor producers. Perhaps even more so than on most topics, discourse on alcohol

is suffused with paternalism. Virtually all parties for whom a written record exists

explicitly claimed to speak on behalf of the poor. British administrators cited their desire

to decrease intemperance among the poor as a key rationale for their policies. Parsis and

“well-to-do” Bhandaris petitioned government with carefully-constructed memorials with

the avowed goal of mitigating the suffering of small-scale producers caused by the 1878

Abkari Act.

Just as government had its interests that shaped their understanding of abkari

policy, so too did the elite Indians protesting government policy. Several Indian critics of

the policy had a significant financial stake in alcohol production. Wealthy Parsis, the

community from which most of the written criticism emerged, were often involved in the

alcohol trade, whether that be in actually producing alcohol or in renting out toddy palms

to Bhandaris for tapping. With such a vested interest, why then assign credibility to their

writings on the matter? The clearest case for doing so lies in the two strikes described in

this chapter, the Bhandari Strike and the Liquor Strike. In both cases, internal

81 Douglas, James. Bombay and Western India: A Series of Stray Papers. Vol. I. London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Co., 1893, 97. Kolaba is an island in the city of Bombay.

82 Receipts from abkari revenue only increased until the introduction of prohibition under the Congress provincial governments formed in 1938. For example, in 1932, abkari receipts accounted for 23.5% of British India’s revenue. See C. Rajagopalachari, "On Prohibition," in C. Rajagopalachari (Delhi: Nehru Memorial Library, 1932 C. nd).


government correspondence, NNR, elite Indian critics, and later temperance activists

consistently referred to the strikes as spontaneous, emerging among the poor themselves.

In a context where social control over poor Indians was hotly contested, all concerned

parties bemusedly lamented their lack of control over the collective action of the drinking

classes. Similarly, all interested parties seemed to agree on the motivations behind the

strikes, even when at odds with their own, lending more credence to the goals as

described in petitions, public criticism, and government documents.

Drinking in Western India, 1790-1879

Determining precisely which classes, castes, genders, and confessional groups

engaged in drinking before the temperance movement arrived in India in the late 1880’s

is a challenge due to the kind of information preserved in state archives. Government

records for these purposes are necessarily patchy in that the administrators who collected

them were more concerned with revenue extraction rather than the sociology of drinkers.

Yet revenue extraction required some knowledge of the sociology of drinking in Western

India. The earliest records to this effect are from British excise administrators who were

motivated to keenly observe local drinking practices in order to maximize tax revenue on

fermentable vegetable products, on distillation units, and on distilled or brewed spirits.

From 1790, British administrators in Bombay began assessing a special excise tax on

distilled country spirit along with similar taxes on opium, and ganja. 83

The overarching

goal of efficient (from the perspective of the Government) revenue extraction mitigates,

83 India, Government of. Report of the Prohibition Enquiry Committee 1954-55. Delhi: Government of India Press, 1955.


to some extent, the inherent problems of colonial records—bias and misrepresentation,

both intentional and not.

Tax farming was the preferred method for generating excise revenue. Under this

system, country liquor and toddy production were highly decentralized. The Raj sold

licenses on receipt of a fee, to manufacture and sell liquor. It was in the interest of the

tax farmer to sell as much liquor as possible since the excise tax was assessed

independently of the volume of liquor sold. 84 No quantitative measure of alcohol

consumption was possible under such a system.

Before the implementation of the 1878 Abkari Act the manner for collecting tax

on alcohol varied greatly in the Bombay Presidency. 85 In Thana, British administrators

continued the practices established before the district came under their rule. Alcohol

itself was untaxed but palm trees used for brewing toddy were levied and collected under

land revenue. 86 More commonly, administrators collected the bulk of abkari revenue

from auctioning licenses to tax farmers for the right to manufacture and sell alcohol,

which they could do without further interference from the Government. These auctions

allowed the Government to take all its profits in a lump sum annually. From an

enforcement perspective, this system required nothing more than ensuring that sellers had

purchased the requisite licenses to ply their trade. Licensed vendors held monopolies

  • 84 India, Report of the Prohibition Enquiry Committee 1954-55.

  • 85 It should be added here that alcohol policy continued to vary greatly by locality even after the 1878 Abkari Act. Despite the relatively large variation persisting after implementation, the act was an attempt to standardize, to the degree possible, alcohol policy. This goal was frustrated by the myriad circumstances leading to British dominion or ‘stewardship’ of a given locality.

  • 86 Saldanha, Indra Munshi. "On Drinking and 'Drunkenness': History of Liquor in Colonial India." Economic and Polical Weekly 30, no. 37 (1995): 9, 2323.


over several villages. Policing was a simple matter since vendors, with an incentive to

ensure that their competitors also held licenses, could be counted on to detect illicit

distillation and vending.

There were numerous administrative and political problems with this system.

Sellers had an incentive to sell more alcohol because, after the license fee was recouped,

the remaining sales over a given year brought in much greater profit. 87 Farmers had free

reign to sell adulterated or weakened spirits for whatever price the market would bear;

under the monopoly system, the market could bear quite a bit. A single license-holding

tax farmer could operate as many distilleries as he wished, contributing to a dramatic

increase in the number of stills. Government found its take at auctions damaged by

combinations of bidders, determined to keep down the price of the licenses. 88 It also

impaired the state’s ability to surveil drinking habits. Since no figures were kept

regarding the volume of sales, administrators lacked the requisite information for setting

auction prices to maximize revenue. Administrators were faced with, from their

perspective, an inefficient excise system an increase in the volume of liquor produced,

and an increase in “drunkenness” that alarmed even the ordinarily staid collectors

professed alarm. 89

While official records are somewhat sketchy, some additional evidence

suggesting the extent of alcohol use in the Bombay area presents itself in the form of a

  • 87 Hunter, William Wilson. Bombay 1885 to 1890: A Study on Indian Administration. Bombay: B.M. Malabari, Indian Spectator Office, 1900.

