Mahua: The Indian liquor the British banned

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Interestingly, even after India gained independence in 1947, the old economic and social mores stayed intact. “The state remained closely associated with the monopoly on sale and production of alcohol just like the erstwhile colonial rulers, and mahua remained under stringent laws and limitations,” said Wald.

“Alcohol was a frequent target for temperance advocates and early nationalists,” Wald continued. “Boycotts and pickets of alcohol stores, and the insistence of some nationalists that alcohol was ‘foreign’ to India, meant that even drinks like mahua, which were so important in the lives of many tribals, were lumped together as problematic.”

Thus, mahua remained classified as a low-quality, “dangerous” drink, and the tribal people were denied the right to produce and sell it beyond traditional village markets. 

“It tells you the nature of post-independence Indian elites who were highly disdainful of the lifestyles of the indigenous population,” said Krishnendu Ray, professor of food studies at New York University. “It ended up producing a lot of mediocre, homogenous stuff that shaped the Indian liquor industry.”

Against the legacy of this socio-political canvas, it would take a few strong entrepreneurial voices interested in rebranding mahua as a quality craft spirit, while also trying to bring about changes in excise legislations, to begin to lift bans on the liquor.

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