Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Despite prohibition packaged Distilled Indigenous Country liquors circulated in the market

Can Traditional Household Distilleries Survive Even if Distillation and Sale is Legalized?

While pro-prohibitionist groups led by Coalition Against Drugs and Alcohol (CADA) and All Manipur Women’s Social Reformation & Development Samaj, popularly known as Nupi Samaj are mounting their pressure by holding sit-in-protests and rallies on Manipur Government to roll back the Cabinet decision, the Chief Minister and some of his cabinet colleauges boldly say in public that the state government remains firm on its decision to partially lift prohibition and will not step back from pressures.

Taking the advantage of Manipur Governement’s decision to lift the prohibition of selling and production of alcoholic liquor partially in Manipur, the Chakpa Group of Andro supports the September 20 Cabinet dicision.

Chakpa Group, Andro has decided to support the state cabinet’s decision to lift prohibition on liquor during a public meeting held on September 24 at Andro Bazar in Imphal East.

Reports said that during the public meeting held on September 24 at Andro Bazar in support of the Government’s decision, chief of Andro Sagolshem Chandra said the people of Andro appreciate the decision of the state cabinet on legalisation of Distilled Indigenous Country (DIC) liquor in Manipur.

Adding that manufacturing of DIC liquor cannot be stopped for Andro as it is a part of its tradition Chandra said that as for Andro, every household manufactures DIC liquor at their respective houses and offer it to their forefathers on first Sunday of Langban, Meitei lunar month as ‘Lam Haiba’.

Moreover, former chairperson of Andro Municipal Council Yumkhaibam Sajou Khuman also said manufacturing of DIC liquor has been a part of tradition of Andro people. He appreciated the decision of the state cabinet to lift prohibition on liquor from Manipur. With the initiatives of the state government, the DIC liquor of Manipur, including Andro, could compete at international level. This will not only boost the economy of the state but will also promote the DIC liquor of Manipur at international level, he added.

He said people of Andro are also aware of the impact of DIC liquor to health. However, if the liquor is manufactured with certain regulation, then adulteration in DIC liquor could be prevented. People of Andro have been manufacturing and selling DIC liquor with different techniques without maintaining a standard quality. However, if the liquor is legalised in the state under certain regulation, then the impact on health due to consumption of DIC liquor could be prevented at maximum, claimed Sajou.

However, under Section 80(2) of the Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991 which became effective from April 1, 1991 has already exempted for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes like Andro, Sekmai, Phayeng and Leimaram and they can brew and use for customary and traditional purposes.

Moreover, no one denies that for some communities including Kabui/Rongmei, Andro, Sekmai, Phayeng and Leimaram manufacturing of DIC liquor has been a tradition since time immemorial. DIC liquor has been the main item which is used while worshiping local deities and inseparably linked from birth to death.

Here rises a question – And while they have been already legally allowed to brew for their traditional and customary purposes, why are they so happy and appreciating the government for “legalisation” of brewing and selling of the traditional alcoholic liquors?

The reason is simple and very obvious that they think that decision of the government to standardise the distillation of indigenous alcoholic liquors with prescriptions given by outside experts, and export of the same will benefit every households of the communities.

Despite the government’s claim that it is needed to lift the prohibition and allow distillation under prescriptions from the outside experts to export the local brew since the presently available are causing many diseases including liver cirrhosis, chief of Phayeng Ningthoujam Toyai in a panel discussion of local TV channel said that proper and disciplined consumption of their traditional brew does not cause any disease and he himself drink daily and still healthy and energetic in his late seventies. Even those who never drink are suffering from liver cirrhosis and other kind of cancers.

Meanwhile, reports said that a meeting was held on September 24 between Excise department officials of Goa and Manipur in the presence of Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren at the Chief Minister’s Secretariat and explored the possibilities of producing quality local brew in the state.

Subsequently, another report according to the Food Safety Unit (FSU) of State Medical Directorate, said that most of the locally manufactured liquors are substandard. It claimed that the alcohol content, volatile acids, total ester, and total aldehyde are much higher than the standard prescribed by FSSAI, while the residue percentage is within the prescribed limit, except for well packed liquors from Andro which fulfils all parameters.

However, retired IAS officer Dr. R K Nimai who is a biochemist by training and research in his recent article asked, Why had the FSU not conducted such test earlier or if done why was proper report not released and only leaked to the press after the announcement of the Cabinet decision? The procedure of sample collection is unscientific and those samples which have low alcohol content are those mixed with water for retail. Samples should have been collected from the manufacturers directly as well as at the retail interface so that the stage of adulteration, if any, can be identified.

Yangli is added in manufacturing local liquor and it contains saponins and perhaps alkaloids which gives the unique flavour to the local brew, like absinthe, which uses not only anise and fennel but wormwood (Artemesia absinthium), R K Nimai added.

The report from the Food Safety Unit (FSU) under State Medical Directorate appears to advocate that those well packed liquors filled in glass bottles and labelled fulfill all FSSAI parameters. Here, another question arises – are the aged-old traditional brews produced by those traditional household distilleries with its uniqueness who cannot pack well as done by a handful of people who has been lobbying for lifting of prohibition to brew commercially and export, substandard and hazardous to health?

It is worthy to mention that Vietnamese Ruou de or Ruou quoc lui, traditional rice wine is distilled like Manipur’s traditional brews. It is made from any kind of Vietnamese rice and commericially available. It is commercially produced by many unregistered household distilleries. The percent of alcohol is varied, but is 40 in general.

Is the motive to impose prescriptions from outside experts to help traditional household distilleries produce quality indigenous liquors or something else? The communities of Andro, Sekmai, Phayeng and Leimaram need to ponder who have been lobbying the Manipur Government for more than 15 years to lift the prohibition and allow distillation for export and who will really benefit from it. When it is brewed under prescriptions from outside experts, can Andro, Sekmai, Phayeng and Leimaram alcoholic liquors remain as traditional distilled indigenous country liquor? Can their uniqueness be preserved? Who will be the owner of the traditional knowledge system? Can the traditional household distilleries of Andro, Sekmai, Phayeng and Leimaram continue and sustain even if production of distilled indigenous country liquor is allowed de jure with standard prescriptions by outside experts?  In short, can traditional household distilleries survive even if distillation and sale is allowed de jure?

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