  • 88 Saldanha, Indra Munshi. "On Drinking and 'Drunkenness': History of Liquor in Colonial India." Economic and Polical Weekly 30, no. 37 (1995): 9.

  • 89 "Report of the Excise Committee Appointed by the Government of Bombay 1922-23." edited by Revenue. Bombay: Government Central Press, 1924.


widespread abstention movement. The 1878 Abkari Act proved to be extremely

controversial, particularly among the lower classes of society. Alcohol seems to have

been sufficiently embedded among some groups that they responded to the 1878 Act by

swearing off alcohol en masse. The reason for this, the first sweeping “prohibition”

movement in North India, differs dramatically from those that would come later. This

first agitation regarding drink in the Bombay state was neither aimed at decreasing

drunkenness nor increasing temperance. Rather, its goal was to realize a reduction in the

sharply increased duty on country liquor and toddy and to reduce the government

regulation that was steadily forcing small-scale producers and sellers of alcohol out of the


The very geography of the environs of Bombay city was conducive to the

production of alcoholic drinks. Much as today, the low lying areas near the coast are

dotted with palm trees which can be tapped for a fermentable juice known as toddy. 90

This toddy can easily be distilled into more powerful “country liquor.” 91 The hilly terrain

90 Toddy is the fermented juice of the toddy palm. The term, toddy, was often used loosely and could also refer to beverages made from date and brab palms. Toddy is produced by cutting a flower-stalk at the top of the tree. The cut stalk oozes sweet sap in the form of unfermented toddy juice, or nira, collected in the pot. Full pots of sap were then placed in the sun to maximize heat and speed up the fermentation process, usually about 24 hours. Toddy is approximately 3-4% alcohol by volume. Finished toddy can then be distilled to yield alcohol levels commensurate with other distilled alcohols such as corn whiskey or rum. Distilled toddy is most commonly called “country liquor.” The Bhandari still was described as “consisting of two earthen pots, connected together by a hollow piece of wood; the larger pot is the boiler, and contains the toddy, the steam of which passes through the tube into the other pot or condenser which is partly buried under ground and is every now and then sprinkled with water. See Whitworth, George Clifford. An Anglo- Indian Dictionary: A Glossary of Indian Terms Used in English, and of Such English or Other Non-Indian Terms as Have Obtain Special Meanings in India. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1885.

91 C.B. Pritchard, Collector for Bombay in the 1880’s described the process as follows: “A pot of fermented toddy can be converted into a ready-charged still, and distillation can be set going anywhere in less than five minutes. All the apparatus necessary, beside the pot of toddy, is an earthen saucer (and a little wet earth) with which to close tightly the mouth of the pot; also a small bowl to be placed floating on the surface of the toddy in the pot. If a pot of fermented thus made is set up to boil, and the saucer which closes its mouth is kept cool by pouring water on it, the spirit given off from the toddy in the shape of steam is condensed on the under side of the saucer, and drips from the saucer into the bowl floating on the


around the city provided fertile ground for the indigenous Mhowra or Mahua tree (Bassia

Latifolia), whose flowers, blooming for a few weeks each year, can be crushed and

brewed. Castes of relatively low status, such as the Bhandaris and Kolis, as well as Bhils

in the Bombay area collected these 92 flowers for fermentation and distillation into fairly

potent country liquor for both sale and domestic use. Although toddy pots could be

spotted easily among groves and in population centers and thus broken or knocked to the

ground, rural areas and isolated toddy trees proved trying for excise police. Even more

challenging from a regulatory standpoint, the Mhowra tree’s flowers could be picked for

fermentation and distillation virtually anywhere. Isolated gullies and streams leading

from the Western Ghats to the sea were dotted with tiny distilleries like the one below.

toddy to receive it.

Two or three bottles of strong spirit can be made by this simple process in a couple of

hours from an ordinary-sized pot of toddy. The distillation can be carried on anywhere, in the houses, in the fields, or in the jungles; wood and water are plentiful in the coast talukas. See Hunter, William Wilson. Bombay 1885 to 1890: A Study on Indian Administration. Bombay: B.M. Malabari, Indian Spectator Office, 1900.

92 Image from Vikram—find info for proper citation. The above photo, taken in 2009, is of a small still operated by a group of Bhils in the Narmada valley. The fermented flower-based solution is heated in the pot which sits atop hot coals. A bamboo collector funnels the gaseous alcohol into a pot, partly immersed in a stream. The stream causes the alcohol to condense into finished Mowhra liquor.


46 Figure 1. Mowhra Still Source: Vikramaditya Thakur, Yale University While the paucity of sources make

Figure 1. Mowhra Still

Source: Vikramaditya Thakur, Yale University

While the paucity of sources make it challenging to know exactly how lower class

people in the Bombay area thought about drink, it remains important not to project

contemporary conceptions of alcohol use as a category onto them. One of the arguments

frequently made by petitioners and journalists against the 1878 Abkari Act was that it

was treating toddy, and to a lesser extent, mowhra liquor, as a luxury when it was seen by

its consumers as a food. 1879, the year during which colonial administrators made it

more difficult for people to make and drink toddy, followed one of the most disastrous


periods for Western India in terms of food production. The late 19 th century witnessed a

series of some of the worst famines it had seen in modern history. 93

Indigenous alcohol production was highly decentralized and was fundamentally

entangled with local economies. The scale of this production was sufficiently large that

an entire caste numbering 79,259 in Bombay Presidency organized itself around its

production. 94 Although alcohol was doubtlessly fermented by individuals within

numerous different castes, the Bhandaris of Western India of the low-ranking Sudra jati

were most closely associated with it. The precise contractual arrangements for tapping

the palm species that produced toddy juice varied a great deal from locality to locality.

Extremely small scale production occurred in rural areas where the necessary palm, or

palmyra, trees grew. More commonly, toddy groves were overseen by large landowners

who sold the right to tap the trees to families of Bhandaris. 95 The toddy then could be

sold either at the foot of the tree or in toddy stands located in the poorer, “out of the way”

sections of urban areas. 96

  • 93 See McAlpin, Michelle Burge. Subject to Famine : Food Crises and Economic Change in Western India, 1860-1920. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. And Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts : El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. London ; New York: Verso, 2001.

