- 30-40 percent of inhabitants involved in home-made liquor business
- It is prepared by mixing poisonous herbs with putrid rice
- Prevalent belief is that it is good for health
I was in Nijgharua village of Assam for some work and as usual missed my lunch due to the hectic field survey. Naturally, I was famished and then I saw a woman at a distance cooking rice in a large vessel. However, all my elation vanished on discovering that the lady was, in fact, preparing liquor from the rice!
This village is at a distance of around 95 km from Gauhati, the capital of Assam. Though Brahmaputra river is merely 10 km from here yet there is a problem of clean water in the village. The reason is that the drinking water supply in the region is largely dependent on groundwater which is often contaminated with chemicals like arsenic as well as excess fluoride.(https://sites.google.com/site/assamdevelopmentinitiatives/home/drinking-water-in-assam).
It is a popular business…
Eventually, I got to know that not only in Nijgharua but 30-40 percent of people from almost all the villages in the region are involved in the home-made liquor business. Besides consuming it themselves, it is also a source of income for them.
The village mostly comprised of thatched houses, hardly one or two were paved (pucca) ones. The male members of the households have mostly migrated to cities/other states in search of work.
This is how it is brewed…
First of all, rice is boiled and once it cools down it is spread out to dry. It remains this way for 2-3 days until it turns bad and starts smelling.Then the putrid rice is mixed with several locally available herbs like dhekiya, naagole, manga,dhatoora, and bihlongi. According to the villagers, these herbs are poisonous and the user may die following its consumption but still, they are not deterred.
The preparation of this beverage incurs the cost of Rs. 50-60 while 60 ml of the liquor is sold for Rs.10 only. 8 to 9 bottles are prepared from 5 kg rice which is sold in the market for Rs. 40 to Rs.75. The profit ranges from Rs.320 to 600/-
Different names, divergent views
When questioned for its merits, villagers came out with divergent views, some said that this home-made liquor is good for health while others justified it as their traditional brew; yet others said that it serves as a stress buster and there were some who admitted that they are forced to consume it as they can’t afford the brands available in the market. However, a majority were of opinion that it is good for health and keeps them active through the day.
This home-made wine has various names like sulai,chhang, chauk and haadiya. The most popular (name) in Assam is sulai.
When we asked the people that despite being aware that it is poisonous why did they drink the substance, they said that if consumed regularly and in a limited quantity, the poison doesn’t cause harm as the body gets habitual to it.
Obviously, the home-made liquor business is illegal but it is anyhow flourishing from home to home in Assam with due cooperation from police; there butinfrequent there butonly when pressurized from the above otherwise the business is conveniently thriving in the region.
Assam has declared the first and last day of every month, except December 31, as “dry day” and prohibited sale of any type of alcoholic product in the state.
State-wise alcohol consumption per capita per week (in ml) as of 2011-12