  • 94 Government of India, The Indian Empire: Census of 1881, Statistics of Population, vol. II (Calcutta:

Superintendent of Government Printing, India, 1883).

  • 95 Over 1000 Landed Proprietors, Owners of Toddy Trees and ryots of the District of Thana. "Petition to His Excellency the Right Honourable Lord Reay." In Revenue, Bombay, 10. Mumbai: Maharashtra State Archive, 1886.

  • 96 Tree foot stands were not favored by administrators who complained that they were too diffuse and difficult to monitor, thus “opening the door to illicit distillation and sale.” In most districts they were eliminated by the 1878 Abkari Act in favor of toddy shops, located away from the groves. See Moore, J.G. , Commissioner of Customs, Salt, Opium and Abkari. "Confidential Letter to J. Nugent, Secretary to Government, Revenue Department, Bombay." In Revenue, Bombay, 2. Mumbai: Maharashtra State Archives, 1885.


Generally speaking, Bhandaris did not drink the products of their labor,

particularly in its fermented state. 97 Drinking fermented toddy was considered a serious

offence, one that could be answered by expulsion from the caste. 98 Although the

Bhandari caste was occupationally associated with the production of toddy, their

abstention from its use afforded them the claim to a higher level of purity.

Toddy production was quite labor intensive. The nature of their work required

that Bhandaris climb the very high toddy palm to obtain juice expressed from cut flowers

at the top of tree, collected in a clay pot. Bhandaris also had to care for the trees,

watering when necessary, fertilizing with manure or night-soil, and checking daily for the

goliath beetle, a common pest that had to be removed manually before it killed the tree. 99

Precisely how these tasks were performed and by whom--that is, men or women, does not

appear in period sources.

Drinking among non-Brahmans appears to have been common. 100 In a cash-poor

society, many groups made, sold and drank toddy, using it as barter “for the commonest

  • 97 Bhandaris themselves claimed to the Kshatriyas, stemming from their assertion that they had historically acted as treasury guards for the Peshwars of the 18 th century. See Reginald Edward Enthoven, The tribes and castes of Bombay, Native races of India. (Delhi: Cosmo Publications, 1975).

  • 98 Bhattacharya, Jogendra Nath. Hindu Castes and Sects: An Exposition of the Origin of the Hindu Caste System and the Bearing of Sects Towards Each Other and Towards Other Religious Systems. Calcutta:

Thacker, Spink & Co., 1896, 260.

  • 99 Barlow, Edward. Indian Museum Notes, Issued by the Trustees. Vol. V. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1900, 38.

100 Castes comprising the drinking classes include Dharallas, Rajputs (Girassias), Kolis,Khastris, Adivasis, Dheds and “other poorer classes.” See John Lorimer, Superintendent, Opium Preventive Services, "Letter to Commissioner of Customs, Salt, Opium and Abkari," in Revenue, Bombay (Mumbai: Maharashtra State Archives, 1905).


of human needs” instead of coins. 101 It was a significant part of village economies and

conferred some social power on toddy sellers who could then sell alcohol on credit.

These sellers would complain vociferously when, in 1882, the Government of Bombay

forbade the recovery of money for credit extended to alcohol buyers. 102

Families of

meager means could also use it as a household industry to help finance their needs.

Populations most likely to engage in frequent drinking were largely below the

radar of those who wrote documents that would eventually make their way into extant

archives. The best records we have to make sense of exactly who was drinking and in

what quantities comes from different groups who alternatively had a vested interested in

either their continued drinking or who agitated for temperance. British administrators,

particularly tax collectors and assessors, provide some of the most comprehensive data on

the ‘drinking classes’ because their relationship was much more dynamic. Some

collectors seemed to have had a legitimate concern regarding the amount of drinking

among the poor and sympathized openly with the aims of temperance reformers both

‘native’ and Euro-American. Others, possibly solely from the perspective of revenue

collection, professed concern for the ‘rights’ of drinkers to choose to imbibe. 103

At no point was the ambiguity of the colonial state’s position related to alcohol

consumption made more manifest than during the public reaction to the implementation

  • 101 See Quarterly Journal of the Hindu Sabha 20, no. 40 (1892): 40. See also India, Report of the Prohibition Enquiry Committee 1954-55. Members of the Agri and Koli castes in Bombay, though not traditionally associated with toddy tapping to the degree of Bhandaris, were known to supplement their income with illicit alcohol production.

  • 102 Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." 1. Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1882.

  • 103 Anti-temperance activists deployed the same rationale in the United States and in Britain. See Craig Heron, Booze : a distilled history (Toronto, Ont.: Between the Lines, 2003).


of the 1878 Abkari Act from 1879 through the early 1890’s. Administrators had

professed two reasons for enacting the new excise policy. First there was a need to

respond to growing criticism over a perceived increase in alcohol production from both

European temperance activists and Indian nationalists arguing for constitutional reform;

second, there was a frank need to increase state revenue. The controversial act went into

force in 1879.

The 1878 Abkari Act

Bombay’s administrators came to believe that abkari reform was urgently

required for a number of reasons. The problems administrators saw with the pre-reform

system included the costs of selling great numbers of licenses increased government

expenditure. Also, “only capitalists could afford to purchase [tax] farms, and their

tendency was to keep down the prices offered [at auctions]. From a moral point of view

it was impolitic, because farmers naturally tried to push their sales, and neither

endeavoured nor desired to put a check on consumption.” 104 Most important for

Bombay’s government, “from the revenue point of view, it was unprofitable.” 105 As one

government apologist explained, “the new system was introduced to check these

evils.” 106

Passed on 19 th September, 1878, the Abkari Act was ambitious in scope. The

entire Bombay Presidency fell under its purview. Its authors, primarily C.B. Pritchard,

  • 104 William Wilson Hunter, Bombay 1885 to 1890: A Study on Indian Administration (Bombay: B.M. Malabari, Indian Spectator Office, 1900).

  • 105 Ibid.

  • 106 Ibid.


Commissioner of Customs, Salt, Opium, and abkari for Bombay, sought to dramatically

alter this arrangement. The act placed alcoholic beverages under three categories—

toddy, liquor (imported), and country-liquor (liquor produced in India). 107 Many of the

complaints against the law stem from the aforementioned distinctions between different

kinds of alcohol.

Prior to the act, liquor in all its forms could be sold by anyone on payment of a

license fee. This was the only mode of revenue extraction for toddy prior to enforcement

of the new act in 1879 which brought the “tax farming” or “farming system” into force.

Would-be alcohol sellers could only obtain the right to do so by purchasing a monopoly

at a government-operated tender or auction. The winner of the monopoly had the sole

right to manufacture or sell liquor within the boundaries of his district. Some producers

managed to hold monopolies in multiple districts.

At the same time, the new law also increased the tax payable on the toddy trees

themselves. All toddy-producing trees were subject to a duty that increased from as little

Rs 1 to Rs 16 with almost annual additional increases. P.B. Dantra, a Parsi in possession

of many toddy trees, described the situation facing Bhandaris in the district of Salsette:

…the tree tax is Ra. 16, rent Rs. 4, and the selling price is 8 pies or say 4 annas per

gallon; the average yield according to the Government Resolution is 80 gallons, 80 by 4

as. = Rs. 20. These Rs. 20 is the income of a Bhandary [sic] and the same amount he has

to pay only in tax and rent, and then what can he live upon? There is no fixed price in

Bombay city now, but by the ill advice of the Abkari Department, the Government is

going to fix selling price in Bombay at 9 pies or 4 ½ annas per gallon, and in Thana and

Colaba district at 6 pies per bottle, or 3 annas per gallon; the income of a dealer in Mahim

on 80 gallons at 4 ½ annas is Rs. 22 ½ per tree, and the net profit Rs. 3 ½ per tree, after

107 India, Government of. "Bombay Act No. V of 1878." In The Bombay Code in Four Volumes: The Unrepealed Acts of the Governor of Bombay in Council in Force in Bombay, from 1862-1887, Inclusive:

And a Chronological Table of Enactments Reproduced in the Volume, 583-607. Calcutta: Government of India, 1907.


deducting Rs. 19 as alluded to above. In Girgaum on 50 gallons at 4 ½ annas, the income

will be Ra. 14 that is a loss of Rs. 5. 108

Government fixed the price of toddy so low that “considering the heavy tree tax and other

expenses…that the licensees could not carry on their trade with honesty.” 109 This

resulted in great pecuniary loss to the wealthy landowners, primarily Parsis, who formed

the Bombay liquor lobby. More tragically, it placed thousands of Bandharis whose hard-

scrabble lives were predicated on the tapping of toddy in a “pitiable” condition.

Responses to the Act

Popular responses to this act reveal Western Indian drinking practices strikingly at

odds with the rhetoric of abstemious India described by temperance advocates of all

stripes. In fact, popular responses to the Abkari Act represent the first large-scale,

organized public opposition to public drinking- but to an intriguing end; the reasons

behind this public opposition were antithetical to the rationale for later temperance

movement, indeed, even to the stated goals of the nascent contemporary temperance


Large swaths of the “drinking classes” refrained from drink in protest of

higher prices and greater difficulties in procuring it.

Activists were protesting to lower the price of alcohol and roll back certain

regulations in the 1878 Act that proved troublesome for small producers and vendors.

The terms of licenses granted demanded that vendors keep detailed records keeping an up

to date register “in a bound book, paged and sealed with the Collector's seal, plain and

  • 108 Dantra, Pestanjee Byramjee. "Appendices: The Bombay Abkari Administration." In Indian Abkari Administration, Being Notes on the Despatch of the Government of India, Relating to the System of Licenses for the Distillation and Sale of Spiritous Liquors in Force in the Various Provinces of India, Presented to the House of Commons, edited by Dinshaw E. Wacha, 57-106. Bombay: Bombay Gazette Steam Press, 1888, 74

    • 109 Ibid, 73.


correct accounts showing the quantities of toddy received into and sold at his shop.” 110

Collectors, or their surrogates, had the right to demand at any moment that vendors

produce those records. Failure to so could result in the immediate revocation of their

licenses and, inevitably, livelihoods.

The resulting tensions arising from the new regulations for alcohol use pitted two

coalitions against each other, both claiming to act on behalf of the poor and downtrodden.

Activists, mostly western in the 19 th century with a handful of conservative Indians,

championed the cause of temperance, hoping to rescue the wretched of the earth from the

sin or pollution of alcohol. 111 For this reason, they strongly opposed the 1878 Act which

had the effect of rationalizing the consumption of alcohol, rendering it more respectable

through the imprimatur of the state. Others, based on both their own commercial

interests and stated concern for the economic wellbeing and personal rights of the

drinking poor, sought to mitigate or reverse the damage caused by the 1878 Abkari Act.

Long before temperance agitation would reach its acme in India, it featured

prominently in British politics. The record-keeping of the colonial state created a metric

for alcohol consumption in India; these showed a striking increase after 1879. The

annual average revenue from fixed alcohol taxes for 1878 and the five years before it was

Rs. 11,99,688; by 1880 this had increased to Rs. 25,93,792. By 1881 this revenue had

again increased to 38,32,858. During this same period, taxes on toddy plummeted from

  • 110 Bombay, Government of. "License for the Retail Sale of Palm Toddy." edited by Revenue. Bombay,


  • 111 These activists will be discussed in much greater detail in the following chapter. They included liberal, temperance-crusading M.P.’s W.S. Caine and Samuel Smith. A small collection of missionaries like Thomas Evans also worked in India. Virtually all western temperance workers operating in India in the 19 th century were associated with the Anglo-Indian Temperance Association (AITA). Members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) did not begin their work in India in earnest until the



19,63,668 in 1878 to 11,24,809 in 1883, this despite much higher taxes on the drink.

Toddy has less than 50% the alcohol of ale while country liquor alcohol level was on par

with distilled grain alcohols. 112 The revenue data certainly suggested that Indians were

drinking more alcohol, and stronger alcohol. 113

Whether the rise in abkari receipts provided unimpeachable data in terms of

volumes consumption patterns is open to debate. As colonial officials would later argue,

some of the increased revenue may well have been due to higher rates of regulation and

record keeping rather to an actual increase in drinking. Nevertheless, annual increases in

abkari revenue quickly raised the eyebrows of temperance advocates in Britain. In

response, the 1886 Temperance Congress of Britain sent a petition to the Earl of

Dufferin, then Viceroy of India, expressing alarm at, “the habits of intemperance greatly

on the increase,” evidenced by the fact that excise revenue from spirits had more than

doubled in the previous ten years. The President of the 1886 Temperance Congress, F.

London, then made reference to a trope that would become increasingly popular over the

decades, the notion that the historical drinking habits of all Indians was reducible to, “the

112 Wacha, Dinshaw E. "Indian Abkari Administration, Being Notes on the Despatch of the Government of India, Relating to the System of Licenses for the Distillation and Sale of Spiritous Liquors in Force in the Various Provinces of India, Presented to the House of Commons on 4th August 1887." Bombay: Bombay Gazette Steam Press, 1888.

113 The law dramatically reconfigured the production and sale of alcohol. It also changed the drinking habits of Indians who continued to imbibe through this period. While it remains hyperbolic to suggest that Indians, as a whole, were traditionally abstemious, it is nonetheless true that patterns of drinking changed dramatically during the period of British administration. This state of affairs is not unlike the destruction of the Indian textile industry in favor of the looms of Lancashire. In the case of Indian alcohol, a household industry that had once been extremely large, if diffuse, was suddenly replaced by a system encouraging large-scale, capital-intensive production of European-style liquors rather than beverages with a much longer Indian pedigree, toddy and Mowhra Liquor.


well-known fact that the religious and social customs of India ruling many centuries have

frowned upon the use of intoxicating drink.” 114

Temperance Activism on the Eve of the Drink Strike

Although European and American temperance advocates would eventually play

an important role within the Indian temperance movement, they did not feature

prominently in the first alcohol-related agitation in Western India from 1885-1890. Their

role was primarily post facto, celebrating movements that they saw as similar enough to

their own in impetus to disregard the significantly different meanings and goals behind

them. A handful of petitions from abroad to the Governments of Bombay and India

drifted in during the 1880’s, most of these in protest of Government’s crackdown on the

liquor strike. Contra Lucy Carroll, the involvement of European and American

temperance advocates in the earliest alcohol-related popular movement was more reactive

than active. 115 Seeing the abkari liquor strikes of the 1880’s through temperance colored

glasses, they all but ignored the underlying motivations of strikers and began the long

process of reinventing the liquor strike as a genuine, if slightly misguided, temperance

movement. Their tendency to essentialize Indians, with their heartfelt goal of reducing

temperance, blinded British activists to the more complex realities that had provoked

early Indian temperance advocacy and the fierce response to it. European and American

temperance advocates will be discussed in much greater detail in chapter two.

114 London, F. "Letter to the Earl of Dufferin, Governor-General and Viceroy of India." In Revenue, Bombay, 1. Mumbai: Maharashtra State Archive, 1886.

115 See Carroll, Lucy. "The Temperance Movement in India: Politics and Social Reform." Modern Asian Studies 10, no. 3 (1976): 30.


Temperance advocacy among Indians changed a great deal in the last two decades

of the 19 th century. Poona, a traditional capital of Hindu political regimes in Western

India long known for its social conservatism, emerged as an early center for indigenous

temperance activities from the 1882. 116 The proliferation of alcohol shops in that area

drew the ire of many. Poona’s Anglo-Marathi newspaper, Dnyan Prakash, complained

of the growing vice, expressing alarm at the growing number of liquor shops in the city.

The paper expressed particular concern regarding the increase in drinking among the

“higher classes of Hindus,” appealing to government to remove the liquor shops from

main thoroughfares to “an out-of-the-way locality.” 117

The author’s wish to see shops

moved to these, “out-of-the-way” localities is a departure from more generalized themes

regarding concern for the poor. Clearly the author is most concerned with an alleged

increase in intemperance among the well-to-do rather than among the urban population

more generally. One can only assume that the localities to which he would like to see the

shops removed were areas where the vice of alcohol belonged—among the poor, rather

than around places of respectability. 118 This effort was aimed at purifying only those

Indians who could be purified, not the drinking classes at large.

  • 116 This was when complaints about increasing drunkenness began appearing in the Government of Bombay’s Native Newspaper Reports. Prior to 1882, the only criticism to draw the attention of government was the frequent complaint that abkari laws were too severe and taxes to heavy. See Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Report, Bombay." Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1882.

  • 117 Sathe, G.M. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." 8. Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1886.

  • 118 Writing in 1931, C. Rajagopalacharia, a key member of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi’s stalwart advocate in Tamil country, implied that the drinking classes were difficult to enumerate. He wrote that “the movement of Total Abstinence is especially strong among those hitherto relegated to an inferior social status. Apart from the age long superstitions of caste gradation, and doubtful theories of race origins, their inferiority has been maintained by their hopeless poverty and indebtedness. See Rajagopalachari, C. "The War against Drink." In C. Rajagopalachari, 4. Delhi: Nehru Memorial Library, 1931.C. Rajagopalachari, "The War Against Drink," in C. Rajagopalachari (Delhi: Nehru Memorial Library, 1931).


Poona’s upper classes could take comfort from similar movements against alcohol

in other Bombay Presidency cities like Ahmedabad.

Having received a petition from the

“leading representatives of the people,” warning of “evil increasing daily” as a result of

the liquor trade, the district collector redirected their complaints to the Government of

India. 119

Thus two forces were at work, pushing alcohol-related concerns to a national

level. The pleas of local, upper class Indians eventually arrived at the level of the

Presidencies and the Government of India in Calcutta.

Despite the protestations of local administrators to the contrary, they did have

something of a free hand when it came to their decisions of local alcohol policy, as events

would later show. On the one hand they were resistant to petitions threatening abkari

receipts; on the other hand, they had a tendency to refer petitioners to higher levels of

government. The success or failure of these petitions (more often the latter) were duly

reported in the press further and further afield. Disputes regarding alcohol policy in

Bombay appeared in the newspapers of Madras and Calcutta. In this way, criticism of a

liquor shop on a given intersection in Poona was imbued with greater importance, not

only by the passion stirred up by activists, but by institutional habits of administrators

who referred their complaints to higher levels where they might die quiet deaths in the

sea of paperwork in Bombay and Calcutta. In reporting on events across India,

temperance journals played a role in the construction of the nation. This national

attention directed at drinking included new concerns extending beyond the low-status

people of the drinking class.

119 Pavgi, Raoji Bhavanrao. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." 7-8. Bombay: Government of Bombay,



The danger of the corruption of high-class Indians became a national issue. The

newspapers of Poona expressed concerns regarding alcohol that were unique and that

would eventually wane in the 20 th century. The conservative Indian temperance activists

of the 1880’s saw Alcohol as toxic, not just to the drinker, but to the very social fabric.

This was particularly true in cases where people outside the “drinking classes” chose to

imbibe. A writer in the Marathi weekly, Poona Vaibhav warned that the vice of drinking

was making, “rapid strides in the city of Poona… The lower classes have always been in

the habit of drinking intoxicating liquors, but fortunately this vice was up to the present

time confined to men.” 120

He describes the scenes of drunken women as “revolting.”

What is more, the author laments, is that, “even the well-to-do and educated natives are

not free from this vicious habit.” The conduct of these upper-class men was “difficult for

respectable persons to tolerate.” Alcohol is seen as turning respectable society on its

head. The challenge of alcohol is not so much the damage it inflicts on those who, “have

always been in the habit of drinking” but, rather to the collapse of previously

fundamental divisions between men and women, upper class and the poor.

Not all localities featuring agitation against increased drunkenness had

historically abstemious populations. Bombay’s Gujarati-language, Kaside Mumbai,

reported in 1880 that “during the last century not a single liquor shop was ever kept open

all night on the Bhendi Bazaar thoroughfare…[but that] they were now kept open all

night.” 121

Given the descriptions of heavy drinking among Bombay’s population, the

implication that liquor was not previously available at all hours strikes one as rather

  • 120 Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Report, Bombay." Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1882.

  • 121 Kurkaray, G.W. "Report on Native Newspapers, Bombay." Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1880.


dubious. Notwithstanding, it may well be the case that alcohol was not available after

hours in a Bazaar that included “respectable” Indians among its patrons.

Curiously, in 1880 a newspaper in Thana, a city near Bombay which would later

become a center of the liquor strike in protest of high drink prices and regulation, shared

the fears of their conservative brethren elsewhere. The Marathi language Arunodaya

warned that the use of intoxicating liquors would soon become a “national vice in India”

on par with the use of opium in China. 122

Two years later in 1882, when the liquor strike

was in full swing in Thana, the editor/translator of the Government of Bombay’s Report

on Native Newspapers did not cite any further criticism of Government on the basis that

it promoted drink.

One of the perceived threats to morality was the notion that upper class Indians

were drinking to emulate the behavior of Europeans. Bombay’s Indu Prakash warned in

1882 that “the vice of drinking intoxicating liquors is making rapid strides among the

higher classes of natives.” Even more alarming, the author noted that, “natives,

considering that everything which Europeans do is right, began to imitate them in

drinking intoxicating liquors.”

He went on to suggest that native officers in the service

of Government “should be called upon to sign a pledge of complete abstinence.” 123

It appears that at least some high-status Indians consciously emulated the drinking

proclivities of Europeans so they might enjoy higher levels of success. As some level,

this may well have been obligatory. For example, reports of Government-employed

122 Tarkhadkar, D.R. "Native Newspaper Report, Bombay." 20. Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1880.

123 Ibid.


Indians being pressed to share a drink with their Europeans supervisors were common. 124

Yet conservative social commentators saw the behavior of those Indians who chose to

imbibe as damaging much more than themselves. The drink-saturated bodies of “higher

class” Indians polluted Indian culture and “undermined native society.” 125

Indeed, those

in the habit of drinking alcohol were beginning to exceed the “ignorant men” who once

chose to do so. 126

Increased drinking among the upper class was clearly a point of concern among

various interest groups in Poona. A Parsi liquor contractor, G.A. Dorabji, hoping to open

a factory for the production of rum saw his efforts stymied by a fellow Parsi, “country

liquor contractor of Poona, Mr. Dadabhoy Hormusjee and others, actuated by motives of

self-interest.” 127 In an appeal to have his plans reconsidered by the Revenue Secretary of

Bombay, he averred that, “the consumption of my rum will not be among the high

classes,” but, “entirely consumed amongst the middle classes.” 128 Dorabji’s hope to see

his plans come to fruition were based on a careful navigation of the alcohol market that

  • 124 A writer for the Poona Vaibhav complained of late-night drunken carousing by Indian “Government Servants.” Similarly, a writer for Bombay’s Indu Prakash complained in 1882 that upper class Indians considered “everything Europeans did” as right and thus drank with impunity. R. Pringle, Surgeon Major for the Bengal Army, complained of educated Bengalis “to whose existence brandy was thought to be necessary.” See Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Report, Bombay." Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1882; Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." 9. Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1882; and Pringle, “British and Colonial Temperance Congress. Edited by Frederick Temple. London: National Temperance Publication Depot, 1886.

  • 125 Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." 9. Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1882.

126 Kohiyar, Jehangirshah E. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." 18. Bombay: Government of Bombay,


  • 127 Dorabji, Ghasvala Adarji. "Letter to John Nugent, Secretary to Government, Revenue Department, Bombay." In Revenue, Maharashtra State Archives, 9. Mumbai: Maharashtra State Archives, 1885.

128 Italics added.


took into account the delicate question of exactly which Indians would be drinking his


The Bhandari Strike of Western India, 1885-1886

Implementation of the 1878 abkari law triggered a number of responses in

Western India and proved to have unintended consequences. Government found itself

under attack by both upper-class, conservative elements and by those who sold and

consumed alcohol. Drinking patterns among Indians changed, both in terms of who

constituted the drinking population and what kind of drinks were consumed. The Act’s

implementation also significantly influenced the small-scale village economies within

which the majority of Indians operated. Entire castes of people who produced or drank

alcohol found themselves pitted against both the Government and its temperance critics.

A great deal of anger smoldered among poorer populations, eventually resulting in a

large-scale social movement—a drink strike—which European Temperance advocates

and the nascent nationalist movement would both desperately try to co-opt.

Under the licensed outstill system prevalent in the Bombay Presidency before

1879, individuals paid a flat fee for the right to produce and vend toddy. 129 Restrictions

were few and, by all accounts, Bhandaris to carried on a brisk trade. From 1879,

contracts offered by Government represented a significant departure from this precedent.

The stipulations of the new license warrant quoting at length,

129 India, Government of. Report of the Prohibition Enquiry Committee 1954-55. Delhi: Government of India Press, 1955, 2-3.


At the time of the issue of his license, he shall have received and agreed to the

conditions of a separate license for tapping not less than 25 trees. 130 He shall not have in

his shop above described or sell any spirituous or fermented liquor or any toddy drawn

from trees other than the date palms duly licensed to be tapped.

The licensee shall not sell or keep or store toddy in any place except in his shop

above described. He shall keep and sell toddy unadulterated and undiluted as drawn from

the tree without any admixture of any liquid whatsoever.

The licensee shall not keep his shop open or sell toddy after 9 o’clock p.m., nor shall he

open his shop or sell date toddy before 6 o’clock a.m., nor shall he sell or give at any time

any toddy to, or the use of, any non-commissioned officer or private European or Native

army or to any Police Officer.

The licensee shall keep in his said shop and write up daily in a bound book, paged

and sealed with the Collector’s seal, plain and correct accounts showing the quantities of

toddy received into and sold at his shop. Such accounts and the whole stock of toddy in

the licensee’s shop, shall always be open to inspection by the Collector, the

Commissioner of Police or any officer deputed by the Collector or Commissioner of

police to inspect the same.

The licensee shall not allow any person to drink to intoxication in his shop, nor shall he

permit disorderly persons to remain in his shop, or allow gambling there. He shall give

immediate information to the nearest police officer of any suspected person who may

resort to his shop, and of any irregularity tending to disturb the public peace. The police

shall at all times have free access to every part of his shop for police purposes. He shall

not receive any wearing apparel, or ornament, or any consideration except coin, for any

toddy that he may sell. He shall not sell more than four gallons of toddy to any one

person in a given day.’ 131

As can be seen, only those Bhandaris able to tap a sizable grove could obtain a license for

tapping toddy trees could obtain a license for vending the toddy. No less than 25 trees

could be tapped by a single licensee, a threshold preventing many small-scale producers

from supplementing their income by tapping a small number of trees. Writing against the

Abkari Act, D.E. Wacha, early nationalist and Parsi from Bombay, averred that “a

130 This minimum number of trees to tap for a license varied district by district, ranging from as little as 25 to as many as 100.

131 Bombay, Government of. "License for the Retail Sale of Palm Toddy." edited by Revenue. Bombay, 1884. The Parsi landowner, P.B. Dantra noted that the four gallon limit did not apply to other forms of alcohol such as country and foreign liquor. He argued that the four gallon limit was yet more proof that the true aim of the 1878 Abkari act was to phase out the use of toddy. See Dantra, Pestanjee Byramjee. "Appendices: The Bombay Abkari Administration." In Indian Abkari Administration, Being Notes on the Despatch of the Government of India, Relating to the System of Licenses for the Distillation and Sale of Spiritous Liquors in Force in the Various Provinces of India, Presented to the House of Commons, edited by Dinshaw E. Wacha, 57-106. Bombay: Bombay Gazette Steam Press, 1888.


Bhandari can hardly tap 15 trees” in a day. 132 This meant that Bhandaris who continued

their trade would be as underworked as they were underpaid.

Most burdensome for licensees was the detailed record keeping requirement.

Surat’s Anglo-Gujarati language newspaper, Gujarati Mitra, observed the harshness of

the license requirements, noting that, “the vendors of liquors are not educated and good

accountants” and that they, “often commit mistakes…and are fined for such faults.” 133

P.M. Mehta, early nationalist, barrister, and member of the 1886 Abkari commission

tasked with investigating the alleged severity of alcohol policy, noted that “the class of

people going into these shops is hardly able to read or write,” thus, record keeping,

“involved a considerable amount of time and trouble.” 134

Bhandari petitioners

complained explicitly of, “the stringent rules for the sale of toddy.” 135

The new scale of toddy enterprises and the extensive documentation required

drove out small producers in favor of wealthier, large-scale producers. After 1897 it was

the Parsis, with had greater capital reserves and literacy rates than Bhandaris, who filled

the void created by Government’s regulation of the liquor trade. Even if this did result in

some pecuniary benefit for some within the Parsi community, it created resistance among

individual Parsis. Bombay’s noted Parsi nationalist and temperance activist, Dinshaw

  • 132 Wacha, Dinshaw E. "Indian Abkari Administration, Being Notes on the Despatch of the Government of India, Relating to the System of Licenses for the Distillation and Sale of Spiritous Liquors in Force in the Various Provinces of India, Presented to the House of Commons on 4th August 1887." Bombay: Bombay Gazette Steam Press, 1888, 74.

  • 133 Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1884.

  • 134 Mehta, P.M. "Address of P.M. Mehta before the Abkari Commission Consisting of Mr. J.H. Grant (President), Sir Frank Souter and Mr. Sorabjee Shapoorjee Bengalee." In Revenue, Bombay, 11. Mumbai:

Maharashtra State Archives, 1886.

  • 135 Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." 13. Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1884.


Edulji Waccha, went so far as to sign a petition in favor of the Bhandaris, warning that

new liquor monopolists had incentive to adulterate their drinks. 136

Other Parsis were less sympathetic to the plight of the Bhandaris. Bombay’s

Gujerati-language, Parsi Punch, featured an editorial cartoon described by the

editor/translator of Native Newspaper reports as, “representing a Bhandari in the act of

adulterating liquor with the following letter-press below it:--A Bombay Liquorvalla—

‘Well, I can't help it. When Sirkar takes such exhorbitant fees, no course is left to a poor

devil like myself but to adulterate and use chillies and tobacco-leaves and all sorts of

things to keep my trade up!’”

Another Gujarati-language Bombay newspaper, Jame

Jamshed, printed a letter observing that, “the number of Parsi liquor shops has increased

in proportion to the decrease of the Bhandari liquor shops, and that the liquor sellers are

thriving.” The authors of the letter credited the relative success of the Paris vis-à-vis the

Bhandaris to their “intelligence in achieving success in business,” and their ability to

work on a larger scale.

As Waccha’s petition shows, opinion among the Parsi

community varied considerably with regard to the impact of the 1878 law on Bhandaris.

Yet accusations regarding the adulteration of liquor did not hit the Bhandaris alone.

Many petitioners argued that adulteration was occurring across the board as a

direct response to the new abkari law. D.E. Waccha argued that, “limiting the number of

toddy shops [was] a direct incentive…to adulterate the drink.” 137 With monopolies, there

was no competition and thus no pressure to earn the patronage of customers. If drinkers

136 Association, Bombay Presidency. "Petition to the Secretary to the Government, Revenue Department, Bombay." In Revenue, Bombay, 35. Mumbai: Maharashtra State Archives, 1887.

137 Ibid.


disliked the products of their district liquor dealer, their only choice was to stop drinking

it. A writer for Bombay’s Gujarati-language Kaiser i Hind warned,

In the sharp competition to secure the contract the price of the monopoly has

considerably risen and the abkari revenue has largely increased; but the liquors and toddy

have become very dear. These articles being dear fraudulent admixtures are made in

them, and the poor people, though paying a high price which they cannot conveniently

afford, get mixtures which injure their health. 138

Administrators had been warned; as early as 1879, Bombay Samachar warned that,

although adulteration was nothing new, it was certain to, “increase by putting up licenses

to public auction.” 139

Thus the new law consolidated the liquor trade into the hands of, “a few rich

persons, who will try to make as much profit as possible,” and to increase that profit by,

“selling adulterated drinks.” 140

These early critics of the abkari law noted that it, at once,

increased the revenue of the colonial state, profited only the rich who could trade in

liquor on the scale required by Government, and poisoned the drinking classes with,

“mixtures which injure their health.” 141

Invited to speak before the abkari Commission

to discuss the ill effects of the law, P.M. Mehta’s warnings about the increase in

adulteration fell on deaf ears. 142 State revenues were higher and the bureaucrats duly


  • 138 Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1884, 32.

  • 139 Kurkaray, G.W. "Report on Native Newspapers, Bombay." 8. Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1879,


  • 140 Ibid.

  • 141 Kurkaray, G.W. "Native Newspaper Reports, Bombay." Bombay: Government of Bombay, 1884, 41.

  • 142 Little documentation remains regarding the abkari commission held on October 5 th , 1886, save the statements of P.M. Mehta. No substantive policy changes after the commission are evident.


Adulteration was not the sole threat to those Indians who consumed toddy with

regularity. Wacha’s petition to the Government of Bombay averred that, “from time

immemorial [toddy] had been used by certain classes as a portion of their food. In times

of famine the poorest in certain localities have been known to have subsisted on a small

quantity of coarse grain, supplemented by toddy.” From virtually the moment the law

was enacted, memorialists and petitioners, rich and poor, noted the dependence of many

upon toddy, calling it both a “food of the poor,” and a “beverage of the poor.”


always pithy P.B. Dantra differentiated between beer as the “drink of the classes” and

toddy as the “drink of the masses.” 143 Land-owning propagandists like the Parsi,

Manekshah J. Taleyarkhan, joined the fray, noting that “nothing was more common than

to find the poorer classes, such as Kolis, Bhils, Warlis, Kunbis, and Parsis in certain tracts

of the Mofussil, eating their rice with curry made of Toddy, which served to season the

rice, and at the same time, afford considerable nourishment to the body.” 144

Even articles generally lamenting the increase in drunkenness in India left room

for the use of toddy as a nutriment. Jame Jamshed noted that many survived the Gujarat

famine of 1878 by “mixing their meager fare with toddy and using as part of their food to

pass over the crisis.” 145

A petition to Government from “1000 Landed Proprietors” in

1886 also warned that the new law amounted to depriving the poor of, “a portion of their

  • 143 Dantra, Pestanjee Byramjee. "Appendices: The Bombay Abkari Administration." In Indian Abkari Administration, Being Notes on the Despatch of the Government of India, Relating to the System of Licenses for the Distillation and Sale of Spiritous Liquors in Force in the Various Provinces of India, Presented to the House of Commons, edited by Dinshaw E. Wacha, 57-106. Bombay: Bombay Gazette Steam Press, 1888, 92.

    • 144 Taleyarkhan, Manekshah J. "Notes on the Taxation of Toddy in Bombay." Bombay: Industrial Press, 1885, 2.

    • 145 Over 1000 Landed Proprietors, Owners of Toddy Trees and ryots of the District of Thana. "Petition to His Excellency the Right Honourable Lord Reay." In Revenue, Bombay, 10. Mumbai: Maharashtra State Archive, 1886.


daily food.” 146 Although self-interest is likely at play in the case of landowners, many of

them toddy tree owners, their criticisms were shared by many others. Virtually every

“native” newspaper regularly inspected by the translators and editors of Native

Newspaper Reports